MARIETTA — Mayor Steve Tumlin wants the roads circling the Square to become one way as part of a streetscaping initiative supported by the head of a citizens committee charged with recommending improvements to downtown.
Motorists would circle the Square on one-way roads until they reach the right connector street.
Tumlin said that is the way he remembers the Square operating when he was a child in the 1950s. In today’s city-planning vernacular, it’s called a “roundabout.”
“I personally think (a roundabout) can work on the Square and give us the old-time feel,” Tumlin said.
Now, two roads run east and west with cars traveling either way, while Atlanta Street runs north and Church Street runs south.
Kee Carlisle, chairman of the city’s Vision 20/20 Committee that was created to improve the look of downtown, said Tumlin included the change to traffic lanes in a list of items for the group to discuss.
Although Carlisle said the concept has merit, he said the rest of the 14-member committee did not have such a positive response.
“I think it is a great idea, but I am one person,” said Carlisle, who owns Sessions Street Folk Art in Marietta.
Carlisle said there could be “careful consideration” by his committee at future meetings about recommending the council move forward with a roundabout.
City Engineer Jim Wilgus said the city closed some traffic lanes three years ago to add brick enhancements to the downtown sidewalks, which caused a similar roundabout effect.
“It may not be convenient, but it flowed great,” Wilgus said.
More trees for
The roundabout idea was not up for discussion by the City Council at its Wednesday meeting, but the council did pick the next four roads that could be lined with trees in the downtown area.
Council members were enthusiastic following the positive response from the public to the landscaping along Church Street that was added this spring.
The council reviewed suggestions by city staff to target Mill Street and Whitlock Avenue west of the Square and Powder Springs Street and Atlanta Street south of the Square.
City Manager Bill Bruton told the council there was enough money in the SPLOST fund to line two more streets downtown. The fund has $734,000 left.
The council supported all four projects outlined at Wednesday’s meeting and asked the staff to provide more detailed design plans with cost estimates at the Sept. 9 meeting.
Councilman Philip Goldstein said he wants to prioritize Mill Street because it is a heavily walked area for visitors parking in front of the Marietta Museum of History and the Gone with the Wind Museum to get to the Square.
Another area in which committee members would like to see more trees is the corner of Whitlock Avenue and West Park Square, where Marietta Pizza Co. is located.
Carlisle said the block on East Park Square in front of county government buildings has a wide sidewalk to accommodate planting trees, but the property is owned by the county.
Other streets are too narrow for the landscaping upgrades because there is not enough room to widen the sidewalks, especially along Atlanta Street south of Anderson Street, in front of the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art.
Councilman Johnny Sinclair said because the landscaping is so popular, the city staff is “eventually going to have to figure it out.”
Carlisle reasoned the landscaping must be popular because he hears many citizens asking when other downtown roads will be done.
“I haven’t heard a negative response,” he said. “(Vision 20/20’s) opinion would be to do them all.”
Future lane closures?
The possibility of upgrading every sidewalk around the Square could unearth some opposition, Carlisle said.
For instance, the North Park Square block in front of Shillings on the Square and Willie Rae’s already has some old trees that can be preserved because “they have some life left,” he said.
But further landscaping to that stretch of road is needed to accommodate outside tables for the restaurants that have tightened the pedestrian walkway, especially for residents walking their dogs and the physically handicapped.
To address the congestion and widen the sidewalk by 10 feet, Carlisle said that road might lose a lane of traffic, which would require a traffic study by the city.
Tumlin believes a more pedestrian-oriented downtown would benefit merchants by having customers who can enjoy the Square from inside and outside the businesses.
Church Street upgrades
Between January and April, the city installed new sidewalks, pedestrian-level lighting and trees along Church Street north of Mill Street.
Carlisle said at least a dozen fast-growing trees will now add an aesthetic value to that block, as well as a practical appeal to shade a hot stretch of sidewalk during the day with more lighting at night.
Sinclair said he predicts an increase in property values on that block as a result of the upgrades.
“I have been a huge fan of what we did on Church Street,” Sinclair said. “I didn’t realize how bleak it was until the trees went in.”
The cost of that first stretch was $220,000 and funded by 2011 SPLOST dollars, according to Wilgus.
The next phase, to start in January 2014, will bury utility lines and install more planters north on Church Street to Polk Street.
The city is restricted to a four-month window for construction downtown, after the winter holiday season and before the spring and summer outdoor festival period.