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Cuyahoga Falls -- A proposal to reduce Front Street from a four-lane road to a three-lane road near the Gorge Metro Park was held in committee on June 19 after the City Council president said she wanted to hear from residents about the proposal.
Summit Metro Parks is planning a project to change Front Street from a four-lane to three-lane road with parallel parking from Hillcrest Drive to the southern corporation limits and to construct a walkway concurrently with the project, according to the legislation.
Lisa King, executive director of the Metro Parks, said the plan came out of discussions regarding the Gorge Terrace master plan. Parallel parking was approved on the city of Akron side. She noted that that the proposal to put in 57 parallel parking spots along the road is designed to "relieve the pressure on the park. During good days, we've experienced parallel parking within our parking lot, double parked, people getting blocked in."
King added people are then also parking on private property if they can't find spaces on public land.
Committee members Vic Pallotta (R-3) and Adam Miller (R-6) favored holding the proposal for further discussion, while the third member, Councilor Jerry James (D-7) voted no. The Front Street change was one of three changes to the traffic control file that were discussed by the public affairs committee. The other two were brought out of committee. (See accompanying box on Page 10)
"I hate to piece-part Front Street," said Council member Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2). " I'm not comfortable taking this 35 mph road and putting parking on it unless we're looking at the entire Front Street plan, which would include the Gorge Terrace Plan because that's the plan that talks about the bicycle lanes, what it would do to the bridge, where people could go stand at the bridge."
A future plan shows a bike lane would be installed on the east side of Front Street, on the opposite side of the proposed parallel parking, said King.
When there are two lanes heading southbound on Front Street, a motorist can move over into the other lane to avoid contact with a bicyclist, noted Pyke.
"Now what happens when we have a parked car and a bicyclist?" asked Pyke. "Because the worst thing you can do on that section of Front Street is to [go] over that double-yellow line because you're making room for either someone opening their car door or a bicycle right there."
"The parallel parking lane is ample enough to have your door open and not extend into the drive lane," explained King. "It's been engineered by traffic engineers In terms of open doors we've got ample space for them to be able to get in and out, and remain in their lane."
King said the sidewalk is being installed to provide a walkway for people parking along the road.
Pyke clarified she favored the sidewalks, but was opposed to parking on the streets. She noted that more parking was needed, but said she "would like to see that you found your parking within the park there instead of going on to the street."
Lowering the speed limit?
City Engineer Tony Demasi said motorists traveling south in the right lane on Front Street toward Gorge Metro Park would have to make a right turn once they get to Hillcrest Drive.
Demasi said there would be signage beginning 500 feet away from Hillcrest notifying drivers that the right lane will become a right-turn only lane.
"There really are no merge conditions," added Demasi. "It'll just be two lanes and eventually the right lane becomes a right-turn only lane."
Council member Mike Brillhart (D-5) asked Demasi if the speed limit in this area of Front Street could be lowered to 30 mph.
Demasi said the city could consider such a move and would have to speak with its traffic consultant.
Pyke noted she would like to see the speed limit reduced to 25 mph, particularly with bicyclists traveling along the road. King added she would be willing to approach Akron about lowering the speed limit on its side of Front Street.
Council member Russ Iona (R-8) said he believes the parking "is definitely needed," but agreed with lowering the speed limit.
"This is the beginning of the Front Street project in a way," observed Iona. "You're coming across Akron and you're heading north. 30 or 35 [mph] I still think is too fast. I realize there's no businesses at that end, but you've got people and you've got bikes and you've got kids."
Seeking public input
Pyke noted she would be in favor of delaying a vote on the project "until ... we can get public feedback." While that happens, Pyke said city officials could also "revisit" the Gorge Terrace Plan.
Pallotta said the committee would hold the legislation dealing with the Front Street changes.
"We'll approach the public and we'll get a better feel of how we should proceed with this," explained Pallotta.
Noting he felt a "majority" of Council would support the project, Council member Paul Colavecchio (D-At Large) said it was "wrong" to not move the measure out of committee. He added engineers had already evaluated the project.
"I'd rather rely on our experts who are engineers who have looked at this than to say, 'well, what does the public think about this?'" said Colavecchio. "What someone feels or what someone's opinion is, doesn't trump science and engineering."
Pyke responded that engineers had told Council that it would be "safe" to remove the traffic signal at Second Street and Chestnut Boulevard.
"Once that light was removed, we had nine accidents," said Pyke. "Those were serious T-bone accidents. It proved that the engineering was not correct I'm a big proponent in listening to what the residents have to say. I'm for holding this and I'm asking that the residents have a chance to speak on how they feel "
Addressing Pyke, Colavecchio said he would like to be in attendance when she meets with residents.
"I always hear about your residents but I don't know about any meetings and how many people show up," said Colavecchio. "So I'd like to be there and I'd like notice."
"And if I do it going door to door, do you want go with me?" asked Pyke.
"Yes," replied Colavecchio.
Pyke noted she had spoken with residents on the nearby Forest Glen Drive who had questions and concerns about the project.
Pyke told the Falls News on June 21 that she would like to see the Front Street proposal "go back to the traffic committee to be addressed at the same time as the speed limit."
King said she expects that Pyke will hear from the '"minority that's unhappy, and the majority that is happy, they don't bother to come forward."
King said the project is supported by AMATS, the city of Akron and Summit County.