One-way traffic could drive down auto business

Auto shops, car lots say plan to extend one-way traffic on Main and Center streets would hurt business

By Reggie Ellis

VISALIA – Auto shops and car lots are saying the city’s plan to extend one-way traffic on Main and Center streets to Ben Maddox could be driving their businesses in the wrong direction. 

The comments were made by used car lot, auto repair, tire and towing companies during two community workshops on Jan. 29 to provide those in the area with information and findings from its traffic study regarding the conversion of two-way traffic to one-way traffic on Main and Center from Santa Fe Street to Ben Maddox Way.  

The study, conducted by TJKM Transportation Consultants, said the proposal to convert traffic to one-way was initiated by the city council in an effort to improve pedestrian and bike safety and enhance economic vibrancy in the area by improving the flow of traffic. 

Rutvij Patel, project manager for the study, said the traffic analysis found that the eastern segments of both roadways would not have adequate lengths to handle traffic in both directions in the next four years. He also said that one-way traffic tends to be safer for pedestrians and cyclists who have less traffic directions to contend with. One-third of intersections on Main and Center streets from Santa Fe to Ben Maddox have a greater collision rate than the state average. The worst intersection is Main and Santa Fe, where consultants say there is significant confusion as Main transition from one-way to two-way traffic. From 2014 to 2018 there were five collisions at that intersection. The intersection of Center and Bridge Street had three collisions during the same four-year time span. Despite the collisions, the intersections on the two roadways in eastern downtown have a high level of service, meaning there are not many issues with lane configurations, signal timing and turning volumes. 

During the morning session of the workshops, Gabriel Jacquez, owner of Ceasar’s Collision Repair and Towing at 920 E. Center Ave., said nearly all of the businesses on eastern legs of Center and Main are auto shops or car lots. He counted at least 32 auto related businesses from Santa Fe to Ben Maddox along the two roadways and the connecting side streets. He said many of those business have to move cars between their shops and parking areas constantly. If the streets were one-way, Jacquez said his employees would have to take cars to west to Burke, then south to Main, then east to Ben Maddox and back to Center just to park the cars on the street from his shop.

“We will have to do things very different,” Jacquez said. “Instead of going 25 yards we have to travel a quarter mile.”

He suggested extending the one-way to Burke but allow two-way traffic in and around the intersection of Center and Ben Maddox. 

“We may be creating more of a bottleneck,” Jacquez said. 

Ed Dena, who owns a used car dealership at the corner of Main and Ben Maddox, said making Main one-way would cut off his business from traffic along Ben Maddox. 

“Our access is only from Main Street and changing that traffic pattern would be devastating to our business,” Dena said. “Having it one-way complicates everything.”

Brian Gregg, owner of Dollar Bill Auto Sales at the corner of Center and Ben Maddox, said he had similar concerns on missing out on traffic flowing from downtown past his car lot. He also noted that the railroad tracks cutting across both Main and Center will back up traffic onto Ben Maddox if cars can’t make a U-turn to go return to Ben Maddox and go around the train. 

At the second meeting later that evening, another auto shop owner said the high concentration of auto shops and car lots works well in east downtown, so why would the city do anything to disrupt it. He said it could have a negative effect on those businesses, who would then be forced to find a new location. The problem is, the man said, the city has very few areas zoned for auto repair.

“We’ve tried to move to other locations before and we couldn’t find that zoning,” the man said.

One man questioned why the city was converting more street segments in downtown to one-way after the city decided to revert Acequia back to a two-lane traffic after a failed experiment as a one-way street. He argued that there was never a problem when Main and Center streets were both two-way traffic roads either. 

“Main Street always worked really well,” he said. “No one had any problems and traffic moved fine.”

Parking was also a concern. Matt Ainley, who manages commercial properties along Center, said his tenants were concerned about finding parking and traffic flow around their residences. He suggested moving the bus stop to create more parking spaces, adding mid-block crosswalks along Main and Center for students walking into downtown from school and reducing the slope on Center to avoid flooding in the gutters.

Under both plans, downtown would lose either seven or 10 parking spaces due to pedestrian and bike lane improvements. The difference between the plans is designing for diagonal parking versus parallel parking spaces along Main and Center. Patel said both options of the plan preserve the number of ADA parking spaces. Option 1 would install diagonal parking to extend the feel of the central downtown area and create wider traffic lanes but would eliminate any dedicated bike lanes. Bikes would share the lanes with cars which could create an unsafe situation for cyclists who may not see cars backing out and downtown would lose 10 parking stalls. Option 2 would use parallel parking leaving room for a striped bike lane on one side of the road between parking stalls and traffic. This option would be safer for cyclists, only cost downtown seven parking spaces but would have higher maintenance costs for the additional striping. 

Those who could not attend the meetings can still submit comments on the study until 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020 by contacting the City of Visalia Public Works Department at (559) 713-4633, or sending written comments to City of Visalia – City Hall East, c/o Leslie Blair, 315 E. Acequia, Visalia, CA 93291 or [email protected]. 

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