Squeezed for Space

Squeezed for Space

Two-way traffic and parking issues in Old Town are concerning some business owners

For some business owners on Main Street, the two-way traffic conversion that is designed to make the downtown area a destination, not a thoroughfare, has been a nightmare since its implementation last August.

The city’s preparation for Old Town Village, a large, mixed-use development being built downtown, has included a two-way traffic conversion and several parking changes. As part of the city’s revitalization process, officials are trying to get drivers to stop and shop in Fairfax. However, some business owners along Main Street are worried that the city’s revitalization process doesn’t include them.

“Everything is benefiting the developer,” said Becky Stoeckel, who owns the Executive Press printing company on Main Street with her husband, Matt Stoeckel.

The Stoeckels said that while the downtown area is being revitalized to make room for Old Town Village, the existing businesses are getting pushed aside and virtually forgotten. As construction has entered various phases, and since the traffic conversion last August, parking has shifted about in the city. City Manager Bob Sisson said the city has “taken some pretty significant steps to provide additional parking” during this process.

City Councilmember Scott Silverthorne said Mayor Robert Lederer has worked tirelessly to find parking solutions throughout the construction phases. “We don’t have parking right outside the door to some of these places that we used to have, but there is parking,” said Sisson. “In some cases it’s 30 to 40 yards away.” Sisson noted that several spaces are always available throughout the day in the various lots, and said the Amoco lot was virtually empty, Wednesday, Jan. 17.

That isn't enough for Justin Gifford, manager at T.T. Reynolds, a 32-year-old bar and music hall on Main Street. He said the establishment has lost more than half of its lunch business because people don’t have the time to drive around to look for parking and then walk long distances on their lunch breaks. The two-way traffic and narrow sidewalks along Main Street aren’t conducive to pedestrian traffic either, he said.

“The lack of parking has killed us,” said Gifford.

When the 558-space parking structure for Old Town Village is completed, about 100 spaces are going to be available for the rest of the downtown area.

“That should be a major boost to the number of parking spaces,” said Sisson.

Becky Stoeckel doesn’t think that will happen, though. She said that employees alone would take up the majority of the spaces and Main Street patrons and employees wouldn’t want to park on the other side of North Street and walk.

“If the city actually cared about the businesses down here, the garage would be on the Webb lot,” said Matt Stoeckel.

Sisson said the city wants all of its downtown businesses to succeed. Only a few businesses complaining about the process, said Silverthorne, but they are legitimate concerns.

"There is going to be short-term pain for long-term gain," he said. "You create the destination point. We all said this: we're going to try your patience here for the next couple of years as this project is built out, and that's what's happening."

THE TWO-WAY traffic and parking is a disaster, said the Stoeckels, and they want the city to fix the problem. The city, however, doesn’t think it’s broken, said Sisson. A “mild choke point” exists in the vicinity of eastbound Main Street, said Sisson, and the city is considering some long-term solutions to address that.

“The city is looking at some minor timing changes and potential design changes in the future,” said Sisson.

Loading trucks that need to park in front of businesses are using the curb skirt as part of the loading zone because the zone is too narrow, said Gifford. A UPS truck in one of the Main Street loading zones, Thursday, Jan. 11, forced cars to overlap into the next lane to avoid the hitting it. T.T. Reynolds’ delivery drivers have received at least four tickets overall because they were “impeding the flow of traffic,” said Gifford. A 10-foot-wide beer truck sticks out at least three feet from the 7-foot loading zone when it makes its deliveries as often as three times per week.

“Cars are getting around [the delivery trucks] fine,” said Sisson. “We don’t think that’s the [root of the] congestion.”

In an August 2005 test-run of the traffic switch, Sisson said the city tested lane stripes and signals. The test indicated that the city streets could accommodate the switch.

“Most of the trucks can fit in the lines; if they are careful to get as close to the curb as they can,” said Sisson.

The curb skirt isn’t part of the loading zone though, said Gifford, so trucks shouldn’t have to get right on top of the sidewalk just to stay out of the flow of traffic. Sisson said widening the lanes in the future— by about a foot to a foot and a half on either side— is an option, but the Stoeckels said that doesn’t exactly fit into the city’s plan for a “pedestrian-friendly” downtown. Regardless of the wider lanes, Becky Stoeckel said the city’s parking studies showed that two-way traffic is generally more dangerous to pedestrians.

“But they went ahead and did it anyway,” she said.

Why the city is making so many accommodations for the new development is a mystery, said Matt Stoeckel. With 53,000-square-feet of retail shops, restaurants and sidewalk cafes available and no leases signed yet, he thinks the project might be a bust.

"They're killing us for something that might be," said Matt Stoeckel.