CASPER, Wyo. – Casper City Council is preparing to take a small step towards the possibility of converting Wolcott and Durbin streets back to downtown two-way streets.
The board in an informal straw poll voted unanimously to take the next steps for the project on Tuesday, Oct. 12 after hearing a presentation from the Casper Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Mead & Hunt, Inc., which led a DFO-funded study to convert downtown one-way to two-way. DFO relied on federal funds for the cost of the study.
DFO supervisor Jeremy Yates told city council the next step in moving a project forward would be for city council to formally pass a resolution approving the DFO study. This would allow the city to begin reviewing the design of the project and seeking federal grants. B. Paul Silberman of Mead & Hunt, Inc. showed city council data indicating that the cost of the project could range from approximately $ 350,000 to $ 750,000, depending on the design chosen.
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Silberman said the study found that the conversion from one lane to two lanes has had positive impacts in other communities, including decreasing crime and accidents and increasing the value of property and assets. retail sales. He cited a few examples from Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio that are among the research results included in a study appendix for Casper.
Silberman said Meade & Hunt also looked at some different design elements, such as the possible addition of medians, center turns and left turn lanes at intersections. Other options include adding bike lanes and converting corner parking to parallel parking to create more space.
Durbin and Wolcott are 56 feet from sidewalk to sidewalk, according to Silberman. There are currently three lanes of northbound traffic on Durbin, two parallel parking lanes, and no cycle or middle lanes.
Wolcott has 2-3 southbound lanes of traffic, depending on the block, and has parallel parking on one side and corner parking on the other.
In a meeting with members of the public, Silberman said concerns were expressed about turning the corner parking lot into parallel spaces as it would reduce the number of spaces.
Silberman said he didn’t necessarily agree with that prospect, as there is the option of parking in other areas of the city center. However, Meade & Hunt took this public input into account when making design recommendations.
He said that in coming up with possible designs, Meade & Hunt took into account construction costs, access to businesses, pedestrian access, comfort for cyclists and impacts on parking. The contractor also looked at road safety as well as traffic flow.
Of the following design possibilities, the main recommendation from Meade & Hunt is the third option.
This third option would preserve existing parking spaces while adding central turning lanes at the Durbin and Wolcott intersections.
If the city wants to add bike lanes, Silberman said the recommendation differs for Wolcott and Durbin. For Durbin Street, option six is recommended. For Wolcott, the recommendation concerns the seventh option.
Options six and seven would require slightly narrower lanes, but Silberman said all designs will allow things like delivery trucks to move downtown.
If the traffic light modifications are included there would be a cost of approximately $ 150,000 per block for the conversion. This cost drops to about $ 50,000 per block without changing the configuration of the traffic lights.
Council member Bruce Knell asked if Silberman, although bike lanes are necessary, given the downtown speed limit is 20 mph.
Silberman said the slower it is, the better it is for bikes.
Council member Steve Cathey expressed concern about adding a one-way bike lane while converting the two-way vehicle lanes. He also said he believed the conversion could slow down traffic on First and Second Streets and expressed concern about the removal of some on-street parking.
“Casper is a community that loves to drive and park in front of their businesses,” Cathey said, adding that he was concerned Casperites might not be willing to walk if the parking spaces are removed.
Knell went the other way on this, resuscitating talks about adding a parking meter to encourage use of the downtown parking lot. Adding parking meters was a concept discussed by the previous city council in 2019 that was ultimately rejected.
Knell said he doesn’t understand why people don’t want to use the parking lot and that he would be in favor of adding parking meters to encourage use of the garage.
He also expressed support for converting one-way streets to two-way streets, saying he was “totally in favor of it”. Knell noted the decrease in accidents and speed and the increase in property value and visibility for businesses that the conversion could create.
Knell said he preferred the option of converting streets without adding bike lanes.
Council member Jai-Ayla Quest said she agreed with most of Knell’s points, with the possible exception of the advisability of adding bike lanes. She asked what would be the difference in cost between the inclusion and the non-inclusion of cycle paths. Quest also asked if there is evidence that adding bike lanes would increase bicycle use in the city center.
Silberman said the cost of adding a basic bike path would be minimal. He added that adding amenities like convenient and affordable bicycle parking could help increase bicycle use.
Silberman noted that the Meade & Hunt study did not specifically look at how to increase bicycle traffic. However, he said his research indicates that the simple addition of bike lanes has a positive impact on retail sales.
Council member Amber Pollock said she was concerned that some business owners would oppose relocating parking to existing streets.
Silberman said another recommendation is that during the design phase, the city convene a parking task force to ensure citizens have a voice on issues such as impacts on parking.
Council member Lisa Engebretsen said she supported converting streets to two-way towing while keeping parking at an angle.
Mayor Steve Freel said he was initially worried about losing downtown street parking. However, with not only the downtown parking lot but also the recently completed Old Quarter parking lot in Yellowstone near Collins Drive providing parking close to the downtown area, he was not so concerned about the loss of some. places.
He rebuffed the idea that the city should limit itself to the idea that Casper isn’t willing to walk anywhere. Freel noted that people should be able to park within three to four blocks of their destination.
“If you park strategically, the walk isn’t that long,” Freel said.
Council member Kyle Gamroth raised the question of how the conversion study would be funded.
City manager Carter Napier said this was a “very important issue in all of this,” adding that when Silberman showed the conversion could cost over $ 750,000, it caused him some concern.
On the flip side, Napier said the price tag doesn’t necessarily mean the project isn’t important to do. He recommended that the board have an in-depth discussion of possible funding for the project when it begins work on a new fiscal year this spring.
Yates said DFO’s approval of the study would allow some movement in terms of seeking federal grants to support the project.
Donnells Candies owner Mike Stepp said he was also surprised to hear that the conversion could cost $ 750,000. However, Stepp said he believes the project still has merit.
He said he sees cars going the wrong way on one-way streets every week. Wolcott Galleria owner Charles Walsh told the council the same.
Stepp said he also believed there was a way that discouraged people from staying downtown.
“In my opinion, the one-way streets were really designed to move traffic away from the city center,” he said.
Stepp added that he thinks the project is important since the downtown area generates more property taxes per acre and possibly sales taxes per acre than other areas of the city. Stepp added that downtown businesses help attract visitors to the city and the city should think about how to encourage people to spend time downtown rather than encouraging them to walk the streets one way. unique.
Walsh said he was previously chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, adding that the DDA commissioned a similar study into two-way street conversion in 2012.
He said two-way streets tend to create more economic activity and are better for businesses that rely on “passing” traffic.
While two ways can slow traffic down, it can be a good thing because it gives people time to look around and see which businesses they might want to check out, according to Walsh.
Walsh added that he also didn’t want to lose on-street parking, but that with two-way conversion options with minimal impacts on the number of parking spaces, he thinks the city should consider going. forward.
He added that the longer Casper waits, the more expensive the project will become, noting that the estimated cost of the conversion was $ 450,000 in 2012.
Walsh also argued that while it may be unpopular with some, the addition of parking meters might be worth exploring. He said that when Rapid City started implementing a parking meter there was a lot of angst, but it is now working well for this community.
The following slide from Silberman’s presentation shows the potential impacts on parking of possible options to convert Durbin and Wolcott to two-way: