Redesigned Main Street has fans, doubters on first day

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The first day of Tupelo’s test of a new three-lane configuration through its downtown corridor brought rain and a mix of opinions.
The weather may have prevented residents from getting a full feel for the proposed layout, which would change most of a stretch of Main Street between Green and Elizabeth streets from four lanes to three – one lane in each direction and a center turn lane.
“I haven’t noticed if traffic has been any slower or backed up,” said Catherine McMahn, sales associate at YellowLoveBird. “From our window, it looks the same.”
City workers restriped the street Sunday, and Monday was the first full day of a test that will last at least six weeks.
The new design from the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association is intended to make Main Street more appealing to shoppers, diners and tourists and to make the area safer for pedestrians. It also contains space that could be used as bike lanes, although the lanes will not be marked for bicycle travel during the test.
Only a few pedestrians or bicyclists were out Monday, partly because of the weather, but Cafe 212 co-owner Amanda Hayden did notice a positive change from the proposed bicycle lanes, noting that they better insulate parked cars from oncoming highway traffic.
“With the bike lanes, it is great getting out of your car,” she said. “Before, you had to jump out and run for it.”
Her husband, Jason Hayden, who also owns the restaurant, said he hoped the change would prevent commercial traffic from using the street as a throughway. He noticed that traffic did move more slowly Monday.
“It would be nice if it was more local traffic,” he said. “With commercial traffic, there is more congestion.”
The configuration leaves two lanes of eastbound traffic on Main Street between a spot just passed City Hall and Elizabeth Street.
This part of the stretch was intentionally left unchanged in order to accommodate outbound traffic on its way to U.S. Highway 45 in the afternoon, said Jon Milstead, the vice president of community planning services for Tupelo’s Community Development Foundation.
The decision was made based on traffic counts and the suggestions of traffic engineers.
Motorists at each end of the restriped zone are notified of the change by a flashing display board. Those in the right lane need to merge left or turn right.
Doing so presented a challenge for Helen Logan, who manages the small engines department at Tupelo Hardware.
On her Monday morning commute from Fulton, Logan was in the right lane when she realized she needed to merge. However, she said, traffic was so backed up at that time, around 7 a.m., that it was difficult for her to do so.
Logan said she had to wait several minutes until someone let her merge.
“It will bottleneck cars coming from the east,” she said.
Jeff Leinard, who was shopping at Tupelo Hardware, also said he was concerned that the new configuration would make it more difficult to drive on Main Street.
“When I drove in, no one seemed to realize the lanes had changed and two guys almost clipped me,” said Leinard, who lives in west Tupelo. “I try to avoid Main Street like the plague because every time I come through here, it is a mess.”
Tupelo Hardware owner George Booth worried that if the configuration hampered traffic, it might keep customers away.
Meanwhile Jade Gaskin, the owner of Luxe Boutique in Fair Park, said she was hopeful that additional space for parking would make it easier for shoppers. The new configuration doesn’t definitively call for additional parking spots in its final version, but it is a possibility.
“Parking can be an issue,” she said, “especially with bad weather.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.

Want to weigh in on the changes?
– You can do so through an online survey available at www.surveymonkey.com//TupeloMainStreetTest.
The survey can be taken anonymously. All participants who chose to give their names will be entered in a drawing for 100 Downtown Dollars.