Local leaders say they’ve been doing their homework on how to make New Market’s historic district a safer place and action is already being taken.
This comes on the heels of residents and business owners starting a grassroots effort to remind drivers to slow down on Main Street.
Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III and members of the Town Council have met with state officials and surveyed Main Street to see what the best solutions are that can be implemented.
To increase sight lines for motorists turning onto Main Street from alleys, Burhans is in favor of bollards to control the flow of traffic and making the alleys one-way.
The goal would be to keep vehicles from alley entrances so motorists can better see when trying to exit the alley, Burhans said at a town meeting Thursday night. There would also be ways to control the flow of pedestrians.
The town is also thinking about painting the curbs red where parking would not be allowed. Some council members, along with Burhans, recently walked along Main Street and counted 40 designated areas where curbs could be painted red — near driveways, alleys, crosswalks and fire hydrants — to eliminate parking.
“I think that everybody is in agreement that there has to be, at these alleyway entrances, a designated spot on both sides where you’re not allowed to park just so you have a sight line of traffic eastbound and westbound,” Councilman Scott Robertson said.
Doing so, which would eliminate a number of parking spaces on Main Street, may not be the most viable option.
“I think you’re going to get to a point where the more parking [taken] off the street, you’re going to get safety enhancements,” Burhans said. “But you’re going to put so many places where you can’t park that your return on that is an increasingly negative return. If you take too many cars off the street, the road seems wider. ... You’re going to drive faster.”
Robertson added that if the town takes too much parking off Main Street, people will start parking in the alleys, “and that’s going to be a whole separate set of problems.”
To offset the reduction of on-street parking, the town is looking into developing public parking lots. Officials are eyeing the back of Town Hall, which could hold about 17 cars; the new Town Hall at 40 South Alley, which could hold about 20 cars, and possibly the Grange Hall and the community park.
The town is also tackling the speed limit.
As the Town Council planned to introduce an ordinance that would reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, a 1987 ordinance was dug up that states that all town streets should have a maximum speed limit of 25 mph. The state owned Main Street at the time of the ordinance, so the speed limit was never dropped to 25 mph.
“It was a pleasant surprise to find out that we already had an ordinance, so we didn’t have to go through the advertising period, introduction period, the 30 days after you introduce it to the next meeting, an effective date and all that stuff,” Burhans said. “That would have added a couple of months to getting this thing done.”
New speed limit signs will be posted in the coming weeks, but council members are still looking for other ways to remind drivers to slow down on Main Street, including speed cameras, rumble strips in the road, pedestrian push lights and an elevated table crosswalk.
They also plan to contact other towns in the region that have had similar problems on their main streets and find out what solutions worked for them.
Burhans then plans to compile a list of possible solutions and take it to the Governor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and ask how they can help the town find funding for it.
A representative of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs could not be reached for comment Friday.
Even though efforts to make Main Street a safer place are just getting started, residents can already see a change.
“There’s momentum here,” said Colleen Opitz, who lives on Main Street. “I’m excited that everything is being taken seriously.”
Opitz went out on her front porch around 5 p.m. Thursday and noticed more drivers going slower and stopping to let pedestrians cross the street.
“It seems that drivers are slowing down and being more courteous,” she said. “I just felt like it was a friendlier feel.”