N. Main could go on 'road diet'

A street near you may be going on a "road diet" this summer.

City of Ashland officials are exploring whether some car travel lanes could be narrowed or eliminated to make more room for bicyclists and pedestrians.

North Main Street between Helman Street to just north of where it dips below a railroad crossing on the edge of town is the top contender for the potential slimming treatment.

Its four lanes would be narrowed to three lanes — two car lanes going in opposite directions plus a center turn lane. That would free up space on the sides of North Main Street for people to bike and walk, said Erin Ferguson, an engineering associate for Kittelson & Associates, Inc.

The Portland-based consulting firm is helping the city comply with a state mandate to update Ashland's Transportation System Plan. A draft plan is scheduled to go before the Ashland City Council for possible adoption in early 2012. Pilot projects could be tested before then.

Rather than make permanent changes, crews would repaint stripes on North Main Street to reduce the number of car lanes for a three- to six-month trial period.

"It's really like a live laboratory for the community to see it," said Marc Butorac, senior principal engineer with Kittelson & Associates.

Another possibility is narrowing Main Street as it travels through town between Helman and Gresham streets. Ashland Street from its intersection with Siskiyou Boulevard out to Clay Street also has been identified as a "road diet" candidate.

City officials are talking to Oregon Department of Transportation officials about the idea to narrow car lanes since Main Street doubles as state Highway 99 and Ashland Street is also state Highway 66.

Another idea to make Ashland more pedestrian-friendly is to pilot a "street patio."

A temporary wood patio could be built out into a road, taking up several street parking spaces. With the addition of some tables and umbrellas, local restaurants would have added outdoor dining space and people would have a place to eat and mingle. A drawback would be the loss of parking spaces.

Potential "street patio" sites include Main Street and Lithia Way downtown, the downtown Plaza area and A Street near Lela's and the Coquina.

In a Colorado town, Ferguson said business owners, high school students and a Lowe's home improvement store teamed up to build temporary plywood street patios for a summer pilot project.

"It was such a success, they decided to look for long-term funding to make the patios a more permanent feature," she said.

At a Wednesday workshop to gather public input on potential transportation system changes, Michael Niemann said he bikes to work at Southern Oregon University from his home on Oak Street. He said he would like to see more bike lanes in town, with less emphasis on car lanes.

"We've found out the more lanes you build, the more cars fill up those lanes," he said. "You can never build enough lanes."

Joanna Niemann said "road diets" could encourage people to get out of their cars. She also liked Transportation System Plan proposals for trails along many creeks in Ashland.

Resident Helga Motley said she liked the concept of "road diets," but didn't think there was enough room for "street patios" downtown. She also said that with Ashland's aging population and hills, many residents find it hard to bike and walk around town.

"I've been here 30 years, and I've watched people age to the point that they can't walk," Motley said.

However, even with proposed changes, Motley said people would still be able to use their cars.

Dan Gunter, who works for the city's street division, said his personal opinion was that the street patio idea is workable, and proposals to make alleys more welcoming for bikers and pedestrians have a lot of potential. More sidewalks, especially on Siskiyou Boulevard past Walker Avenue, would be good improvements.

"I think Ashland's perfect for things like that," he said.

As far as narrowing North Main Street, Gunter said city and ODOT officials do have to keep in mind that the street, also known as Highway 99, would serve as a bypass route if traffic couldn't travel on Interstate 5 for some reason.

Residents can read more about potential transportation system changes and submit comments by visiting www.ashlandtsp.com.

City officials are also seeking comments about proposals to make intersections at East Main Street and North Mountain Avenue, Tolman Creek Road and Ashland Street, and Walker Avenue and Ashland Street more pedestrian-friendly.

For information and to view drawings of proposed changes and make comments, visit www.ashland.or.us and click on "Open City Hall."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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