Resolve parking sooner than later

Johnson City Press • Dec 17, 2019 at 7:30 AM

While it’s encouraging to see Johnson City move ahead with plans to improve the West Walnut Street area for business development, one essential aspect appears to be on the back burner.

A revitalized corridor would mean more cars, and more cars mean a need for more parking spaces.

As Press Staff Writer David Floyd reported in Friday’s edition, city officials conducted a public hearing for feedback on the West Walnut Corridor master plan Thursday. While the plan had a lot of support, one clear note emerged. Some residents were concerned about how increased business activity would affect traffic and parking on neighboring residential streets and already-congested intersections.

The city hopes to eliminate congestion at West State of Franklin Road and University Parkway in part by installing a new median at the nearby intersection of University and West Walnut, which would eliminate that traffic signal and all left turns there. Given the number of crashes and traffic jams in that area, the median makes sense.

Residents justifiably were worried, though, that the result would mean more traffic on adjacent West Maple Street, a one-way street that runs east-west. We would double that concern for West Pine, which runs the opposite direction, since traffic going south on University would need to turn left at West Pine to go east.

A new extension of Cherokee Street from West Walnut would allow for a new access point from State of Franklin, possibly prompting drivers to avoid University altogether, but the city should study more ways to possibly mitigate any impact in the Tree Streets.

West Maple resident Mira Gerard also was concerned about how the rerouted traffic would affect parking in the Tree Streets.

Anybody who’s been downtown in recent years knows that revitalization creates a parking crunch, especially in prime locations. Johnson City has done a good job thus far of increasing public parking, especially west of the railroad tracks, but the demand is still high at peak times. As downtown continues to evolve, Johnson City will have to address parking on a grander scale.

The same is true for the West Walnut, which Public Works Director Phil Pindzola acknowledged in Thursday’s meeting. The master plan would add just 50 public spaces in the corridor, and if the plan is fully implemented, the demand would be much greater. Pindzola said the city would have to look at other ways to expand parking in the future.

It would behoove Johnson City to incorporate those parking demands into the West Walnut corridor’s master plan now. Getting ahead of the game would alleviate residents’ concerns and ultimately facilitate the growth the city has in mind. Businesses considering either downtown or the West Walnut area for locations would be much more likely to invest if parking were readily available.

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