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Calming Traffic on Church Street

Town's Transportation Safety Commission plans to conduct a public hearing on pedestrian safety on Church Street.

When the weather is nice and summer is approaching, Steve Johnson, a manager at Nielsen's Frozen Custard on Church Street, often sees people walking up and down the street from shop to shop. Since a lot of his foot traffic comes from walkers on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and from the surrounding neighborhood, Johnson would like to see pedestrian safety as a priority for Church Street.

"The more safe people are, the more people would be able to stop in," Johnson said.

Johnson's wish may be on its way to being fulfilled, as the town's Transportation Safety Commission (TSC) hosts a public hearing next week to hear citizen input on pedestrian safety and traffic calming for the historical and commercial corridor. The section in question — Church Street from Lawyers Road to Park Street — sees traffic from Maple Avenue as well as Lawyers Road and the post office. But because businesses line that section, pedestrian safety remains a concern for the town.

"There's a lot of activity [on Church Street] that people walk to and drive to," said Richard Denbow, who's the chair of the citizen-comprised TSC.

As TSC chair, Denbow has heard many complaints from citizens who have trouble navigating the street during its busiest hours. The types of complaints he has heard range from people being unable to cross the street due to traffic, to cars refusing to yield.

"There's too much high-speed traffic going on over there," Denbow said.

CITING THE TOWN'S zoning for establishing that section of Church Street as a "pedestrian/commercial zone," Denbow hopes citizens will have suggestions for pedestrian safety and traffic calming at next week's meeting, which will help emphasize the pedestrian aspect of the street.

"If the town wants to invite people to walk there and shop there, they should do something to address those pedestrian safety issues," Denbow said.

Council members have been aware of the traffic concerns along Church Street, approving the implementation of traffic bollards at the Church Street and Lawyers Road intersection last fall.

Some issues are "the inability of pedestrians to maneuver through the traffic, and the backup of traffic at the post office," said Councilman George Lovelace, who wrote about traffic calming and Church Street in a recent town newsletter.

Lovelace added that what exacerbates the pedestrian safety issue is how vehicular access is set up, specifically at the Church Street and Lawyers Road intersection. Because each street has only one lane in each direction, and the intersection has several entrances and exits to it, the layout makes it more difficult for cars to navigate. Also, patrons park their cars along Lawyers Road if the post office parking lot is full.

"The difficulty of that whole quadrant is the number of turning movements that are available," Lovelace said.

IN ADDITION to the layout, another problem is the volume of traffic that uses Church Street to circumvent Maple Avenue, otherwise known as Route 123, said Johnson.

Because Johnson's business caters to all ages, he sees more families with children walking along Church Street. Although other Church Street businesses cater to adults, the presence of children on the street adds to citizens' concerns for pedestrian safety.

"Now it's becoming a more family-like location," Johnson said. "As traffic is growing out front, I think it would be good to make people more aware that pedestrian safety is becoming an issue."

A few doors down, Amy Gan of the shop Terra Christa added that pedestrians, the Town, and business owners could also be more responsive to pedestrians' needs. A few feet away from her storefront is an area that is prone to icing during the winter. The water accumulates and freezes if the area isn't drained or shoveled properly, making it difficult to walk.

Pedestrians could also be more cautious when crossing the street, she said.

"Most people appear to be OK, but some people seem to be sleeping," Gan said. She suggested that signs could be put up to remind both pedestrians and drivers where they are. "Remember there are cars and that it's a busy road."