Two Way Traffic in Downtown begins tomorrow

The changeover to two way traffic in much of downtown Lowell will occur at 4am tomorrow.  I’ve been looking forward to the change because when it comes to downtown Lowell, doing something different can’t hurt.  (Although when I tested out Appleton Street on the day it changed to two way traffic I barely avoided a head-on collision with someone who hadn’t got the word so proceed with caution while driving through downtown in the coming days).

Since the default setting on most humans is to dislike change, I’ve long thought this alteration in a traffic pattern that’s been in place will get a lot of pushback.  That was evident yesterday when I posted something about this on Facebook.  Here’s a sampling of the comments I received:

I’m dreading this change. See lots of head-on collisions in Lowell’s future

It’s hard to get into a head-on collision while sitting waiting in gridlock traffic

I’m so glad I moved out of downtown

UGH! I’m thinking walking to work from Pawtucketville may be faster than driving, especially once school starts in a few weeks.

I’m sorry but there were many valid reasons they got rid of two-way traffic downtown in the first place. This is a bad idea

Although the city has had a couple of informational meetings, has put a copy of the new street pattern on the DPD website, and has put lighted sign boards around downtown, this will still come as a shock to many.  I sense that one shortcoming of the roll out is a failure of the city to explain the reasons for this change with sufficient intensity to help people tolerate the predictable implementation pains that will accompany it.  I raised that question in the Facebook discussion and George Proakis, who left Lowell’s DPD a few years ago to become Somerville’s Planning Director offered this:

The transition will be a bit difficult, but I really think this is going to make a difference for the better in the long run, IF people give it time to work. Less circling traffic, more logical patterns, better visibility for businesses, ease of travel for visitors and newcomers and yes slower traffic are all good for downtown. I’ve been encouraging this move since 2005, and I think it is going to be a move for the better

Of course George also pointed out that this is an outflow of the Jeff Speck Plan and we all know what the City Council thinks of Jeff Speck (“what does an urban planner know about the city when he spends less than a month here . . .”).  Maybe we should start a pool on how quickly a city councilor will file the motion to restore one way traffic.  Forget the pool; we all know it will be at the next council meeting.  But I digress . . .

Merrimack Street at Kearney Square

Merrimack Street at Kearney Square

While walking on Merrimack Street yesterday I did spot something that will be a real problem, one that legitimately transcends the predictable opposition to change and that’s how to deal with deliveries.  The above photo, taken at noon just up from Kearney Square shows a trailer truck double parked making a delivery.  I know there are designated “delivery zone” parking spots downtown but are there enough of them?  Are they enforced?  Besides vendors making deliveries to merchants, the world now turns of UPS and Fedex delivering packages at a feverish pace.  Will those brown trucks and white trucks just stop in the single travel lane on Merrimack and Market Street while drivers run inside with packages?  How is the city going to deal with that?  Or as one Facebook commenter put it is the city’s plan “be the ever present “deal with it” attitude that’s pretty prevalent even now…”

The time for speculation is growing short.  When we awake tomorrow two way traffic will be the reality.  In the meantime, here’s a link to the chapter of the Speck Plan that deals with downtown traffic.  It’s interesting reading and makes a lot of sense.  Please check it out.

5 Responses to Two Way Traffic in Downtown begins tomorrow

  1. Mary Hart says:

    Glad they are waiting for the bars to close. Would have been a cool idea to host a 4 am Breakfast to inaugurate the two way street. And as a Market St. resident I am dreading the inevitable traffic snarls/accidents/backups that this might engender. Ah well…progress.

  2. LVA1113 says:

    I basically agree with this entire post! Well said. I am optimistic and hopeful about the change, though I definitely fear the near-immediate freak-out and call for rollback that will probably occur. I just want people to give it time, to let folks adjust to it and to get the light timing right, and to deal with issues like deliveries and such. Sigh.

  3. Brian says:

    Market St probably stands more to gain than any other street affected by this change. Cars go way too fast on one-way Market St as is. Slowing the traffic down is better for pedestrians which is better for businesses. It’s too bad the owner of Centro couldn’t hang in there a little longer.

    Two-way traffic is also better for visitors when driving downtown. After all, we strive to be a destination city. Yet we fight the ideas and New Urbanist principals that other cities have implemented with great success.

    My only concern is not being able to take a left hand turn from Merrimack to John or Bridge. Was that an expert recommendation or anecdotal compromise?

    Dismissing Jeff Speck is like dismissing the best hip surgeon in the US because he hasn’t done a surgery at Lowell General Hospital. Downtown Lowell needs a “new hip”. I’d want Jeff Speck to operate on me over Corey Belanger or Ted Panos.

  4. Joe says:

    There is one subtle but very important change that must happen for this plan to have any chance of success. Right now we have posted loading zones. The signs must be switched to commercial truck zones immediately. Between the banks,hospitals,school departments etc….There are lots of couriers in normal sized cars parking in these loading zones. Now in their defense they are just trying to do their jobs. The problem comes when a UPS or a semi beer truck cannot park because the only spot available is blocked by a car. The meter maids are powerless because technically the courier is loading/unloading. Courier cars have many more options compared to larger trucks.Truck drivers will not even have a place to park and wait for the loading zone to open up. The picture you posted is the perfect example of this.

  5. Dennis... says:

    That a Start…….for down town…..Appleton street great…..but glad they are starting the test …before the kids come back…..