Kokomo — Main and Union streets downtown will be transformed into two-way, pedestrian and bicycle friendly thoroughfares this year, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight announced in a public meeting Thursday.
“You go to older cities, and you see a lot of one-way streets,” Goodnight said. “You go to newer cities, and you don’t see a lot of them.”
Outlining plans to narrow the traffic lanes along Main Street to make way for the addition of bicycle lanes and concrete, curbside “stormwater planters,” Goodnight said keeping Main and Union as one-way streets no longer makes sense.
Last year, the city converted 10 blocks of Walnut and Sycamore streets to two-way traffic in the core downtown area.
The plan Goodnight presented Thursday would make Main and Union two-way for a total of 44 blocks, from Monroe Street north of downtown, 22 blocks south to Defenbaugh Street.
“We can all tell stories; I’ve been in big cities where you see some place you need to get to, and you just can’t get there from here. You need to turn here, and turn there, and then you blow by a turn and you can’t get back there,” he said.
At Main Street and Markland Avenue, an area home to a number of locally owned businesses, the one-way traffic designation is a deterrent to customers, he said.
People traveling north on Union might see the businesses on Main Street and decide to cut over along Harrison Street, “but then if you can’t find a parking spot you’re back to the light at Markland, and you’re not going to do that more than once or twice,” he said.
Connecting the core downtown area — which has the Wildcat Creek as its southern boundary — with the Markland and Main area, and to areas further to the southeast, will be the focus of the overall plan, city engineer Carey Stranahan said.
Other facets of the plan will include:
• Installing a total of 6 miles of marked bike lanes, as part of a citywide alternative transportation plan.
• Putting a new walkpath along the rail line owned by Kokomo Grain between Markland and Boulevard. The railroad tracks would remain in place, and in service, in hopes of future commuter rail service emerging between Kokomo, Tipton and Indianapolis. The mile-long bike trail will connect Chrysler’s plants with Inventrek, Kokomo Opalescent Glass and the Markland and Main area.
• Stormwater planters, very similar to the curbside bumpouts installed downtown in 2010, will provide aesthetics and stormwater filtration along both Union and Main, between Markland and downtown. The planters will be paid for out of city utility funds.
• Bike racks and landscaping will be installed “at strategic locations to facilitate non-motorized traffic,” and decorative crosswalks will be installed as the city resurfaces Main and Union.
• Speed limits will be reduced to 30 mph on Main and Union. The city must also make changes to seven traffic signals to accommodate the two-way traffic.
“Our goal with city government right now is pretty simple; we need to put our limited resources into streets, green space and parks to make Kokomo a place people want to relocate to,” Goodnight said. “And even if we don’t get one person to move here, at least we made the city nicer for the people who live here.”
Downtown business owner Joel Fenske said he liked what he saw Thursday.
“The aesthetics of a city or a downtown is pretty important, and it’s always good to cover what larger cities and successful cities are doing to improve,” Fenske said. “I was a big fan of what they did downtown, and it seems like the administration and the people in charge of projects are doing a good job.”
City officials didn’t offer any estimates of the cost for the project, which will also involve rehabilitating a number of sidewalks in the Markland and Main area.
City infrastructure projects in the downtown area in 2010 totaled more than $1 million, with funding coming from a combination of federal gas tax money, utility funds, economic development income tax dollars and federal block grant funds.
• Scott Smith is a Kokomo Tribune staff writer. He may be reached at 765-454-8569 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org