Driving into Mount Airy may soon look different as the town staff and council weigh the options of changing how the main streets in downtown flow.
Mount Airy officials have long talked about the streets surrounding the town’s municipal parking lot as they weighed options for the town’s future. Under the new vision plan — a non-binding guideline for the town’s development — Mount Airy would see Center Street, one of the main downtown roads, connect with Md. 27.
This would create a new artery onto Main Street. At the same time, the town looks to make Park Avenue, currently the main artery onto Main Street, a one-way street leading out of downtown.
That is partially because of safety concerns, according to town engineer Barney Quinn.
Park Avenue is not a good intersection for those trying to turn right onto Main Street because it is an acute angle instead of a 90-degrees angle, which limits how well someone can see.
“This way, you have to look way over your shoulder to try to see a car coming. So you’re not even looking in front of you, you’re looking behind you,” Quinn said. “And then you’re still kind of looking as you’re trying to pull out. And then what’s in front of you is there’s a crosswalk within so many feet.”
The town presented four options for the streets surrounding the municipal parking lot — Center Street, Cross Street, Park Avenue and Veterans Lane — during a public hearing ahead of their monthly town council meeting last week.
Christine Hamilton-Sikes, who lives on Park Avenue with her husband Ron Sikes, spoke against parking on Park Avenue, adding it is already a heavily trafficked road with some speeding concerns.
“I think if my dog ever got out, he’d get killed,” she said.
When her husband leaves the parking lot, he rolls down his window to listen for cars, Hamilton-Sikes said at the meeting.
One thing almost everyone agreed on, both the general public and town council, is getting Center Street finished. That involves buying a property near Watkins Park that prevents Center Street from reaching Md. 27.
John Bourdeaux, who lives on Main Street, encouraged adding sidewalks on streets, saying walkability downtown is limited, especially with children. He was also in favor of pushing through Center Street.
“What I’d really like to see is the bigger picture continuing up Center Street,” he said.
The town will move forward on a modified option, removing any parking from Park Avenue after the council voted to send it to civil engineers, Council President Larry Hushour said.
“Taking Park Avenue in a one-way direction eastward is not irreversible if we later determine it is not a viable correction to what is viewed [as a] dangerous intersection at Main Street,” Hushour said in an email.
Changes might be coming somewhat soon, as the modifications and improvements have been budgeted for this fiscal year, Hushour said.
Modifications to Park Avenue will be minimal because it just takes signage to indicate that it’s now a one-way street, Hushour said. Cross Street might be more affected because road work might need to be done.
Improvements to Center Street will be more disruptive, he said.
But Center Street is something that most town officials have been talking about for several years. Once connected, it will expand downtown, said Mayor Pat Rockinberg.
Changing the downtown is important for bringing more people downtown, Rockinberg said.
“Experiences aren’t something you can buy on Amazon.com,” he said.