After the May 28 wreck and paint spill on IH 35 that backed up traffic on the interstate for most of the day, and put a lot of extra vehicles on Mays Street, we received an email from a Mays Street business owner. They asked the City Council to not reduce the number of lanes on Mays Street from four to three, as currently proposed in the draft Downtown Master Plan. They believe such a move would be "a negative, not a positive."
The Plan proposes changing Mays from two lanes in both directions to one lane in both directions with a continuous left turn lane in the middle.
"Our viewpoint and that of other business owners that we have spoken with is the eventual outcome will be that our potential customers who have used Mays will seek out alternative north/south routes to avoid downtown altogether, further challenging the ability of the remaining businesses to be viable," the business owners stated in their email.
These are legitimate concerns, so we asked our consultants to respond. I want to share their responses here, because we know others have the same questions/concerns about the proposed changes to Mays, as well as the other proposed changes to the downtown street network.
Here is the initial response (PDF) from transportation consultant Gary Schatz, P.E., of Walter P Moore. He followed up with this analysis (PDF) of the proposed Main-Mays intersection reconfiguration. Bottom line: The proposed changes will increase the levels of service for vehicles to a C from an E in morning rush hour and to a C from an F in the afternoon rush hour while providing safe mobility for pedestrians crossing Mays. (Traffic engineers use ratings from A to F, with A being the most favorable and F being the poorest conditions.) If you are skeptical, please click the links to read Gary's letters. They are the sealed opinions of a professional engineer.
What some folks may not realize is that we won't change the configuration of Mays and Main without also changing the timing of the traffic signals at that intersection and adding concurrent left turns from Mays. Again, please read Gary's letters -- in particular, the follow-up analysis. There are a couple of graphics that show the level of service change for each movement at the intersection. I was amazed, frankly, at how much better vehicular traffic can flow while giving pedestrians a much safer crossing of Mays.
Here is the letter (PDF) from Tom Moriarity, our economic/marketing consultant on the project. Here's an excerpt:
"Today’s pedestrian environment on Mays is not very friendly, as the dominant character favors the automobile, car speeds and the width of the street. The objective of the downtown plan was to invigorate retail uses, provide opportunities for a greater number of activating uses, and re-build the identity of Downtown Round Rock within a rapidly changing context. Our focus on the market for commercial uses and the appropriate retail mix is integrally tied into both traffic management and urban design; the most successful downtown projects integrate all three elements into one plan. Both the parameters of the Round Rock study and our collective experience in other locations suggest that it will be very difficult to achieve the goals established by the City without narrowing Mays (and we acknowledge the complexity of the task as long as Mays remains a State Highway)."
He concludes: "We consider the recommendation to narrow and reconfigure Mays and the Round Rock Avenue connections to be critical elements in increasing retail property values downtown. In our experience across the country, creating successful, walkable shopping environments has added to adjacent property values and business volumes, not taken value away."
Again, I ask that you read Tom's entire letter. He's a seasoned analyst with ample experience in downtown redevelopment.