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The road diet

Posted: April 3, 2014 4:19 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Council and staff have as their primary goal economic development. We want greater prosperity for the business community. We are intent on creating jobs. We are developing a plan to market Camden to travelers from around the nation, who will find it one of the most appealing towns in the Southeast.

In January, at the culmination of a three-month contract, the Greenville-based firm of Arnett Muldrow, who had worked in 320 American cities, with three projects in Greenville itself, launched the promotion of Camden with the “Classically Camden” campaign of advertisements, billboards, and signage for the restaurant and shopping district. With incoming Tourism Director Suzi Sale, the city will increase advertising and marketing with brochures and social media, all with increasing information about retail shopping. In the last year, in support of the downtown merchants, the city invested more than $800,000 in upgrading and improving alleyways and parking behind two blocks on Broad Street, with future paving budgeted at almost $600,000. The city has also increased funding for façade grants and will continue to build that fund, especially to assist merchants who want to improve their back entrances.

The previous city council (prior to 2012) approved a truck bypass or truck diversion route. To clarify some misperceptions, this truck bypass will not be an all-traffic bypass around downtown, but will serve as the designated route for big trucks. This arrangement might well inconvenience many outstanding trucking companies, unfortunately, but the majority of citizens and council believe it important to get the big trucks off Broad Street to help the downtown merchants and to serve the shopping areas. Trucks heading north of Camden will have to circle westwardly around from Ehrenclou Drive to U.S. 1 to Springdale Drive to S.C. 97 and U.S. 521. Trucks heading east to S.C. 34 or U.S. 1 North will have to turn right on York Street towards U.S. 1. Rest assured, the city will not allow big trucks to attempt to travel north by way of Lyttleton or Campbell streets.

The city is being presented with a timeline of April 28 to apply for federal funding for downtown Broad Street improvements. This project, a “road diet,” if funded, would be scheduled for roughly 2018, after the truck bypass is completed.

The “road diet” has several components, notably the installing of state-of-the-art traffic lights, sensors, and video cameras at the intersections, all designed for better traffic flow. Mid-block, paved crosswalks with improved landscaping will allow for greater pedestrian accessibility. In terms of roadwork, meaning tearing up the streets and inconveniencing businesses, at some point the city must address water and electrical lines and sewer pipes under Broad Street. This essential infrastructure work will be concurrent with the road diet project. In other words, whether we have a road diet or not, there must be road construction on Broad Street to replace inadequate water and sewer lines.

Contrary to some comments, Broad Street as a street will not be narrowed. The sidewalks will not be widened. Except for some landscaping areas on South Broad Street, Broad Street will keep the same width from curb to curb. The traffic lanes will be reconfigured for better flow, with designated north and southbound lines, and with left and right turn lanes at the intersections -- traffic lanes being a matter of painted lines. At the intersection of Broad and DeKalb streets, the design actually shows four full lanes.

Finally, there will be medians in the middle sections of both blocks. This component concerns some storeowners because there are no guarantees that medians, however short, won’t block traffic and complicate parking. If it turns out that the medians are not a good idea, this can be changed. As URS, the national design firm, stated, these designs are adaptable to real needs and concerns. In this vein, in response to comments at the open public meetings, URS changed the original design so that parallel parking remains between Rutledge and DeKalb streets, with limited angled parking on South Broad Street.

There are risks to any municipal project. There are possible mistakes. We have no certainties. With this project we carefully weighed your comments and information. By the council vote, community comments in favor ran about three to one, lining up with planning recommendations that have proven successful in other cities, cities that have revitalized their downtowns and increased the value of downtown real estate. In all these decisions, we weighed the pros and cons and voted to apply for funding.

For the Road Diet video, go to www.cityofcamden.org/citygovernment and click on ”economic development” under “departments.”

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