Debate lively on downtown South Bend plan for two way streets

It wasn’t a hostile crowd, but there was some blunt criticism leveled tonight over the idea of restoring two-way traffic to some one-way streets in downtown South Bend

“I think there are a lot of folks who are excited about this, I think there are a lot of folks who are nervous about this,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

At the meeting a consultant suggested the city’s first step involve converting six blocks of Lafayette Street and three blocks of William Street from one-way to two-way traffic.

The move would reduce the number of traffic lights from 11, to just three. “We’re talking about smart streets here, two-way is just part of that, the other part is make it pedestrian-family-bike friendly, lots of parking for the businesses,” said Ian Lockwood, a transportation engineering expert with AECOM.

In general, the idea is to narrow traffic lanes, add protected bike lanes, and widen the berth for pedestrians. “Right now, it’s made for moving people through fast and that doesn’t do any business downtown any good,” said Mark McDonnell, owner of the LaSalle Grill. “Streets are wide, cars are moving fast. We want to slow things down and force people into the interior of downtown to see what’s there.”

Now all of the 80 or so spectators at tonight’s two-way street meeting saw things the same way, when it came to assessing the challenges faced by the downtown.

“As a woman, are you going to walk past three homeless centers, an addiction center, you know, a parole center, a county jail, he said unfortunately the way your city is laid out you’ve put all your social services downtown,” said South Bend resident Suzan Kesim.

Another spectator questioned how a plan to restore two-way traffic turned into a massive streetscape makeover that included a suggested conversion of part of the Century Center parking lot into shared green space.

“The reason this is an administration priority is that there’s a lot of evidence that this is one of the most powerful single things we could do to improve our economy,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “It’s one of the most powerful single things we co uld do to kick start the trajectory of downtown South Bend’s comeback.”

The mayor said he was willing to invest a lot of time in meetings on two-way streets, though some may be contentious, in order to hammer out the right plan.

The administration has requested more than $10 million dollars in the 2014 budget to begin the initiative.

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