EDITORIAL: Main Street results

By NEMS Daily Journal

The results are in from the traffic test on Main Street in downtown Tupelo, and they confirm what advocates of a proposed three-lane configuration have maintained: The setup can both reduce total drive time through downtown and mitigate delays at traffic lights through synchronization.
Those findings are from a study conducted by RPM Transportation Consultants, hired by the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association. The study compared traffic counts and flow from August 2010 with April 2011 after Main Street had been temporarily restriped from four lanes to two with a center turn lane and shared bike lanes and on-street parking.
The three-lane configuration is a major component of a broader Main Street improvement project, and the only one on which there is any significant disagreement. Landscaping, decorative street lights, pedestrian crosswalks and a bike trail to the Elvis Presley Birthplace are also included in the plan. The city has agreed to pay $575,000 – or 20 percent of the cost of the $2.9 million project – to be paired with already allocated federal transportation dollars, but the council wanted the traffic test before giving final approval to the project.
With the results in, a solid majority of the council appears ready to give the Main Street master plan the go-ahead, and it may vote as early as its regular meeting next week.
While the three-laning of Main Street has generated a degree of controversy, the quantifiable facts of the test demonstrate that its benefits can be achieved without slowing down – in fact, even speeding up – traffic flow. Those benefits are a more pedestrian-friendly downtown, first and foremost, which is at the heart of recent downtown redevelopment. The whole Fairpark concept, for example, is built upon the notion of generating more walk-around traffic in the downtown area, which means more business.
But the traffic lane changes have been so much discussed that the other elements of the master plan have been underemphasized. The plan is not simply about accommodating bicycle riders, as some critics have suggested, but about making the whole downtown area more accommodating as a gathering place – without hindering vehicular traffic.
Other cities have successfully transitioned to downtown streets that work better for both vehicles and pedestrians and that enhance their inner core as a place to work, play, shop and live. That’s what the Main Street master plan aims to achieve.
The results of the traffic flow experiment bolster the argument for a positive council vote to give the green light to the project.