Community reacts to possible North Quarter traffic conversion


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Bikers, pedestrians, drivers and city officials reacted to the possibility of North Quarter’s two busiest roads being converted to two-way streets.

More than 24,000 vehicles combined travel on North Orange and North Magnolia Avenues per day, according to the North Quarter Vision Study. The study determines the feasibility of a two-way road conversion of North Orange Avenue and North Magnolia Avenue in the North Quarter of Downtown Orlando.

If the study was implemented, North Magnolia and North Orange Avenues would become two-way roads, and bike lanes would be expanded and separated from traffic by a buffer.

What drivers say

Reactions from drivers are mixed. Some think the change could confuse drivers, while others say the current format of the roads is already confusing.

Peter Cruz lives in College Park and commutes downtown. He was standing outside Credo Coffee in the North Quarter waiting for a friend.

Traffic heads north on North Magnolia Avenue on July 15. Pedestrians, drivers and bikers told us their thoughts on a possible road conversion. (Photo by S.T. Cardinal)

“I used to live at Park North [at Cheney Place], and I found [Orange Avenue as a one-way street] convenient. I think it would confuse folks if it became a two-way street,” Cruz said. “It’s been a one-way street for so long that I think you would bring more unnecessary traffic to an already dangerous street.”

Some streets in Downtown Orlando haven’t always been one-way. The change came in the ‘70s in an effort to make it faster and easier for commuters to come and go downtown. But as the city aims to develop Downtown into a more mixed-use area – where people don’t just work, but also play – studies like this are determining the feasibility of converting the roads back to two-way streets.

“I think one-way streets are a little old school, to be honest,” Chanice Ladawn, an employee at Credo Coffee in the North Quarter, said. “The original idea, that’s great. But now that dynamics have changed, I think that it might still work in some cities. But in a city like Orlando that’s constantly changing, I don’t think that it’s necessary anymore.”

Ladawn recalled customers’ stories of trying to find parking on Orange Avenue. She said they told her that if they couldn’t find a spot, they’d have to turn on Colonial Drive, then turn on Magnolia Avenue, then turn on Weber Street just to turn back onto Orange Avenue to find parking for a second time.

Reaction from the city

The North Quarter is part of Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart’s district, and he said the potential switch is an example of a change in thinking of what the purpose of Downtown is.

“In a sense, I don’t have a position on it because I’ve kind of let the community give us the input. The community seems really encouraged by it,” Stuart said. “I think there’s some challenges we have to address. A lot of those challenges have to be what’s happening at I-4, how long that’s gonna be. How are you gonna take traffic off the interstate and get them downtown? Historically, we’ve had one-way traffic to come in.

“So when all that happens differently, I guess the devil’s in the details. From a conceptual standpoint, I like the idea of promoting two-way traffic. It slows traffic down.”

Stuart said the goal for Downtown has shifted from getting through town as fast as possible to spending time downtown for leisure as well as work.

The project is estimated to cost about $4.1 million, according to the study. Stuart said the conversion would only take place if funding is secured and after the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project is completed, which is currently slated for a 2021 finish.

“I think that [the community] sees it as an increase in foot traffic, an increase in business, an increase in doing the things that the city ought to be doing to help promote them without having to hinder the traffic flow,” he said. “The traffic flow would effectively be the same number of lanes going north and the same number of lanes going south. It’s just that they’re now gonna be split between two roads.”

Canin Associates completed the study, which was funded by the City of Orlando’s Community Redevelopment Agency. Canin Associates is a local urban-planning and architecture firm that has designed projects including Avalon Park and Main Street Lakewood Ranch.

Commissioner Stuart attended several meetings open to the public to gather community input on the possible conversion last year. He encourages the community to make their opinions on the change known.

“Generally speaking, my job as a policymaker is to make sure that every angle is addressed. Every person that I can think of by category or by name is really given a chance to get input on it,” Stuart said.

What bikers say

Aaron Powell is the president of the Orlando Bike Coalition and attended meetings with the planning firm of the North Quarter Vision Study with another OBC board member.

“Honestly, right now, I do not do a lot of riding through the North Quarter. I’ll typically go around Lake Ivanhoe Trail,” Powell said. “The North Quarter is very challenging, if you’re trying to go directly there from College Park, unless you wanna take Lakeview, which takes you under I-4 and all that mess.”

The proposed layout of North Orange Avenue in the North Quarter Vision Study. (Courtesy of Canin Associates)

The Orlando Urban Trail Gap Project, which is already funded and underway, will connect the Orlando Urban Trail entrance on Magnolia Avenue (just north of Weber Street) to the recently opened Colonial overpass-bridge entrance on North Orange Avenue. The North Quarter Vision study incorporates the plans for the expanded bike trail with the two-way road conversions as well as the I-4 project.

“Right now, when you get to the end of the Orlando Urban Trail, and you’re right there at Magnolia, there’s not so much as a crosswalk to get you over towards where the pedestrian bridge is,” Powell said. “If you know what you’re doing, you can zig-zag to get over to Orange, but it is not intuitive, and I don’t think anyone who doesn’t have experience cycling is gonna make that journey.

“So, it’s a critical gap, and it’s challenging the way Magnolia is right now.”

What pedestrians say

Pedestrians had other thoughts, voicing their concerns of crossing a busy two-way street as opposed to a busy one-way street. David Gomez was walking north on Magnolia with a bag from 7 Eleven in his hand headed to his apartment at Uptown Place.

The proposed layout of North Magnolia Avenue in the North Quarter Vision Study. (Courtesy of Canin Associates)

“In my opinion, there’s no need to do that,” Gomez said. “Magnolia goes northbound, and Orange goes southbound, so, if they were gonna divide both of them, that would just cause more confusion. Even if you’re on the wrong road, there are so many side roads to counteract that. I just don’t see the need.”

Alex Gentry drives to work in the North Quarter but walks to Orange Avenue to get lunch. He’s not for or against the idea of a street conversion.

“I’m kind of in the middle,” Gentry said. “I like it the way it is, I guess, just because I’m used to it. But I’m not against the idea, if they decide to go ahead and do it. It doesn’t matter to me either way.”

What previous studies have shown

Orlando wouldn’t be the first city to convert a one-way street pair to two-way streets. An article published in “Public Square: A CNU Journal” looked at the effects two-way conversions have had on several cities. The article cites statistics that show these conversions resulted in fewer pedestrian injuries, fewer speeding tickets, fewer car crashes and fewer crime.

A 2015 article in the Journal of Planning Education and Research published looked at a conversion example in Louisville, Kentucky. This specific study found a reduction in crime in the area, while the whole city experienced an increase. Property values also increased, and vehicle collisions decreased.

Looking at past examples, a conversion would help drivers, pedestrians and cyclists navigate the two busiest roads in the North Quarter.

 

Editor’s note: This article is by no means an extensive survey and aimed only to gauge community reaction to the proposal of this study by using a “man on the street” technique. We encourage readers to share their opinions of the potential conversion with city officials. They represent Orlandoans and are open to community input. Below is the full North Quarter Vision Study.

North Quarter Vision Study

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