A handful of downtown Sylva merchants spoke against changing the traffic pattern on Main Street during a recent Sylva Board of Commissioners meeting.
“Two-way traffic will kill our businesses on Mill Street,” said Sheryl Rudd, owner of Heinzelmannchen Brewery.
While Rudd is concerned about Mill Street losing all the traffic to Main Street, other shop owners on Main Street had different concerns.
Dodie Allen, owner of Dodie’s Auction on Main Street, said two-way traffic would create a safety hazard. Without a space for a loading zone, Allen said, her trucks already have to double-park for 20 minutes while a delivery is being unloaded.
“I am adamantly opposed to two-way traffic. The present situation is beneficial to Main Street — it’s the best flow we’ve had,” she said. “Besides safety concerns, it would create a big bottleneck for anyone wanting to deliver on Main Street.”
Jay Ball, owner of Jewelry Outlet on Main Street and a candidate for the Sylva town board, said his business has been down 40 percent since the town installed 3-foot poles in the left turning lanes along Main Street. The town was trying to prevent people from using the left lanes as a passing lane, but Ball said it confuses people. He fears two-way traffic would only make things worse.
“Common sense will tell you it won’t work… it wouldn’t work in the 50s and it won’t work now,” he said.
April Brendle, owner of Dixie Mae Vintage Market, agreed that two-way traffic would only add to the problem. She said locals now avoid Main Street because of the poles that have been put up and parking spaces that used to be occupied every day at 3 p.m. are now vacant every day.
Sylva Town Manager Paige Dowling said the town has been discussing making Main and Mill streets open to two-way traffic since the 1950s. Currently, Main Street traffic travels eastbound and Mill Street travels westbound, but some town leaders think two-way traffic would help tourism by allowing drivers to more easily access the local businesses downtown.
The town received a grant from the Southwestern Commission last year to hire an engineering consultant, J.M. Teague Traffic Engineering, to see if two-way traffic was feasible for downtown Sylva.
The firm’s 44-page report was presented to the board in April, but commissioners agreed they needed a lot more input on the issue. Even though the report points to many downtowns that have improved their economies by changing to two-way, cost is still a major issue. Turning Main Street and Mill Street into two-way roads could cost about $375,000.
In addition to the study, the town did an online survey to gauge the public’s desire to change the traffic pattern on Main and Mill streets. Dowling said the survey had gotten 576 responses in the three weeks it had been online.
Most people said they had shopped in downtown Sylva in the last six months and that the traffic pattern hadn’t prevented them from going downtown. Only 33 percent of people said they were unsatisfied with the traffic pattern. When asked about two-way traffic downtown, she said a majority of respondents were “overwhelming opposed to it.”
Ball asked how the town could determine whether all the survey responses were from unique users.
“It could be the same 10 people responding to it,” he said.
Dowling said the town could have limited the survey to one response per computer but thought it would be unfair to multiple people in a household with only one computer. The survey will remain available on the town’s website for another couple of months.
The next public hearing regarding changing the traffic patterns in downtown will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at Sylva Town Hall.