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Water Street considered for 2-lane street

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Under the city's current plan to change the traffic flow on Water Street to make room for additional parallel parking, the outside lanes in both directions would be designated for parking. At Mariners' Wharf Park the outside northbound lane would be designated a right turn lane into the the park, while the shoulder of that lane would be used for parallel parking.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The N.C. Department of Transportation would eliminate several lanes on Water Street to free up more downtown parking in Elizabeth City under a plan a presented to City Council on Monday.

Carroll Collins, a consultant with the engineering firm Kimley-Horn, is proposing turning Water Street into a two-lane road between Ehringhaus and Elizabeth streets. The move would eliminate turning-only lanes and, where there are four lanes, use the outermost lanes for parallel parking spots. He estimated the change would create another 28 parking spots downtown.

Council voted to further research the proposal, including directing city staff to place city vehicles on Water Street to model what the changes would look like.

The city hired Kimley-Horn in 2015 to study parking and traffic on Water Street. The work was delayed, however, as the company waited for normal traffic flow to resume once nearby work on Road Street was done, City Manager Rich Olson said Tuesday.

Collins explained the firm initially looked at converting Water Street to a one-way street, but found that would have opened up too few parking spaces to justify the move. State DOT officials also “weren't necessarily too keen on converting it to a one-way,” he added. The DOT has a say in what happens on Water Street because it’s a state-maintained road.

Kimley-Horn’s study also found Water Street has too little traffic to justify more than two lanes. Based on numbers collected in February, Collins reported the road's average traffic on weekdays was 11,335 vehicles.

“Typically, you don't get into considering a four-lane roadway until you're easily north of 15,000 (vehicles per day),” Collins said, adding that traffic counts during peak hours were also below the threshold for a four-lane road.

Under Kimley-Horn's proposal, the outermost north- and southbound lanes from Church Street north to Elizabeth Street would be eliminated. South of Church Street, the outermost southbound lane that diverts motorists onto Ehringhaus Street would remain, as would the left-turn lane from Water onto Church.

Additionally, Kimley-Horn's plan would convert the outermost northbound lane between Church and Fearing streets, in front of Mariners' Wharf Park, into a section of roadway allowing parallel parking without blocking traffic.

All told, Collins estimated the plan could add 28 parallel parking spaces. He noted Kimley-Horn also considered angled parking, but said angled parking is less safe than parallel parking.

Supporting the idea, Olson said eliminating multiple lanes on Water Street would open up parking spots downtown while also making Water Street's crosswalks safer for pedestrians. With only one lane in each direction, if one motorist stops for a pedestrian, every driver following behind must also stop, Olson explained.

Olson said the plan wouldn't significantly affect traffic flow, though motorists could no longer go around other motorists making left turns.

In one caveat, Olson said northbound traffic would still back up when the Camden Causeway drawbridge is raised.

“That's going to continue to happen; there's nothing we can do about that,” he said.

Olson also told councilors he wanted their permission to take the idea to DOT, but wasn’t asking they fully commit to the idea. He also recommended holding a public hearing if the council does proceed with the change.

No councilor spoke against making Water Street two lanes. Councilor Billy Caudle endorsed the change, saying it would make Water Street safer.

“I think it's a great idea,” he said. “I've always wanted to see Water Street smaller … more pedestrian-friendly.”

Councilor Johnnie Walton asked city staff to help the council better visualize the change, suggesting parking police vehicles along Water Street to show what the new configuration would look like. He also asked to see that visual aid before city staff takes the idea to DOT.

Councilors approved taking the idea to DOT once city staff presents the visual aid.

Councilors also supported Mayor Pro Tem Rickey King's request to study reconfiguring Water Street between Waterfront Park and Museum of the Albemarle to add parking.

Olson said Tuesday that Kimley-Horn is now studying that change, adding the city could only convert the lane closest to the museum into parking spots. He estimated that could create as many as 20 more spots.

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