Downtown Plaza might open to two-way traffic

There’s a possibility a three-phase revitalization plan slated to start next summer could result in Salisbury’s Downtown Plaza having two-way traffic, but engineers must first determine if there’s enough space.

Two lanes would be nice, Salisbury City Council President Jake Day said, but 48 feet, including 8-foot sidewalks, would have to fit comfortably.

Strongly in favor of two-way traffic on the plaza is former City Council president Mike Dunn.

Dunn called Salisbury’s Downtown Plaza “a failed experiment” and said it has become an island of a walk-through shopping center. The matter interests him, he said, as a concerned citizen who has lived in town since he was 4 years old and who has been “fairly consistently involved with stuff around here.”

He doesn’t, though, have any plan to head a campaign to change the plaza.

Day called Dunn’s desire for two-way traffic “an ideal scenario,” if space allowed, but Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton said redevelopment of Main Street “has the plaza staying one way.”

If there were two lanes with sidewalks, bikes would travel on the street, with vehicles, because bikes are illegal on sidewalks, Day said. He explained the area is most narrow, “where Main Street intersects with Market Street, from building façade to build façade.”

Historically, he said, 98 pedestrian plazas like Salisbury’s were established from the 1950s to early 1970s, when shopping malls gained popularity.

Main streets nationwide struggled to compete with malls by imitating their attraction — convenience of driving up, shopping and walking around a variety of stores.

“It’s pleasant and it’s beautiful and they were right in that regard but economically they failed. There were many of them, almost 100, and they just didn’t succeed,” Day said, adding today only two are “hugely successful,” in Burlington, Vermont, and South Beach, Florida.

Salisbury’s plaza is among the more than 90 that closed in an effort to create a shopping area, but reopened to single-lane traffic.

Dunn agreed with Day’s historical account and called opening the plaza as it is now “a good start,” but said now that there’s a plan to revitalize downtown, it should be completely open.

“I love the plaza. It’s beautiful. But, it’s a failed experiment,” Dunn said.

“Our revitalization effort would be improved if everybody had better access, instead of driving downtown at 10 miles an hour,” Dunn said, likening navigating there to maneuvering through a living room, because of slow speed and obstacles.

The plaza “should be returned to what it once was, a functioning street,” Dunn said.

“Increasing the visibility of our downtown increases its chance to be viable again. The beauty of our downtown should be easily accessible to us all, just like all other streets in town,” he said.

City Council has approved an $8.5 million project to redesign Main Street. Phase One will begin July 1, 2015 and end June 30, 2016.

Phase will start July 1, 2016 and end June 30, 2017 and the final phase will be from July 1, 2017 until June 30, 2018.

The project will also include portions of Division Street between Main Street and Route 50, plus the government plaza area in front of the Government Office Building and old court house.

A.Morton Thomas and Associates, based in Rockville, Md., will modernize the water and sewer system under Main Street from Route 13 to Mill Street. Engineers will devise a new storm water management system to help alleviate flooding downtown and generate a streetscape using brick pavers, planted areas, street lights, signage, benches and trash cans on Main Street, Day said.

He proposed a resolution requiring the same streetscape everywhere  downtown eventually, but said City Council wouldn’t appropriate funding for a definite target date.

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