If Rockingham wants to roll out the red carpet for visitors and new businesses, we might want our downtown streets to look less like a maze and more like a welcome mat.
Business leaders decided this week to put aside an ambitious proposal that sought to introduce two-way traffic patterns to the city’s one-way streets. Instead, the Rockingham Downtown Corp. will ask for more signs that warn drivers not to turn into oncoming traffic. While we don’t fault the downtown development group for starting small, we hope its members continue to think big.
The nonprofit made headlines earlier this year when it began looking into the viability of converting one-way streets in downtown Rockingham to the two-way thoroughfares that need no caution signs by way of introduction. Wrong-way drivers on downtown streets are an all-too-common sight, and the condition they create is quite literally — pardon the expression — an accident waiting to happen.
No one wants to see a head-on crash, a confused driver clipping an oncoming car or even a near-miss. Downtown leaders reasoned that more signs can accomplish their goal of increased safety a whole lot cheaper than tearing up landscaped medians and changing 59-year-old traffic patterns. But practicality isn’t the only reason they put the two-way street plan on what member J.A. Bolton called the “hind burner.”
Neal Cadieu said staffers in Rockingham’s planning department didn’t seem receptive to the idea. The downtown group had no appetite to fight City Hall and opted for a pre-emptive compromise instead of supporting a sweeping change that could prove both costly and controversial.
Since the Rockingham Development Corp. needs a good working relationship with the city to revitalize Rockingham’s core and fill vacant storefronts with new tenants, its reluctance to ruffle feathers is perhaps a matter of necessity. But there also seemed to be an aversion to change and a desire to stick with what many consider familiar and comfortable.
“We’ve had them so long that people here have kind of gotten accustomed to them,” Cadieu said of the one-way streets, which have existed since 1965. “But there are problems with them. There would be problems with two-way (streets).”
Rockingham’s longtime residents and business owners may have mastered the one-way traffic pattern, but the same doesn’t hold true for tourists and prospective downtown merchants. If the community is serious about growing, it ought to at least give two-way streets a second look.
One-way roads confuse tourists and confound GPS navigation units, which often instruct drivers to turn the wrong way onto streets that can’t accommodate them. We may all yearn for years gone by when motorists followed printed maps and relied on road signs, but like it or not, the digital driving aids are here to stay.
A protracted project to rip out the medians on one-way streets and reroute traffic may not ultimately be what’s best for Rockingham. At this early stage, we reserve judgment. But one thing’s for sure, the idea merits serious study — and perhaps a little soul-searching.
Do we want to make downtown more inviting and easy to navigate, or do we shrug our shoulders at the puzzled souls passing by and tell them they’ll just have to adapt to our established way of life? Are the drivers doing double-takes guests to be welcomed with open arms or outsiders to be waved through?
It’s the difference between a welcome mat and a no-trespassing sign.