ROCKINGHAM — One-way streets can stay, merchants say, but wrong-way drivers have to go.
Downtown business leaders on Tuesday shelved a plan to seek two-way traffic on several one-way streets and will instead ask city officials to place prominent warning signs at intersections and parking lot exits. Rockingham Downtown Corp. members voted unanimously to support the sign proposal.
“We have a lot of people who turn left out of our parking lot because they’re not from here,” said Amber Marcengill, who owns the Rocking Trends consignment store at 201 E. Washington St. “To me, there’s not enough signage.”
The group had previously prepared a resolution supporting two-way traffic downtown, but members decided to push for one-way street signs instead after local historian Neal Cadieu told the board that city planners seemed resistant to changing traffic patterns.
“I feel like now we’re at a crossroads whether we want to pursue this or not,” Cadieu said. “Those are our two choices.”
Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris, who owns Helms Jewelers at 211 E. Washington St., said the downtown development group could begin the process of studying two-way traffic and see how the idea is received.
“If we feel strongly that this ought to be considered and want to vote that way, I think we should formally present it to the planning board,” he said.
One-way streets in downtown Rockingham date back to 1955, Cadieu said. He pointed out that local drivers are used to the current traffic patterns and a plan to introduce two-way traffic to streets that have been one-way for 59 years might cause confusion or controversy.
“We’ve had them so long that people have kind of gotten accustomed to them,” Cadieu explained, “but there are problems with them. There would be problems with two-way (streets).”
Members reached a consensus that their main objective was reducing wrong-way traffic on the one-way streets. They decided that adding more warning and informational signs would likely help them meet that goal without making major changes to the downtown traffic flow.
“My opinion is to put that on the hind burner right now,” J.A. Bolton said of the two-way traffic plan, “but talk to the city about putting some signage out.”
Cadieu seconded Bolton’s motion to ask for more one-way street signs and put the proposal for two-way traffic on the back burner. Members voted unanimously to support the motion.
“I think that’s really the correct way to go at this point — to take a step back,” Cadieu said.
Before taking a vote, President Susan Kelly offered members a chance to speak in favor of two-way streets.
“Is there anyone who feels strongly that we should go ahead full-bore?” she said.
Business leaders agreed that asking for more signs would be a less-drastic route to the same destination — safer streets.
“It’s just not safe,” Marcengill said. “Anything that would help would be awesome. There’s really no direction signs to force them to make that right-hand turn.”
Sharon Nichols, who teaches dance classes at Liberty Place on East Washington Street, said adding signs seemed like a viable alternative to introducing two-way traffic.
“That was one solution to the problem,” she said. “Now we’ve heard other solutions with the signage.”
The group also discussed the need to channel tractor-trailers onto wider secondary streets to reduce the number of large trucks downtown, though the board took no action Tuesday.
“The trucks are a major problem,” Cadieu said. “There is considerable truck traffic along U.S. 1. (The N.C. Department of Transportation) takes the position that they must provide the shortest route. My understanding is that since U.S. 1 is a federal highway, that is not necessarily a North Carolina DOT position, but a federal position.”
The Rockingham Downtown Corp. held its May meeting at the Richmond County Agricultural Services Center. The next meeting is planned for noon on June 17 at Discovery Place Kids.
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-997-3111, ext. 13. Follow him on Twitter @corey_friedman.