At different times in its history, downtown Mount Airy has two-way traffic as well as one-way — which is in place now — but there has been recent discussion about a third option: one lane of travel.
That possibility has been raised in connection with a goal of making the municipality’s central business district more user-friendly, including steps to increase its handicapped-accessibility. Such improvements would allow downtown businesses to attract more customers at the same time, supporters believe.
“Downtown Mount Airy should be viewed as an industry,” said Jon Cawley, a city commissioner. Cawley and fellow council members unanimously approved new rules last Thursday night which officially will allow sidewalk sales for the first time, and Cawley and Commissioner Steve Yokeley have expressed support for taking that further.
Yokeley mentioned the possibility of downtown restaurants being able to place tables on the sidewalks, while Cawley said he believes reducing vehicle use along North Main Street from two lanes to one should be explored.
Cutting out one travel lane would allow businesses to spread out more from their front entrances to include not only such additions as outside dining, but tree plantings and other landscaping elements.
All this would combine to create what Cawley believes should be a shopping atmosphere more conducive to pedestrians than motorists. The board member added that he had bounced this idea off merchants downtown, and they were supportive of such a change.
As for parking, cutting travel to one lane would replace the present parallel parking spaces with a diagonal-type format, which would be easier for motorists to negotiate.
A lack of handicapped parking has long been issue for the downtown area, which again surfaced at last week’s commissioners meeting when local citizen J.C. Short asked the board to explore that need.
“There are probably a lot of people who would shop uptown — if they had a place to park,” Short said during a public-forum portion of the meeting when citizens could bring up any issue.
Police Chief Dale Watson said that under the present parallel-parking configuration, there is insufficient width to accommodate handicapped parking along North Main Street. There are handicapped spaces in the municipal lot on Franklin Street as well as the one near Brannock & Hiatt Furniture, Watson said, but the distance between those spots and some downtown locations can be daunting for people in a wheelchair.
The same space limitations also limit patio-type dining at restaurants.
Yokeley’s mention of outside tables arose from a question regarding whether there is interest in this among operators of eateries, now that leeway for sidewalk sales has emerged.
“It would probably help downtown,” Phil Marsh, the president of the Downtown Business Association, said of that idea and how it could boost customer traffic for restaurants.
“But I don’t know if our sidewalks would be wide enough for them to do that or not.”
Marsh added, “But it’s something to be considered, ‘cause it could really help.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.