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Heidi Shaffer, Published October 01 2010

Conversion discussion a two-way street

Residents’ and business owners’ feelings go both ways on whether Fargo should convert its downtown one-ways.

About 60 people attended a meeting Thursday with consultants hired to study the NP and First Avenue corridors.

After studying four options, including whether to keep the one-ways, HWS Consultants of Omaha, Neb., recommended Fargo convert the avenues to include two lanes in the current direction of traffic and one lane traveling the opposite way.

Longtime downtown business owners had a strong presence at the meeting, voicing concerns about traffic congestion, parking and freight deliveries if the avenues are converted from one-ways to two-ways.

The existing roadway allows freight trucks to double-park next to a business, but the new configuration requires deliveries to cross two lanes of traffic to get to a storefront, said Steve Larson, owner of downtown’s United Automotive.

“To me, that makes no sense at all. Somebody’s going to get hurt,” he said.

HWS project manager Mike Gorman said traffic will not flow as easily if the conversion takes place but added that congestion would not be significantly worse and loading zones could be implemented for deliveries.

The preferred option does the best job of addressing the study’s goals to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers, Gorman said.

Sara Watson Curry, a member of the F-M Community Bike Workshop, said the two-way option does a good job of accommodating bicycles and pedestrians by including bike lanes and additional sidewalk space.

Jake Coryell, a North Dakota State University student who lives downtown and walks or bikes to classes in the downtown campus, favors the conversion.

“I think there’s a greater picture beyond just congestion of traffic,” Coryell said.

Joe Curry, co-owner of downtown’s Red Raven Espresso Parlor, said there’s been a cultural shift downtown since Broadway’s revitalization to keep young people and entrepreneurs in Fargo.

“But we need to move beyond just Broadway,” he said.

Changing to two-ways would have a positive economic effect on downtown Fargo by encouraging new development, said Rich Caplan, the study’s economist.

Caplan looked at five other cities that underwent similar one-way conversions and the economic impacts that followed.

Combining other cities’ data with existing information on downtown Fargo’s economics, Caplan determined Fargo could potentially see a net benefit of $91 million over 25 years by spurring new development and businesses.

Steve Strege, who has worked in the Black Building for 34 years, said he would move his business if the conversion makes it too difficult to access downtown.

“There are probably some people that feel the same way,” he said. “It’s not all adding. There’s some subtracting.”

Public comment on the project will remain open for two weeks.

The steering committee, made up of city leaders, engineers, community planners and business owners, will decide on a recommendation before passing it on to the Planning Commission this fall. The final proposal will likely go before the City Commission by the end of the year.

If approved, the reconfiguration would likely occur during the 2012 construction season.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511