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The Town of Black Mountain will move forward with plans to change the traffic pattern on a popular downtown street. 

The board of aldermen, during its Oct. 14 regular meeting, instructed Town Manager Josh Harrold to proceed with converting Cherry Street to a one-way, northbound flow. The move came two months after officials passed a resolution adopting the change. 

Merchants along the street, which spans one block through the center of Black Mountain’s downtown district, asked the town in May of 2018 to consider changing the traffic pattern. That request came as the Buncombe County Metropolitan Sewerage District was completing sewer line upgrades under Cherry Street. 

The merchants asked that the town consider the move before restriping the street, which currently allows for northbound and southbound travel with parallel parking on each side. 

Aldermen instructed town staff to contract Waynesville-based J.M. Teague Engineering to conduct a traffic study on Cherry Street, in an effort to determine if the request could be accommodated. 

The study, which examined the options of leaving the existing two-way pattern or converting the pattern to a one-way flow, was completed in the summer of 2018. The firm recommended a northbound, one-way pattern. The report cited safety concerns for pedestrians and drivers and noted that a lack of loading zones for the trucks that service the merchants along the street resulted in the disruption of the flow of traffic. 

Aldermen decided, in August of 2018, to wait for more information before making a decision on the matter. The town contracted Traffic Planning and Design Inc. to conduct a parking and circulation study of the downtown district. Eighty percent of the funding for the $35,000 study was provided by a grant through the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization. 

TPD, which began collecting data on Cherry Street in May of 2019, reviewed the J.M. Teague study. The firm also recommended converting the road to a one-way, northbound pattern. 

A resolution following the recommendations of both firms was adopted unanimously in August of this year. Town staff met with business owners after passing the measure, Harrold told the board. 

“I was told that some of the owners weren’t completely happy with the decision, and they were in favor of it being converted to a southbound pattern,” he said. “We did reach out to those business owners and held a meeting here at Town Hall.”

Director of planning and development for the town, Jessica Trotman, said that around 15 business owners attended the meeting. 

“The general feeling was that they would prefer to leave Cherry Street alone if it wasn’t converted to southbound,” she said. However, that pattern presents several challenges, she added. 

“One of the primary (challenges) is that if you’re trying to turn left onto Cherry Street it only takes two or three cars before traffic starts to back up into the intersection of Montreat Road and Broadway Avenue,” Trotman said. “Also, the crossing up at the top of Cherry Street is not a great intersection for pedestrians. It’s very wide and the geometry is strange for someone who is turning onto the street to head south.”

The TPD study recommended narrowing that crosswalk by adding extensions to sidewalks on each side of the intersection. 

“I believe the consultants also said that traveling south on Cherry Street isn’t quite as safe because the speed of drivers driving downhill,” Alderman Larry Harris said. “We had one of the engineers from the parking and circulation study here at a recent meeting and every reason they had for recommending northbound was related to safety.”

Engineers collected a “significant amount of data” related to the street, Trotman said, and found that “the majority of people driving on Cherry Street are looking for parking.”

“If we go with the northbound traffic flow that we originally voted on, it’s not written in stone,” said Vice Mayor Maggie Tuttle. “We can try it out and see how it works.”

The resolution enacting the change calls for parallel parking to remain on both sides of the street, with extended spaces. Left turns from Cherry Street onto State Street will continue to be prohibited, requiring all drivers on the road to turn right at the intersection. 

Harris, pointing out that the consultants did not find traffic on the street to be “terribly heavy,” expressed a willingness to leave the pattern as it is. 

Trotman explained another advantage to a one-way flow would be to better accommodate the deliveries received by the merchants throughout the day. 

“One of the major advantages of going one-way, regardless of the direction of the pattern, was that it doubled the travel lane width and to allow delivery trucks to better make their deliveries,” Trotman said. “That’s one of the issues the merchants are facing. I understand from talking to them that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to know when trucks will come. If there is an accident on I-40, the driver is going to be late. Having spaces for unloading at certain times just isn’t practical. Going one-way will help address that.”

“Well, they’re the ones getting the deliveries and they’re the ones who don’t want it, so what can you say?” Harris responded. “So my two cents is to leave it as it is, as a result of the input of the merchants.”

Tuttle pointed out that it was the merchants on Cherry Street who asked for the traffic pattern to be changed. 

“They asked to go southbound,” Trotman responded. “We engaged engineers because we didn’t want to make traffic recommendations without knowing the safety implications.”

Both studies indicated that a southbound, one-way pattern was the least viable option. 

“If we go with (Tuttle’s) first thought, we could give it a shot as a one-way,” Harris said. “Especially at this time of the year, once we get through October, the traffic will be a little less. We would make minimal changes to the crosswalk, and I don’t see where we would be any worse for the wear.”

Trotman added that temporary measures could be used to visually impede traffic. 

“I’d like to try it,” Tuttle said. 

“I’m good with that,” Harris added. 

With the passing of the resolution in August, no further voting was required by the board. 

“We’re going to borrow an electronic sign that will give drivers a notice that it will be converted to a one-way,” Harrold said in an interview after the meeting. “We’ll paint the parking spaces because those won’t be impacted either way. We’ll put up the appropriate signage, and as far as the bump-outs to shorten the crosswalk, I’m currently researching what we can do temporarily and still be aesthetically pleasing.”

The center of Cherry Street will remain unstriped as the town evaluates the conversion. 

“If this change becomes permanent, then we’ll likely add some arrows that point north,” he said. 

Feedback regarding the upcoming change has been mixed, according to Harrold. 

“Folks on State Street are in favor of converting Cherry Street to a one-way, going north,” he said. “But those folks are constantly aware of the issue of traffic backing up on State Street when people are making that left turn on Cherry Street, because they see it.” 

The new pattern will be implemented in the coming weeks, Harrold said. 

“I’d like to have this in place before Thanksgiving,” he said.

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