Phoenix may go off its road diet


    The Phoenix Plaza opened last summer on Highway 99. <br><p>Photo from phoenixciviccenter.org.{/p}

    A single-lane configuration on southbound Main Street in downtown Phoenix could be on its way out after Phoenix City Council approved amendments to the city’s Transportation System Plan March 4.

    Many residents have been unhappy with the so-called “road diet” configuration since it was instituted in fall 2015. The city switched Main Street from a two-lane road to a one-lane street from Sixth Street to Oak Street in conjunction with the town’s downtown redevelopment efforts.

    City officials promised a review of the project to determine whether it would continue, but adoption of a new transportation plan in 2016 included standards that did not allow conversion back to the former alignment.

    “The public has since spoken, and there is a clear preference to return to a two-lane configuration for southbound Main Street,” Planning Director Evan MacKenzie wrote in a report on the amendments. Most public comment received has been negative on the one-lane setup. Merging into a single lane from side streets has been criticized, with backups occurring during peak periods.

    While residents wanted a change back, it wasn’t gong to be simple. A conditional-use permit would have needed approval from the Planning Commission to allow two lanes unless the transportation plan was amended.

    After the vote, Evans cautioned that there is a 21-day period before it becomes final. During that time the action could be taken to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. The decision could also be held up by the Oregon Department of Transportation or the Department of Land Conservation and Development, but MacKenzie said he was not expecting any appeals.

    City Manager Aaron Prunty asked for and received consent from the council following the vote to go ahead with staff work to allow the conversion back to two lanes. With the new amendments, approval is not required from either the Planning Commission or City Council.

    The city adopted its current transportation plan in 2016, but information presented to city leaders and the public at the time did not match what was adopted in the plan, MacKenzie wrote. The public was led to believe the singe-lane setup on Main Street was a trial that could be reversed. But parts of the plan limited the roadway to a one-lane configuration. Planning commissioners recommend approval of the amendments Jan. 14.

    The new provisions allow for a narrower travel lane of 10 feet rather than the typical 11- or 12-foot lane. The narrower lanes can produce a “traffic calming effect” to help reduce tendencies to exceed the speed limit. In the downtown area the amendments would eliminate a buffered bike lane shown in some proposals for redevelopment due to a lack of right-of-way width.

    Conversions to fewer travel lanes have been implemented elsewhere in the Rogue Valley and remain in place, including North Main Street in Ashland, East Main Street in Medford and Highway 99 from the north Ashland city limits to Rapp Road in Talent.

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    In other action, the council did not go along with Mayor Chris Luz’s suggestion that up to $10,000 from contingency funds be made available for fire-prevention efforts.

    Luz said he wanted to contact Jackson County and the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad about efforts to abate potential fire hazards on tracts of land that the entities own next to a residential area in the north part of town. The area is frequented by transients, and there are fire pits at the site. Luz said he wanted the funding in order to respond in case the property owners did not take action. Fires have occurred at the site over the years.

    “I’d rather if we do it where the city manager contacted those agencies and found out what our options are and found out how much it’s going to cost,” said Councilor Terry Baker.

    In July 2018, Luz said he might declare a state of emergency given conditions on the property. Luz worked with the county and the railroad to reduce potential fire danger. Eviction notices were posted for those occupying the property, and county crews cut back vegetation along the tracks bordering residences under a contact between the county and the railroad.

    Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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