CEDAR FALLS — After proposed changes to Washington Street were stalled by objections from people associated with St. Patrick Church and School, city engineers forged a new plan through discussion with representatives of the institutions.
School and church properties along the 600 and 700 blocks of Washington Street put St. Patrick families in the midst of the possible reconstruction and conversion to two-way traffic from Sixth to 18th streets. Their concerns were prominent when the City Council first discussed the matter in January. But city officials apparently didn’t consider the views of other community members who drive the road.
So they hit another speed bump Monday when unveiling a plan that dealt with parking and student drop-off around the St. Patrick facilities while maintaining the two-way conversion.
During a committee of the whole meeting, the council split 3-3 in a vote authorizing the project to move forward, meaning it failed. Council member Susan deBuhr was absent.
“I walked down Washington Street Sunday afternoon,” said council member Dave Sires, talking to the people he encountered. “I found the majority were against turning it into a two-way.”
Additionally, “I have 45 emails (from residents) and they were all in favor of keeping it a one-way,” he noted.
Council member Daryl Kruse said he has heard from “dozens of people for months now” who don’t want Washington to become a two-way road.
The two joined council member Simon Harding in opposing the proposed reconstruction. Council members Nick Taiber, Mark Miller and Frank Darrah supported the new plan.
Before the vote, city engineer David Wicke said “we’ve done a lot of collaboration with the school and the church” that resulted in a proposal switching the drop-off zones for buses and parents. Buses would have moved to Seventh Street and parents to Washington Street, both in protected lanes. When the drop-off lanes were not in use, they would allow the church to recoup 18 of about 30 parking spaces for weekend services lost to the two-way conversion.
“This was a way we could compromise and add additional parking, too,” said Wicke.
The drop-off changes addressed concerns of a St. Patrick FIRST Lego League team, said parent and coach Janet Willett. Team members studied the issue during the past school year and proposed moving the student drop-off to Washington Street because it was a less-congested one-way road. On behalf of the students, Willett said in January that the two-way conversion disregarded their input.
On Monday, though, she said the holistic approach to the drop-off revisions and the inclusion of the school and church officials in discussions solved their concerns. “Imagine how these students feel seeing this proposal,” said Willett, thanking the city for listening.
Lynette Hackett, St. Patrick principal, said representatives of the school and church were also on board with the new proposal.
“I know this was a long process, we put you through some paces,” she said. Hackett praised the designated drop-off areas, noted there is currently nothing like that on Seventh Street.
“These spots will be much appreciated,” she said for school drop-offs and church parking.
The proposal would have converted a stoplight at Seventh Street to a four-way stop sign with flashing lights that could be timed for certain parts of the day. Other stop signs at Sixth, 12th and 18th streets would remain with changes accounting for the two-way conversion.
Wicke noted that Washington’s one-way was formerly the opposite of State Street, which had since been changed to two-way. He said speeding vehicles have been a concern on the corridor, as well as people heading the wrong way.
Sires insisted, though, that the one-way street has worked well for many decades.
“To me, it doesn’t seem like it makes any sense to make it a two-way,” he said, suggesting it would double the traffic. “My biggest concern is I want the children safe.”
Chase Schrage, director of public works, said it is not accurate that the two-way conversion would double traffic. He also noted that the existing signal “presents a hazard” in instances when large groups of children are crossing the street and the light changes.
Kruse proposed maintaining the one-way traffic and the drop-off lane changes, but Wicke said that students would have to dodge vehicles on Washington Street to get to the school.
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