Consultants urge fewer traffic lanes on Tupelo’s Main Street

TUPELO – Traffic consultants Tuesday recommended fewer auto lanes on Main Street to make the major downtown artery more of a destination for shoppers, tourists, pedestrians and cyclists.
RPM Transportation Consultants and Lose & Associates, which were hired by the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association earlier this year, presented two traffic options at the DTMSA’s annual meeting Tuesday morning.
The first, and the one preferred by the consultants and Main Street officials, calls for Main Street to be reduced from four lanes to two lanes from Green Street to Front Street.
Turning lanes will be added at intersections, along with 6-foot bike lanes on each side of traffic.
The second option also reduces the street to two auto lanes. Instead of bike lanes, it has a 20-foot median full of trees and plants. Partial turning lanes are added, as well.
Both plans, which are initial recommendations from the consultants, keep on-street parallel parking and the current speed limit of 30 mph.
Both plans also make the area more pedestrian-friendly, the consultants said, by adding decorative paving at crosswalks and creating “bulb-outs” – areas of the sidewalk that go into the road at intersections and shorten the distance pedestrians have to walk.
Bob Murphy, president of Brentwood, Tenn.-based RPM, said another important change to Main Street would be synchronization of downtown traffic lights for better vehicle flow.
The major challenge to downtown, he said, is the “relatively high” speeds that vehicles travel, often upward of 40 mph.
Murphy said drivers could be trained to go 20-30 mph once they learn that they will hit more green lights at the lower speeds.
Officials from DTMSA and the Community Development Foundation, the downtown group’s partner in the program, lauded the recommendations, saying it will make the area safer and more attractive to visitors and shoppers.
But they admit it won’t be accepted by everyone.
“I guess everyone can throw rocks at me for a week because they don’t want to turn Main Street into three lanes,” said Jon Milstead, CDF’s director of planning.
“The main reason we got RPM involved is because they can prove with their modeling that this will work … It’s the right thing to do because it will make Main Street safer for the people that park on Main. It will help slow traffic down, but their modeling proves it will still be efficient with getting traffic through.”
Murphy said the corridor averages 17,000 to 20,000 vehicles traveling on it every day.
When plans for slowing down traffic on Main Street were reported earlier this summer, Greg Pirkle, chairman of the Major Thoroughfare Committee, said he liked the idea of making the area more pedestrian friendly but hoped traffic efficiency wasn’t sacrificed in the process.
Pirkle, whose committee is responsible for improving major thoroughfares in Tupelo, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Clyde Whitaker, vice chairman of the committee, said he hasn’t seen the plans for Main Street and therefore did not have enough information to have an opinion.
Murphy said his company’s analysis shows that a three-lane Main Street will accommodate the current traffic in downtown Tupelo if the lights are synchronized.
“We feel like the three-lane concept has a lot of great advantages,” Murphy said.
The next step, according to DTMSA Executive Director Debbie Brangenberg, is to meet with all the involved parties, such as the city’s Development Services Department, the Major Thoroughfare Committee, the City Council, the mayor and Public Works.
“I want to make sure all of our suggestions meet and dovetail and achieve goals we can all embrace,” Brangenberg said.
Main Street, though dually signed as Mississippi Highway 6, is considered a city street from Crosstown to Elizabeth Street and is not under the state Department of Transportation.
Bill Jamieson, MDOT’s District 1 engineer, said the department would be involved only if federal money is used in the project. Brangenberg said she will investigate whether stimulus money and grants can fund the changes, if they move forward.
She said it’s hard to forecast a timeline but reiterated that this is part of a long-term planning project for downtown in light of Highway 6 being rerouted. Jamieson said he expects Highway 6 will be rerouted around downtown in three to four years.
Murphy said, “There’s a lot of work still to be done to make things a reality to make Main Street a great street. You’re already on the way. What you need is a final push.”

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal