Andrews, Brevard and Highlands have made inquiries with the DOT about reducing traffic on their Main Streets in order to expand outdoor seating and shopping displays. Similarly, Hendersonville closed its Main Street to vehicular traffic for the weekend of May 29-31. These plans for increasing pedestrian access to Main Streets are what gave Janet Metzger the idea to propose one-way traffic on Main Street to the Town of Waynesville for consideration.
Metzger runs the family owned Moose Crossing Burlwood Gallery on Main Street. The goal of proposing one-way traffic on Main Street is to increase outdoor shopping opportunities for stores on Main Street, as well as to increase outdoor seating for restaurants.
“Basically, all the restaurants could expand [outdoor seating] and the stores could expand and have some sidewalk activity also,” said Metzger.
The original proposal suggested closing northbound traffic on Main Street as well as closing parallel parking on the east side of the street. All but two restaurants on Main Street are on the east side of the street. On the west side of the street, in front of Birchwood Hall and Wildflour Blue Bakery, the plan is to divert traffic to the other side of the street and close off parking in front of those restaurants as well. This would allow expanded outdoor seating for every restaurant on Main Street.
“The restaurants are so vital to downtown. I have so many times people come here [the gallery] and say, ‘oh I was looking in your windows last night, we had dinner down here and we wanted to come back today.’ If it weren’t for the restaurants that wouldn’t be happening, so I think we should support them,” said Metzger.
Main Street is a state-maintained road, therefore any decisions to alter traffic, or the road must be approved by the Department of Transportation. Brian Burch, Division Engineer for division 14 of the DOT, said he has some concerns.
“There are certainly some proposals we could approve, and there are some we could not. It would have to start with the town making a request to the department,” said Burch.
He said sidewalk dining would have to start with an ordinance proposed by the municipality and would have to account for pedestrian traffic. The DOT could approve a plan that moves pedestrian traffic into a vacant parking lane but is less likely to approve a plan that puts outdoor seating for restaurants in the vacant parking lane. Another possibility Burch said, is to detour traffic from Main Street completely for a certain portion of time.
“The municipality has to take that initiative and they have to assume that liability,” said Burch. “That’s probably one of the biggest hurdles to any municipality is when we enter into these permits whether it be a special use permit or anything like an encroachment, they’re going to have to indemnify the state so that if someone is injured or there’s an incident, the DOT and State of North Carolina’s not going to be held responsible for it. If I were in their shoes, I would be very concerned with that.”
Burch said there would be significantly less liability in a plan that detours traffic from Main Street altogether, and that such a plan would be considered more favorably.
The Town of Waynesville has not yet made an official request to the DOT. The Downtown Waynesville Association put together a survey for Main Street businesses to have input on the proposal. Though DWA Executive Director Buffy Phillips refused to comment, Metzger said the responses she has heard have been generally positive. The proposal will be discussed at a Town Meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, after press time.
Alderman Chuck Dickson said he doesn’t feel confident the original proposal will go through. However, he said, it is really up to the town merchants. Dickson said the town board is ready to help businesses however it can, whether that means making Main Street one-way traffic, or closing the street down completely each Saturday night to be open for pedestrians.
Metzger, who proposed the plan in the first place said she was no traffic expert and was aware that the logistics of the plan would probably change. For her, it isn’t about one-way traffic, it is about helping businesses on their road to recovery.
“I thought, we should be doing something like this. Give our downtown the opportunity to have a little extra promotion,” said Metzger.