Town holds off on Cherry Street decision

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News

In spite of a study recommending that traffic on Cherry Street flow one-way in a northbound direction, aldermen will wait until later this year to make a decision on the busy road in the middle of Black Mountain. 

Waynesville-based firm J.M. Teague Engineering & Planning presented the board with the results of a study of the street during the regular monthly meeting on Aug. 10, but aldermen believe results from a larger traffic and circulation study of the entire downtown district this fall is needed before the traffic pattern is changed. 

The town commissioned the study near the end of April as the Buncombe County Metropolitan Sewerage District completed a pipe replacement project under Cherry Street. Merchants along the road asked aldermen to consider changing it to a one-way street before the MSD re-striped it. 

Aldermen will wait until a transportation and circulation study later this year to determine whether or not to make Cherry Street one-way. A study of the road in the center of Black Mountain showed that it's current configuration as a two-way road is "hazardous to vehicles and pedestrians."

The town had been granted $28,000 by the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization for a $35,000 circulation and transportation study of the downtown business district, but the funding for that project was not available until the fall. Aldermen voted unanimously to have a study of Cherry Street conducted in the meantime to determine whether or not changing the flow of traffic was a viable option.

The study, which included turning movement counts at intersections on each end of Cherry Street and cameras to capture traffic patterns, showed approximately two-thirds of the 804 vehicles in a 13-hour count entered from U.S. 70 and traveled south.

It examined three potential patterns for the road: the existing two-way lane configuration, one-way southbound and one-way northbound.

The firm determined that while the current flow is "convenient for bidirectional use," it is also "hazardous to vehicles and pedestrians." The two-way pattern is also reduces the efficiency of nearby traffic signals, it concluded. 

"The behavior of the pedestrians and vehicles creates safety concerns for drivers as well as pedestrians crossing the road," the study said. 

A lack of loading zones for large trucks puts vehicles and pedestrians at risk as well, the study noted, and parallel parking on the street interrupts the flow of traffic. 

While converting the pattern to a one-way southbound flow is an option, the study concluded, re-routing the vehicles that access Cherry Street from Sutton Avenue to U.S. 70 would increase traffic and further congest the intersection of Cherry Street and U.S. 70. 

"From a traffic engineering perspective converting Cherry Street into a one-way northbound configuration is the best way to manage the ongoing traffic on Cherry Street and U.S. 70.," the report reads. "Converting Cherry Street into a one-way would eliminate the mid-street U-turns and reverse travel. Pedestrians would only have to watch for traffic traveling one way, making it safer through less pedestrian and vehicle interaction."

Alderman Ryan Stone, who moved to table the discussion until the larger circulation and transportation study can be conducted later this year, said in an interview he'd like to have a more holistic view of traffic in the area. 

"We're going to do an entire circulation study of downtown," he said. "If we're going to commit to that then I don't think a piecemeal approach is the way to go. We should look at all alternatives."

Stone said while aldermen have had conversations with merchants about the flow of traffic on Cherry Street, they have yet to get definitive plans from town staff on how parking would be oriented or where loading zones would be. 

"We also have yet to discuss thoroughly how a change like this would affect traffic when we close Sutton (Avenue) for events like the Fourth of July or Holly Jolly," he said. "Those were my objections against making a decision right now."

The board will take up the matter again when more information becomes available, according to Stone. 

"We're not putting it off permanently, or even indefinitely," he said. "I think we need to look at the whole downtown and see if we need to make a corresponding move on any other streets to make (traffic) flow better."

The Cherry Street study, Stone added, can easily be incorporated into the larger study. 

"I'm concerned about the unintended consequences," he said. "I don't want to cause any greater strain on other parts of the area."

Director of planning and development for Black Mountain, Jessica Trotman, said she plans to release a request for proposals for the transportation and circulation study "very soon."

"I don't have a scope of work for the study proposed," she said. "My asks of the consultants who will be conducting that are pretty dry, just data collection and things like that."

The town wants to find a way to maximize traffic patterns in a way that improve travel times, congestion and safety, Trotman said. 

"Every decision made related to traffic will have an impact on other locations in the vicinity," she said. "I appreciate the board's perspective to not want to have a change in conditions leading into the study."

No striping has been done on Cherry Street since the road was repaved, but drivers continue to use it as a two-way street with parallel parking. The public works department will explore temporary measures for directing traffic until a final decision is made on which way the traffic should flow.