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Oct
19
2021
Infrastructure & Services

Village traffic trial— Should changes be permanent?

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Where there was once a yield sign at the intersection of South Walnut Street and Limestone Street now stands a stop sign.

It’s the first permanent change made after a three-week traffic pattern experiment near Mills Lawn School earlier this fall in order to improve the safety of students during school pickup and drop-off.

The Village is considering other permanent changes, however, according to Village Manager Josué Salmerón at Council’s Dec. 16 regular meeting. That’s because the new traffic pattern was an improvement over the old, Salmerón believes.

“Overall, this is a positive impact on traffic flow and safety,” Salmerón said of the trial, which turned South Walnut and Short streets into one-way roads and prohibited left turns onto Limestone Street from South Walnut.

“Whether people liked it or didn’t like it, it made the situation better,” he added.

The Village manager’s comments came during his second presentation on the results of the Village’s online survey, in which the majority of the 704 respondents opposed making the changes permanent.

At the meeting, Salmerón also highlighted the responses from parents of Mills Lawn School students — and a handful of students themselves — the two groups most supportive of the traffic pattern change.

“Parents responded most positively to this initiative,” he said.

In the survey, 84% of parents and 59% of students felt the one-way design on South Walnut Street made school drop-off safer for children at Mills Lawn School, a higher percentage than the 47% of total respondents who felt the same way. A total of 185 parents and 17 students took the survey, representing about 28% of all respondents.

But Village Council Member Kevin Stokes said the improvements in safety may have been a result of the dedicated student drop-off lane created during the trial — not the street changes.

“Anything we can do to make drop-off safer is a good thing. I believe that can be done without making the other major traffic changes,” he said.

Stokes added that he believes a drop-off lane can be created from existing parallel parking spaces along South Walnut Street “without having to do any construction.”

Looking at the survey results overall, Stokes said that more people did not respond positively to the traffic initiative, giving the Village a “better idea of what not to do.”

“When you look at the greater number of people, you do end up on the less than positive side, in terms of constituents,” Stokes said.

Most survey respondents opposed making the three features of the traffic trial permanent; 71% opposed making South Walnut Street a right-turn only onto Limestone, 54% opposed making South Walnut Street one way from Short Street to Limestone Street and 53% opposed making Short Street one way.

On the same questions, however, parents were 52% in support of the ban on left turns at Limestone Street from South Walnut Street, 77% in favor of making South Walnut one way and 69% in support of making Short Street one way.

Of the parents who responded to the survey, 70% identified themselves as village residents.

Council member Kineta Sanford suggested that more Mills Lawn parents be surveyed by the school about their opinions on school drop-off, and ideas for improving it.

“Yeah, parents want safe drop-off, but I’m just wondering if that’s what it looks like to them,” Sanford said of the Village trial.

Permanent changes?

While Village officials indicated that the street changes were only temporary, when the signs and barricades came down last month, one change remained: the stop sign at South Walnut and Limestone Street.

Salmerón said the yield sign at the location was “too much of a risk,” with drivers not able to see incoming traffic that may be turning from Xenia Avenue onto Limestone. As a result the Village has “taken the liberty” to enact that change, he said.

“It’s certainly one of the successes of the initiative,” Salmerón said of replacing the yield with a stop sign.

“I feel like that’s a win,” added Council President Brian Housh.

The idea of changing the yield sign to a stop sign was not asked in the survey. However, six respondents made the suggestion themselves in one of the survey’s open comment boxes.

Another change the Village is eyeing is  turning Short Street one way westbound, which Salmerón said solves the problems of cars making left turns onto a busy Xenia Avenue.

“We see that as a risky left turn, not just for vehicles, but for pedestrians,” he said.

That change, Salmerón speculated, the Village administration should “evaluate and make a decision on even if it creates a challenge for certain individuals who are very vocal.”

In the survey, 53% opposed the idea of making Short Street one way, while 41% supported it. There were also 85 comments on the question, with the largest number of comments critical of the idea because of its negative impact on downtown businesses and the traffic flow into downtown.

On the issue of making South Walnut Street one way, “that initiative worked,” Salmerón said at the meeting. Although he admitted it did create an inconvenience for some, the Village might educate drivers on alternate routes.

“Folks are settled into the routes they take. That seems to be an adjustment issue,”  Salmerón said.

That change was not popular in the survey, with 54% of respondents not in support of making South Walnut Street one way and 40% in support. In the comment section, some indicated that they would support the change only during school drop-off and pickup hours, or only if other changes, such as the prohibition on left turns at Limestone Street and Short Street being one way, were absent.

Salmerón was also positive about the angle-in parking that replaced parallel parking on Short Street and South Walnut during the trial, which he said led to “better line of sight” for those parking.

While a few commenters in the survey noted that they preferred angle-in to parallel parking, more were critical of the parking type because it resulted in vehicles backing up into the roadway with less visibility.

Asked to weigh in more generally on the improvements to parking on South Walnut Street, 40% said it did not have a positive impact, 34% said it did, and 27% were indifferent. On Short Street parking improvements, 42% responded that it did not have a positive impact, 35% that it did and 19% were indifferent.

As for the prohibition on making a left turn from South Walnut onto Limestone Street, “there was no success there,”  Salmerón said. However, that change may have been difficult to evaluate, he added, noting that some drivers made U-turns around the Village barricades or turned around in nearby driveways.

“It became difficult to access on the value because there were a group of people intentionally going around it,”  Salmerón said.

In addition to 71% of respondents opposing that change, most of the 106 comments were critical of the idea, highlighting the inconvenience and re-routing of vehicles through residential neighborhoods. Some noted that they would support the measure if it were only in place during school drop-off and pickup hours.

More on surveys

During his presentation, Salmerón was  also cautious about putting too much stock in the results in the survey, which the Village designed and implemented.

For one, the “data was skewed” since the survey was done online, Salmerón said.

Salmerón was also critical of the fact that 50% of the responses came in during the trial’s second week, which he suggested may have motivated more negative responses.

Finally, Salmerón said, the results may have been “influenced by particular groups of individuals with concerns.”

“I wouldn’t say the data is a representative sample of Yellow Springs,”  he contended.

Although not addressed at Council’s meeting, an even larger percentage of respondents disliked the traffic trial according to a survey created by U.S. Bank branch manager Ashley Mangen.

Almost 80% of the 59 respondents of that survey, available as a hard-copy survey at U.S. Bank and Yellow Springs Hardware, did not recommend making the changes permanent. In addition, three-quarters of respondents did not believe that the traffic changes improved the “ease of doing business” downtown. Meanwhile, respondents were mixed on the impact on parking, with equal numbers preferring the new arrangement compared to the old.

The issue of possible duplicate responses to the Village survey, raised by Village leaders at prior Council meetings, was not addressed this week.

However, a News review of the data from the same IP addresses showed that only 1% of all responses, or seven surveys, may have been duplicates, with only two of those responses obvious duplicates.

In response to a comment from the News, the Village will provide Council with a list of comments made in the survey, which had eight different open response boxes. Salmerón said that a word document with all the comments is 88 pages long.

Next steps

When would the Village plan to make further changes?

In response to a question from Council member Lisa Kreeger, Salmerón said the implementation of any additional traffic changes will come after the completion of the comprehensive plan now underway.

Additional traffic changes need to balance the interests of different groups in the village, according to Salmerón. Data for specific groups can be gathered from the survey, he said. For instance, the groups most critical of the initiative were owners of commercial property, local business owners and nearby residential property owners.

“How do we weigh these interests and come up with a final solution?” he asked.

Meanwhile, Village officials have scheduled a meeting with school leaders to explore school district needs in more detail, Housh said.

For full survey results, click here.. Other items from Council’s Dec. 16 agenda will be in next week’s News.

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