South Street study suggests safety improvements

FRONT ROYAL – A study suggests the town make improvements to South Street but not put the route on a “road diet.”

Virginia Department of Transportation’s Staunton District Planning initiated a planning-level study of the South Street corridor in the spring between Royal and Commerce avenues. The town’s Planning and Zoning Director Jeremy Camp provided a draft of the study to the Planning Commission at a work session Wednesday. Commissioners plan to revisit the study once members have had a chance to review the document. Camp said he intended to bring the study back to the commission with his department’s review comments.

The study offers choices as to how the town might improve a half-mile stretch of the four-lane road. Ultimately, the study recommends the town improve access along the South Street corridor rather than use the “road diet” approach.

“A Road Diet is a practice where vehicular travel lanes are eliminated in order to provide multimodal enhancements such as bike lanes and improved sidewalks along the roadway, in order to improve safety for all users of the corridor,” the study states.

A “road diet” also might incorporate medians for improved pedestrian crossings and landscaping. The study also analyzes both “access management” and “no-build” scenarios as alternatives to the “road diet.”

But, as Camp explained to planners, reducing the number of lanes would not help a road expected to see more traffic in the future.

The first alternative, using the “road diet” concept suggests reducing the section from four lanes to three, with one lane in each direction and a center turn lane. A raised median with left-turn lanes would be included in some places. The alternative also suggests providing bicycle lanes in both directions, coordination of the three traffic signals and relocation of some pedestrian crossings. It also suggests extending Carter Street to Acton Street and making Carter Street one-way between South Street and Tourist Street.

A second alternative, using the access management improvement concept, calls for retaining the four lanes but limiting the number of full-access intersections along the corridor. The alternative proposes to move the traffic signal serving Royal Plaza further west to the area between South Street and Blue Ridge Avenue. Intersections with Carter, Pine, Osage, Cloud and Hill streets, as well as the entrance serving Royal Plaza, would become right-in, right-out only.

Ultimately the study recommended the town take the second alternative because traffic levels continue to approach the threshold for “road diet” implementation by the Federal Highway Administration and other transportation agencies. Also, the corridor could see traffic increase beyond the estimated numbers by 2040. The “road diet” concept showed that service levels for side streets could deteriorate at those intersections without traffic signals.

Eliminating the conflicting turning movements and consolidating points of access in the corridor would improve road operations and enhance safety for users, the study states. The recommendations provide opportunities for the town to work with property owners to increase green space by reducing the amount of impervious surfaces and enhancing landscaping.

The study does not include any cost estimates associated with the suggested improvements to South Street.

The town sought the study after Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger suggested earlier this year that officials look at options for improving both the safety and the aesthetics of the busy road.

The study analyzed 10 intersections along the corridor, some of which include traffic signals while others connect to one-way or two-way streets. The section features a posted 25-mph speed limit and serves as the town’s truck route for east-west and north-south travel in order to remove these vehicles from the historic, downtown area.

Crosswalks are sporadically positioned along the corridor at all intersections. However, only the intersection at South Street and Commerce Avenue features a pedestrian signal for the crosswalk.

The study includes data on vehicle and pedestrian-related crashes between 2012 and 2014. Of the 64 crashes, two involved pedestrians and one resulted in a fatality near the intersection serving the Royal Plaza Shopping Center that does include a signal.

Without building any improvements to South Street, the study shows the levels of service at different intersections in the corridor drop as traffic increases.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com