By Jesse Wood
A feasibility study recently completed for the Town of Boone recommends turning the entire downtown stretch of Howard Street – not the portion that runs behind Legends nightclub – into a westbound, one-way street and Appalachian Street into a southbound, one-way street.
The 50-plus-page study, which was dated December 2014, analyzed two scenarios and will be presented to the Boone Town Council at its Thursday meeting.
The other scenario (labeled Scenario 1) analyzed an eastbound, one-way Howard Street and southbound, one-way Appalachian Street.
“To facilitate safe and efficient traffic flow, Scenario 2 is recommended as the preferred circulation pattern for Downtown Boone. This will provide a better circulation pattern with fewer conflict points at the intersection of Howard Street and Depot Street,” the study reads.
Under the recommended scenario, the study also recommends adding pedestrian signals and an optimized traffic signal to accommodate future traffic volumes. It also notes that this proposal would benefit pedestrians.
In the Town of Boone’s 2014 Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan, pedestrian improvements along Howard Street were ranked as the highest priority. Recommendations included enhancing the corridor to “living-street” concept, which uses lower speed limits and a space prioritized around pedestrians. This, the plan states, would be accomplished by converting Howard Street into a one-way street.
In 2011, the Town of Boone implemented one-way traffic and a pedestrian path on Howard Street from Depot Street to Water Street. At the time, this was reported as temporary, and later a thinner pedestrian walkway was added from Depot Street to Appalachian Street.
The Town of Boone has been trying to improve Howard Street for two decades now. One of the hurdles was that the town wasn’t able to secure all of the easements for an elaborate transformation of Howard Street that was estimated to cost at least $4.5 million.
With that in mind, the Boone Town Council scaled down its intentions and entered into a contract with Glave & Homes Architecture to provide concept drawings for the Howard Street improvement project in August 2012. In October 2013, the town reviewed the conceptual drawings and requested this referenced study conducted by Davenport Engineering, Inc.
The new recommendations drew criticism as soon as they were published on the Town of Boone’s website in advance of the Boone Town Council meeting on Thursday.
Fulton Lovin, owner of Pads for Grads, which is located at the corner of Appalachian Street and Howard Street, recently penned a letter directed to Town of Boone officials stating that “‘achieving anything’ is NOT better than nothing.”
In his letter, Lovin noted that he’ll watch the Raley Parking lot, which has access points on Rivers Street and Howard Street, in the morning and see the Howard Street entrance “bottleneck … as motorists fumble with their swipe cards to get into the lot (average of 30 seconds per car) causing a current backup on Appalachian Street and Howard Street.”
He noted that the impact the recommended proposal would have on King Street during the morning rush to the ASU campus parking lot isn’t addressed in the study.
“Conversely, what will be the effect when Raley empties out during rush hour on Depot and King streets?” Lovin asks. “It’s conceivable there will be major backups at Depot Street from the exodus of all the Howard Street lots having only one choice of departure (west).”
Lovin said that the “living-street” concept, which is more pedestrian friendly, works in a place like Asheville that has many more streets in its downtown district. It doesn’t work, he said, in downtown Boone, which only has a few streets in the Municipal Service District.
Lovin used an analogy, likening the traffic flow in downtown Boone to blood flow to the heart.
“Back in the old days when people had heart trouble we called it hardening of the arteries (limiting blood flow through its pathways being minimized or cut off). This analogy is precisely what seems to be happening every so often in Boone beginning with the condemnation of two-way traffic on Bear Trail and the dead ending of Howard Street at the ASU parking deck,” Lovin wrote. “Now, we have a traffic study which has determined that restricting more blood flow can help the heart patient.”
The Boone Town Council will discuss this study on Thursday night.