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EDITORIAL: 2-way traffic in Meriden is an idea whose time may finally have come

EDITORIAL: 2-way traffic in Meriden is an idea whose time may finally have come

It’s an idea whose time may finally have come. 

Various proposals to get rid of one-way traffic in downtown Meriden have come and gone over the years, thus far to no avail. 

And this newspaper used to editorialize against it. For example: In 1998, “It makes very little sense to attempt to turn the traffic clock back, downtown, to 1950.” In 1999, “Meriden might as well bring back the traffic tower! … How about trolley cars? Come on!”) We were still against it as late as 2011.

But our view has evolved: The idea “deserves another shot,” we wrote in 2014 — and we say it again today: “Why not?” The redevelopment of downtown Meriden is about business, first and foremost. And downtown merchants, who have been suffering for decades, are adamant that going two-way will help them out.

It’s a chicken-vs.-egg thing. Once we opined that new businesses are the shot in the arm the downtown needs. Well, maybe the shot in the arm that new businesses need is a return to two-way traffic.

“Today, the downtown roadway network has been aptly described as ‘...a sucking vortex of vehicular doom... (where motorists) drive in confused circles wondering how you get there and more importantly how, and whether, you can ever get out again,’” the city wrote in a 2016 application for a federal grant.

But bump-outs came and bump-outs went — in large part because downtown merchants hated them. Maybe the same should be true of one-way traffic. Merchants largely favor the change to two-way traffic, believing that it will slow traffic down, thus making it easier for customers to get out and shop. Outsiders, of course, are often completely flummoxed by the present setup.

Some Meriden residents have called the change “totally unnecessary.” On balance, though, we disagree. Meriden will never have the kind of broad, straight, two-way Main Street that Middletown has — it’s too narrow. Meriden’s original “downtown” used to be “uptown,” on Broad Street. But when the railroad came through, in the 1800s, business moved down the hill, where the streets were narrower, and still are.

(Then again, Meriden motorists don’t have to cope with the dangers of backing blindly into traffic from angled parking slots, as they do in Middletown.)

The Meriden plan as it now stands, however, does not include going to two-way traffic along the corridor of East and West Main streets between Pratt Street and Cook Avenue, because the state Department of Transportation has raised concerns over the impact on the railroad crossings. In 2017 DOT “strongly recommended” against changing to two-way traffic along that stretch.

This is a huge loss. The change from one-way to two-way traffic was originally expected to affect West Main east of Cook Avenue, plus part of East Main (which officially ends at Colony Street); as well as State Street, for easier access to the Transit Center; parts of Cook Avenue and Hanover Street; and Butler, South Grove, Church and Perkins streets.

Whether or not two-way traffic can come to West Main between Cook Avenue and Colony, and then along East Main to Pratt, is certainly a major issue, maybe the biggest question remaining. It is to be hoped that the state’s opposition to two-way along that stretch can be overcome, but that idea seems to be dead.

Public Works Director Howard Weissberg has told the City Council that, “with DOT’s additional concerns, there was just no way to practically make it work.”

Trying to take a sunnier view, city officials believe the changes that remain in the plan will enhance travel downtown, reduce speeds and increase traffic safety. Midstate Chamber of Commerce President Sean Moore has said, “The current plan is certainly a marked improvement, there’s no question about that.” And City Manager Tim Coon has pointed out that it “will also give the police department better egress and ingress from their facility.” That is all to the good.

This newspaper has reported, a number of times over the years, that “another step” toward two-way traffic downtown had been taken. Even if the city is only getting the current, disappointing, scaled-down plan, this may be one of the very last times we have only “another step” to report.