One-way traffic?

Published 9:12 pm Thursday, January 7, 2010

A vision of one-way traffic on part of East Washington Street has danced in William Goodman’s head for months.

After a new light at Hall Avenue began causing further stacking and congestion on downtown’s main east/west thoroughfare, the East Suffolk Gardens resident and member of the Planning Commission decided to go public with his suggestion at the December Planning Commission meeting.

“The citizens, especially on the east side of town where I live, have made quite a few comments in regards to the stacking of traffic on East Washington Street, especially in the evenings and weekends,” Goodman said during the meeting. “They were also concerned about the two traffic lights right there at the crossing.”

Goodman questioned city traffic engineer Robert Lewis about solutions to the problem, saying later he was preparing a proposal to take before the commission and city administration.

“At the very minimum, if we would sit back and study and take a look at it, and see what impact making some segment of East Washington Street one way or the other,” Goodman said during the meeting. “I’m looking at what would be beneficial for the majority.”

Goodman’s proposal is to make a small segment of the road one-way, using side streets for detours.

He admits he’s no traffic engineer, but he points that out other roads in Suffolk — such as a portion of Pinner Street — are one-way, but have far less traffic. In addition, cities such as Norfolk use many one-way streets in their downtown areas successfully.

“With the growth we have here in the city of Suffolk, we’re going to have to adjust to some situations where one-way streets would be beneficial to all of us,” Goodman said.

The East Washington Street corridor is a problem, Lewis admitted in the meeting.

“It is a very capacity-challenged corridor,” Lewis said, adding that incidents in downtown — such as wrecks or fires — can be blocks away from East Washington and still cause problems.

Still, Lewis said, a traffic comparison between Norfolk and Suffolk’s downtowns is ill-advised.

“Norfolk has a developed network of streets,” Lewis said. “There are a number of ways to get from point A to point B.”

East Washington Street, however, is “about the only viable east/west connection from downtown to the east end,” Lewis added.

The traffic engineering staff keeps a close eye on the East Washington Street corridor, Lewis said, adjusting the timing on lights when needed and examining alternatives for better service.

One possibility to alleviate the traffic on East Washington Street is the Finney Avenue flyover, Lewis said. The project would allow traffic to cross over three sets of railroad tracks at once — however, it has not been constructed because of lack of funding.

For Goodman’s one-way proposal, a traffic study is a possibility, but money is tight this year. Grant opportunities, however, could be available, Lewis said.

Downtown advocate Andy Damiani acknowledges East Washington needs help, but does not think a one-way street is the solution.

“We need traffic improvement, but these one-street detours, they bother me,” Damiani said, noting any adjustment made on East Washington creates a new set of problems.

“Every time you make an adjustment, something else pops up,” Damiani said. “I don’t think there is a solution. It’s a tough situation.”