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One-lane downtown gets a review

A year after changing Main Street and Bear Creek Drive to one-lane traffic configurations with bike lanes, the city will conduct a traffic study on the change.

Critics have been unhappy with the arrangement, which replaced two-lane setups on both roads in late October 2015.

Several downtown business owners have said there’s been a decline in activity since the new setup went into place, said Councilor Terry Helfrich, who voted with other city councilors to launch the study. Business owners think drivers might be avoiding Phoenix with the new setup in favor of Interstate 5, he said.

After the study is complete, a City Council decision on any changes is set for September 2017.

“We don’t want this to be complaint-driven. We want to make a data-driven choice,” said Mayor Jeff Bellah.

City officials don't know how much effect the extensive reconstruction of the Exit 24 interchange and the rearrangement of traffic lanes and signals at the juncture of the former Fern Valley Road (now North Phoenix Road), Bolz Road and Main Street had on traffic. Occasional lane closures still occur as construction wraps up. Data collection will begin after the Fern Valley interchange project is finished and may run through spring 2017.

Phoenix Police Department data for the two roads show fewer accidents in the year since reconfiguration compared to the three prior years.

New Public Works Director Ray DiPasquale will oversee the study. He has done similar studies for other municipalities and organizations where he worked.

DiPasquale may use mechanical traffic counters, observers or cameras to record data and driver behavior. Both city personnel and outside contractors may be used in the study, he said. Other factors to be studied include accident data, citations, peak and off-peak traffic volumes, and intersection service levels. A survey of public opinion on the changes is another possibility.

Minor changes may be implemented while the study is underway. For example, broken white lines might be put at intersections to encourage more deliberate right-turn movements.

“Driver behavior is typically what drives a change of that nature,” said DiPasquale.

Phoenix’s downtown area is undergoing a change as the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency offers commercial lots for sale and proceeds with plans for a community center in the area between Bear Creek Drive and Main Street.

The vision of that redevelopment needs to be incorporated with data from the study to determine whether the current setup should be retained or modified, said City Manager Jamie McLeod.

An Oregon Department of Transportation corridor study covering Highway 99 from south Medford to north Ashland released in 2014 recommended that many portions of the roadway be converted from four-lane to two-lane configurations to better accommodate pedestrians and bike riders. Center turn lanes are envisioned in several of the areas. Main Street and Bear Creek Drive are both parts of the Highway 99 system.

In spring 2017, ODOT will seek bids to change Highway 99 in Talent between Rapp and Creel roads to a three-lane configuration. They will also seek bids to change Highway 99 between Creel and Valley View Road in north Ashland to a three-lane configuration with bike lanes. Work could begin as early as fall 2017. Ashland changed North Main Street, also part of Highway 99, to a three-lane configuration between downtown and city limits at the railroad overpass in 2012.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.