Opinion

Time for a showdown on main street

Isn’t this always the way it works?

The problem that you put off dealing with, because there isn’t an easy solution, turns into an emergency. There’s still no attractive answer, but you may be worse off, because you’ve cost yourself the time needed to deliberate properly.

Such is the situation on Winslow Way. Our main street is a terrific pedestrian venue, but the 5-foot sidewalks are too narrow. Two people can walk abreast, but not three. And there isn’t room for those hurrying to get past others placidly enjoying the ambience of our homey downtown.

Back in 1996, when the “stakeholders” (meaning all of us) sat down to imagine our future downtown, we decided that when the opportunity arose, we would double the width of the Winslow Way sidewalks, to 10 feet. Since we can’t very well move the storefronts backwards, that widening had to come out of the street’s width. It looked doable, because there would still be enough street to have two ample travel lanes.

Well and good. But while the narrower street leaves room for moving cars, there isn’t enough room left over for non-moving vehicles, namely delivery trucks, to park in the middle. And while truck parking is a minor annoyance to drivers, it is absolutely essential to merchants – and therefore to patrons, because there just isn’t any other way to get goods into stores.

How did the master planners reconcile those problems? Apparently, they didn’t, leaving that for a later day.

That day is today.

American Marine Bank was directed to install 10-foot sidewalks as part of its remodeling project. If they do so, the cars angle-parked in front of the bank will protrude wave-like into Winslow Way, extending 5 feet further into traffic than other cars parked along the street.

For the nonce, the situation may be tolerable, if inconvenient. Plainly, trucks can’t park mid-street in front of the bank, and we hope that becomes self-evident to the drivers, without the need for embedded posts marking the “no truck parking” zone. And the stretch of wide sidewalk in front of the bank will provide a reasonably well-located “passing lane” for the bustlers to speed-walk past the strollers.

But the situation has to be addressed soon, as part of the planning for rebuilding Winslow Way between Ericksen and Madison, an event itself so fraught with difficulty that city officials keep postponing it.

What can we do? Can deliveries be timed for pre- or post-business hours, using the on-street parking spaces at times when they are generally vacant?

Can we designate a couple of areas for mid-street parking and narrow sidewalks, requiring motorists to adapt to a sort of “hourglass” path of travel? Remembering the massive resistance to the Madison Avenue “traffic calming” project of a couple of years back, we wonder.

This won’t be an easy discussion. But the parking “bubble” in front of the bank should remind us all that we can’t put it off much longer.

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