Street Committee Wants New Plans For Block Avenue

— The renovation to Block Avenue has so far resulted in mostly cries of dismay from City Council members who are asking the city’s planning and transportation officials to scramble with new parking and travel lane options by as early as Monday.

“I’m just concerned that this was a poorly planned design and we didn’t show enough concern when we designed this, and just rushed through,” said Matthew Petty, a council member from Ward 2 who serves on the city’s transportation committee.

The committee asked the Engineering Department to come up with new design options for the remaining part of the street between Spring Street and the downtown square. The block between Dickson and Spring streets is nearly complete.

Even though traffic and planning officials have been essentially sent back to the drawing board to offer up other parking and travel lane solutions, work on the street is not expected to stop, said Brown.

“We can still build sidewalks and that sort of thing. The parking and planting areas wouldn’t be built until later anyway,” said Chris Brown, city engineer.

The committee expressed the most concern for the part of the street between Dickson and Spring. This section of street has rear-in angle parking on one side and parallel parking on the other side of the street, making for an 11-foot-wide travel lane, assuming everyone parks correctly, said Brown.

“I think we’ll be revisiting this,” said Bobby Ferrell, councilman from Ward 3, and who leads the street committee.

At the intersection of Block Avenue and Spring Street, traffic designers opted for a raised intersection with the travel lane jogging slightly off center, as traffic-calming device. This too, has raised concern, said Ferrell, who believes the intersection could make for a tight squeeze with emergency vehicles such as fire engines.

Test drives have shown fire engines can make it, albeit slowly, said Brown. However, making the turn from Spring Street onto Block Avenue is tight and some of the planting area intended for the intersection will have to be paved to accommodate the wide turns of emergency vehicles.

Petty also took issue with rear-in angle parking because if vehicles back up all the way to the curb, much of the back-end of the car or truck is hanging over the new 9-foot-wide sidewalk, which he says takes space away from pedestrians. Brown countered the cars aren’t taking away any more of the sidewalk than the new tree wells.

“I have to be honest, I’m not very satisfied with that answer,” Petty dryly remarked.

“We basically just made those sidewalks four or five feet wide, and that’s essentially what we didn’t want,” he said.

Mike Johnson, associate vice chancellor for the physical plant at the University of Arkansas, recommended simply removing the half-dozen parallel parking spaces from the street, giving drivers and parkers more breathing room.

“I think the committee is being too hard on itself right now,” Johnson said, as the traffic committee bounced around several ideas such as introducing two-way traffic on the street, a strong deviation from what’s been planned.

The plan to renovate Block Avenue’s streetscape had several key concepts at its core: Slowing vehicular traffic, making the street more friendly to pedestrians and increasing available parking. All of these ideas have been met, but the solution is just not sitting well with the public or council members.

“I have not had a single person who likes this, with the exception of one person,” Ferrell said.

“I think when it comes to this project, we had all the right goals, in mind, but we ended up missing the mark, said Petty.

“We’ve turned it into a parking lot that’s difficult to maneuver around,” he said.

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