Politics & Government

Here’s why Plaza Midwood residents want to cut lanes on a key route to uptown

Plaza Midwood residents have petitioned the city to remake Central Avenue (pictured here) and The Plaza.
Plaza Midwood residents have petitioned the city to remake Central Avenue (pictured here) and The Plaza. UNC Charlotte Urban Design School

Plaza Midwood residents are pleading with the city to reduce the number of traffic lanes on Central Avenue and The Plaza to slow traffic and make the area safer for pedestrians.

The city, however, said it’s concerned that Central Avenue and The Plaza carry too many cars to lose a lane of traffic in each direction.

Putting a busy street on a “road diet” often involves removing a lane of traffic. Other options include adding on-street parking, medians or traffic circles that encourage – or require – cars to slow down.

The city removed lanes from Colony Road near SouthPark years ago, and did the same with East Boulevard in Dilworth in 2010. In late 2015, residents petitioned the city to shrink Parkwood Avenue in Optimist Park after a cyclist was killed. The city is studying ways to slow cars on Parkwood.

This latest request is the “Stroll and Roll Plaza Midwood” petition.

As it cuts through Plaza Midwood’s downtown, Central Avenue has four lanes of traffic, with two lanes in each direction. There are sidewalks on both sides of the avenue, but little room between the storefronts and the passing cars.

The Plaza also has four lanes, though there is more space for pedestrians. The sidewalks are separated from the road, and there is a grass median in the middle of the street.

“As we speak over 2,000 new apartment units are being added on Central Avenue,” Renee Bradley said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “The risk of accidents will only increase if we don’t address this problem immediately.”

She said Central Avenue and The Plaza should be considered neighborhood streets.

“Motorists who want high speeds should be directed to U.S. 74,” she said.

Bradley said the group doesn’t necessarily have to have fewer lanes on the roads. But she said she believes that’s the most effective way to slow traffic.

The Stroll and Roll website envisions bike lanes on the two roads, and crosswalks that are clearly marked with lights. The city wants to extend the Gold Line streetcar along Central Avenue, and Bradley said a more pedestrian-friendly street can still accommodate cars and streetcars.

Steven Talevski, who lives on The Plaza, said that street is also dangerous for pedestrians. He said he’s worried about the safety of his two children while crossing the street.

“There are no crosswalks,” he said. “There is a great deal of work needed in this area.”

Petitioners said nearby neighborhoods associations of Commonwealth-Morningside, Chantilly, Belmont and Elizabeth endorse the plan as well.

Danny Pleasant, who heads the Charlotte Department of Transportation, said streets that carry 20,000 vehicles a day or less are candidates for a road diet. Central Avenue and The Plaza are both busier, he said.

Pleasant said The Plaza carries around 24,000 vehicles a day. Central Avenue is busier, and could carry as many as 30,00 vehicles, he said.

“My gut reaction is it will be pretty tough (to reduce lanes on Central Avenue),” Pleasant said. “It’s a narrow roadway already and a pretty significant commuting corridor. We can look at slowing things down.”

He added: “The Plaza is also a pretty tough nut to crack.”

Pleasant said the city is moving forward with a plan to make Parkwood Avenue safer. Parkwood carries about 16,000 vehicles per day.

Three other roads are also being considered for traffic calming, though that might not include removing lanes: South Boulevard, South Tryon Street and West Boulevard.

Pleasant said the city is looking closely at West Boulevard.

“We think there are opportunities to do protected crossings,” he said. “We have had some unfortunate fatalities there that we need to respond to.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs