BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — According to Maumee city administrator Patrick Burtch, understanding customers and creating an appealing business environment are key components in today’s business market.
“We are evolving and going back to smaller businesses that are located in urban spaces where we want to do business, so it is important to consider not only how we get there, but how we feel when we go there,” Burtch said.
Addressing members of the Maumee Uptown Business Association this week, Burtch laid out a master plan for the entire uptown district – beginning with changing the traffic pattern on Conant Street.
“The current traffic pattern is efficient for traffic but not for pedestrians or for businesses,” he said.
In addition to traveling quickly, drivers are moving straight through the city without stopping. Currently, 33,000 cars travel through Maumee, with a majority of those vehicles traveling during a peak four-hour period.
“What that suggests is that there are people moving through your town that aren’t stopping. Evidence shows that if they were stopping, those numbers would be much more even over time. It’s a classic example of a community that is being used as a pass-through for people,” he said.
To change that, Burtch has proposed slowing or softening the traffic by reducing the number of lanes on Conant and adding parallel parking on both sides of the road.
“We believe that ultimately, more people will come uptown simply because the feel is different, so they will come up and do business longer than they normally do, and now they have plenty of places to park on the street,” he said.
In July, Maumee City Council approved a request to allocate approximately $40,000 to restripe Conant Street from the Anthony Wayne Trail to Harrison Street. The proposal calls for shrinking the number of current traffic lanes by creating a three-lane cross section, or one lane of traffic moving north, one moving south and one turn lane in the center to accommodate left-hand turns in both directions. In addition, parallel parking would be added along both sides of Conant Street from the Anthony Wayne Trail to Harrison Street.
The restriping, which will take place in mid-September, will serve as a trial run for the plan to reduce the number of cars traveling through Maumee.
To develop the proposal, Burtch is working with DGL Consulting Engineers, the firm hired to conduct the traffic study. Video modeling shows traffic backing up with the three-lane cross section, but he expects that to happen.
“It’s not designed to move people through the city. We know that. That’s not the point. The point is to see where traffic will back up and what other alternative routes people will take,” Burtch said.
The proposal has raised eyebrows and Burtch is aware that the idea is counter to traditional modes of thinking when it comes to traffic engineering.
“In the ’70s and ’80s, it was all about moving traffic,” he said. “Engineers were taught that when you heard the word safety in traffic engineering, you were talking about the safety of the driver and the passenger in the vehicle. Never did you hear a lot about pedestrian safety because that’s not what it was about.”
Left unchecked or unchanged, Burtch believes the traffic will continue to increase, which would be detrimental not only to businesses but also to the historical buildings and trees lining Conant Street.
“If we were designing for what we had, we would remove the parallel parking and remove the trees and narrow the sidewalks to get five lanes for traffic, but how many of you think that would help business?” he asked. “Building for what you want to see – a three-lane cross section that is designed to carry 25,000 trips a day – that is what we are attempting to do. This is a traffic softening plan and road diet.”
Changes to side streets to mitigate potential problems from drivers cutting through – such as tabletop intersections, reduced speed limits, mini traffic circles, which require drivers to either slow or stop their cars, and narrowing the streets by allowing on-street parking – are also being proposed.
The plan also calls for more than 200 additional on-street parking spaces, wider sidewalks and additional trees. Gathering spaces featuring gas fire pits and decorative lighting would also serve community events and would help connect and tie together the entire uptown area.
Maumee zoning administrator Andy Glenn said the proposal would benefit all of the businesses in the uptown district.
“When you create these additional public spaces, and you slow traffic down, you can include all businesses for better events, you can have larger events and people can feel safe being there. That’s kind of the whole point of all of this, to create an entire uptown where pedestrians feel safe,” he said.
Tom Dibling, retired owner of Dibling Floor Covering, which his brother and sister currently own and operate, praised Burtch for his forward thinking.
“If you are the impetus making some kind of change, I want to thank you. I think it’s been stale for a number of years and I am thrilled that somebody is thinking in the future instead of ‘this is the way we did it,’” he said.
MUBA president Allison Fiscus said that Burtch’s presentation seemed well-received by members.
“The situation is complicated and very rarely is there a simple solution to such a complex problem,” Fiscus said. “I am excited to see how the trial will turn out. I can understand why the perception is that decreasing lanes will exacerbate problems, but it may very well prove to be the best solution to improving the uptown district with the limited options we have.”
The new configuration will likely run through the winter season.Read Earlier, Related Article