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CBA discusses proposed ‘road diet’ at meeting

Posted: June 6, 2013 4:03 p.m.
Updated: June 7, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A computer-generated image of what Broad Street may look like following a proposed “road diet.” The image looks south down Broad Street from DeKalb Street with a single southbound lane. A single northbound lane from York Street, in the distance, fans out to three lanes as it approaches DeKalb Street to allow for left- and right-hand turns with a “go-ahead” lane in the middle.

Camden Business Alliance (CBA) members learned more about a proposed Broad Street “road diet” and took the chance to ask questions and voice concerns during the organization’s quarterly Breakfast Before Hours meeting Wednesday. The road diet would reduce Broad Street from two lanes in each direction (four total) to one (two total) between York and DeKalb streets, with redesigned intersections, mid-block crosswalks and other enhancements.

Ernie Boughman of URS, the city’s engineering firm, made a presentation similar to one he made to Camden City Council in recent weeks illustrating the proposed plan including computer generated renderings of what Broad Street may look like as well as a computer animation of a car driving up the redesigned Broad Street.

As part of a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant the city received, $456,000 has been spent on the road diet’s design plans. According to Camden Economic Development Director Wade Luther, that grant money will have to be paid back if the city does not begin construction within the next 10 years. Construction on the road diet cannot begin until a new enhanced truck route is completed. The city is one of 33 nationally who received the grant and one of two in South Carolina to have received it.

Although Boughman said the city can’t rush into the road diet and that there is time for planning, and discussion and amendments to the plan, he also said that it isn’t something that can be put on the shelf for a few years and then taken down again for reconsideration.

Boughman also brought to light the fact that this wouldn’t be a “silver bullet” solution that would cause economic improvements overnight.

“Things don’t dramatically change overnight,” Boughman said.

Boughman said some of the road diet’s goals of the are to improve business retention, “shopability” and facilitate slower speeds.

“We want to make this not just a road through a community. We want to make it a road that responds to a community,” Boughman said.

The new plan would allow an increase in the number of parking spaces along the affected portion of Broad Street. According to Boughman there are currently 71 existing on-street parking spaces, some that he said shouldn’t be there and that if the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) “came through today,” would remove due to obstruction of view and other factors. The final design allows space for 87 on-street parking spaces, a net gain of 16. There would be a mixture of parallel and angled parking spaces as well as additional spaces in what Boughman referred to as Camden’s “blossoming antiques district.”

As a counterpoint to Boughman’s presentation, CBA President Jonathan Bazinet spoke at the meeting, acting as owner of his restaurant, Sam Kendall’s, and not as president of the organization.

“How about a little value now? What can we do now?” Bazinet asked.

He then went on to propose ideas that he said could be implemented now to improve the downtown area. The first idea he proposed was to add mid-block crosswalks now, as opposed to after the project begins. Boughman has said the road diet project may not start until 2016.

Bazinet said all that would need to be done would be to paint the designated crosswalk area. Bazinet claimed SCDOT said this can be done as long as a sign indicating the area as a pedestrian crosswalk was put there as well. His second idea was to add a third turning lane for a right turn at the intersection of Broad and DeKalb streets when traveling north. Bazinet also brought up ideas for implementing beautification to store fronts in the downtown area.

“I walked up and down Broad the other day and I counted several planters that had no trees in them … it’s not very attractive. Do we want that to stay like that until we start the next project?” Bazinet said. “Why can’t we do some of that now? Why can’t we have planters? Why can’t we give an incentive to business owners to beautify the front of the businesses?”

Bazinet suggested implementing some sort of program in relation to the city’s 2 percent hospitality tax for store owners who make improvements to the aesthetic appeal of their stores.

 “If you owned a business downtown and it wasn’t as robust as you wanted it to be and wasn’t doing what you wanted it to do and you were concerned about it, you wouldn’t wait three or four years to do something about it. You would do something today. It’s not so much of a counterproposal as it is a ‘let’s get moving,’ let’s do something today. And that is something that will make an impact today,” he said.

After Bazinet’s presentation, CBA members were given the opportunity to ask questions and comment. That portion of the program was led off by SCDOT Assistant Program Manager Tyke Redfearn.

“It’s kind of like the railroad, you can do what you want, but you have to do it our way,” Redfearn said.

He also said that lines could be painted to add an extra turn lane but something would need to be done about the turn signals on the stoplights as well.

Redfearn addressed questions regarding side-street traffic during construction and said there is no way to predict what would happen but that it would be dealt with when the time came.

Camden citizen John Duray, who also has a farm south of Camden along U.S. 521 said he was originally against the “road diet” due mainly to the fact that his business uses trucks that travel through Camden on Broad Street. However, a few weeks ago he said he was stopped downtown and saw a logging truck going through downtown that “should not have been there.” Duray said that if the current truck route was made more “truck friendly” then truck drivers would be more willing to use it. He also said he believed that the citizens of Camden should be involved in the “road diet” decision.

CBA Vice President Patricia Richardson reminded those in attendance that city council would have the last say in the matter. Richardson also said CBA members would have the next week to think about their positions in the debate and then participate in a straw-poll. Richardson said that CBA itself is taking no position and held the meeting as a way of educating and idea sharing.


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