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City takes another look at Walnut Street

Officials explore traffic options for First Baptist

Posted: August 31, 2010 3:15 p.m.
Updated: September 1, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Several years ago, First Baptist Church (FBC) of Camden asked the city of Camden to shut down a portion of Walnut Street bisecting its campus. Church elders said they were concerned about the safety of very young children dropped off at and picked up by their parents from the church’s daycare program. They were also concerned about the heavy congestion that part of Walnut Street experiences during church functions.

The church even sued the city of Camden to try to get the street shut down.

That lawsuit has since been dropped and shutting down the street has been taken off the table, Mayor Jeffrey Graham said during a Camden City Council work session Aug. 19. The city, however, continued to study the situation. Downtown Manager Wade Luther presented six scenarios for council to review. The goal: to let staff know which, if any of those options, to take to FBC while maintaining an open dialogue.

With the exception of an option to do nothing, each alternative would require some modifications to the streetscape and eliminate any on-street parking in favor of smaller drop-off/pick-up zones. Two of the options would make the affected portion of Walnut Street one-way, either toward Broad Street or away from it. Those options were pretty quickly dismissed by council members.

“I was on council when Walnut Street was made one way on the other end,” Councilman Pat Partin said later in the discussion, referring to the portion of Walnut between Little and Lyttleton streets on the other side of Broad Street. “It was a mistake. I would vote on it today to undo it.”

Luther noted that any changes could affect a moderate number of other roads: Lafayette and Highland avenues, Lee Court and Campbell, Gordon and Laurens streets. He also suggested FBC could reconfigure its parking lots.

“They have the ability to ‘punch out’ to adjacent streets,” said Luther, meaning Lafayette and Highland avenues and Lee Court.

Two of the other alternatives would continue to allow two-way traffic, but reduce the lanes to 12 feet in width. The first of those options would add a small median at the far west end near Highland Avenue as a traffic calming measure. The other, more costly alternative would add yet another, larger median at the current crosswalk site. Using portions of the city’s rights of way, there would actually be two lanes on the northern side of the diamond-shaped median, one being for emergency vehicles.

Luther said of all the alternatives, staff -- after conferring with the Camden fire and police departments --  recommended 1) keeping the existing road as it is, except to remove all street parking and not having parking lots empty on to Walnut; or 2) one of the two-lane and median options.

The rest of council agreed not to recommend the one-way options.

“I live on Highland Avenue so I’m very much against options B and C,” said Councilman Ned Towell, referring to the one-way options.

“I know they have children at the church and have concerns,” added Long, “but I don’t think any of these ideas are good ones. One-way would be a nightmare.”

Long also suggested the possibility of extending Church Street to Walnut Street from where it dead-ends at Lafayette Avenue.

So council focused more on the two-way, median options.

“I would go with D and E,” said Towell of those options, “if they want to pony up the money for it.”

Graham had suggested the same a few moments earlier.

Another idea was installing either a stop sign or traffic light at the crosswalk site.

Recognizing that one of FBC’s concerns is the continued use of Walnut Street as a cut-through from Broad to Campbell streets, Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford said the city should “get with” the S.C. Department of Transportation to “do something” about the light at Broad and DeKalb streets.

“They were in town yesterday at the corner of Broad and DeKalb. They are aware we’re not happy with the amount of time at the light, but that’s not the only reason the church wants something done (on Walnut Street),” said Graham.

In a separate work session discussion, Partin suggested looking into enhancing the West DeKalb Street entrance into Camden from the Wateree River bridge. He said he had been thinking about the work done a number of years ago at the southern entrance into Camden from the I-20/U.S. 521 interchange.

“I see the potential for another garden park. I think we ought to look into that. I know I’ve been fussing up here about spending money and now I’m talking about spending more money, but I think it would be worth it,” said Partin. “It would attract business to the area if it’s attractive and well maintained. We can’t be a Walt Disney World where everything’s perfect, but I’m just throwing it out there for you to be thinking about.”

Graham agreed, saying he thought the Camden Tree Foundation might be a good organization to talk to, but that it was not something to decide right now. Towell said he thought it was a good idea and suggested checking with local garden clubs as well.

In other news, City Manager Kevin Bronson said city administrators had met with some pre-qualified contractors for the Town Green project earlier in the day. That project is slated to begin in mid-October.

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