Over the past few years, the Charlotte Department of Transportation has altered traffic patterns in the midtown area, at least partially to provide a smooth driving experience around the popular Metropolitan retail center.
Now, with more stores opening, the question is: Has CDOT done enough to alleviate traffic volume in the area?
Next week, a Trader Joe's grocery store is expected to open, followed soon by a West Elm furniture store. The stores will join the area around Charlottetowne Avenue and Kings Drive already inhabited by a Best Buy, Home Depot, Marshalls, Target and Staples.
Charles Jones, a CDOT traffic safety manager, expects traffic volume to increase, but mostly during off-peak times such as around lunchtime.
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Since 2006, the city has spent millions realigning Interstate 277 and Independence Boulevard around the midtown area in advance of Home Depot and Target – the project's flagship stores – which opened last October. Charlottetowne, which changed names from South Independence Boulevard last summer, has received bike lanes, pedestrian islands and on-street parking.
Still, drivers in the area can find making some turns frustrating.
For example, a driver is allowed to turn left out of the Home Depot/Target exit onto Charlottetowne, but has to cross multiple lanes of traffic and also consider drivers exiting from Metropolitan Avenue directly across the street.
“On a weekend, you could wait a few minutes there (trying to make a left turn),” said Kim Mitchell, who works near the area. “It's bad.”
Statistics show that traffic collisions have increased slightly at intersections in the area, up from nine in 2006 to 14 in 2007 for Charlottetowne/Kings, and 15 in 2006 to 23 in 2007 at Charlottetowne/Kenilworth.
Jones said the numbers could be misleading as construction on Elizabeth Avenue has increased congestion on Charlottetowne and Kings, and collisions often spike randomly. Both the Charlottetowne/Kings and Charlottetowne/Kenilworth intersections have crash rates of less than one per 1 million cars passing through.
Some Home Depot and Target shoppers interviewed last week said they would like a traffic light at the Charlottetowne/Metropolitan intersection, especially with the new stores opening.
“It's probably going to be jam-packed,” said Julie Laird.
The city doesn't have any current plans for a traffic light or stop sign at the Charlottetowne/Metropolitan intersection. CDOT officials said traffic volume will continue getting distributed to various streets to minimize clogging, especially with a replacement for the Baxter Street Bridge likely reopening in the spring.
The bridge and road, which could be named Pearl Parkway, will be built a few hundred feet south of the previous location, said CDOT's Mark Cole, and provide another connection between Kings and Kenilworth.
The city's also looking at widening Kenilworth and adding a left turning lane from Kenilworth to Pearl after the bridge is built, Cole said.