Arlington considering reducing width of Abram Street to create more pedestrian-friendly downtown

Posted Wednesday, May. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Council briefs Alcohol election: Arlington voters will weigh in this November on whether to allow the sale of wine permanently at Rangers Ballpark. Because the Texas Rangers obtained the required 22,068 certified signatures of registered voters, the council was forced to order an election for Nov. 5. The stadium is now allowed to sell wine only temporarily and in certain locations at the stadium. If voters approve, the initiative would also allow wine and liquor stores to open in Arlington, Assistant City Attorney David Barber said. Residents can now buy wine and beer at grocery stores. Commuter buses: Though no vote has been taken, council members said Tuesday that they want to proceed with a proposed commuter bus service between downtown Arlington and the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort Station in Fort Worth. The council must still approve a joint contract with DART and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to operate the service during the two-year pilot project. Arlington would pay half of the $700,000 annual contract. The University of Texas at Arlington and local businesses have pledged to pay the other half during the pilot program. A bus stop is expected to be located downtown near UTA’s College Park District. The service, which would cost passengers $5, could start in August. Free parking for riders is expected to be available at the College Park Center parking garage, which the city helped finance, said Jim Parajon, director of community development and planning. East Arlington: The council approved a contract up to $120,000 with Dewberry Architects for a feasibility study on the future of the Hugh Smith Recreation Facility and the East Arlington Branch Library. The study will examine three options: building a recreation center at the existing site and expanding the existing library, building a recreation center elsewhere and expanding the existing library, and creating a combined recreation center and library elsewhere.

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Narrowing Abram Street would help make downtown more pedestrian-friendly but not without creating congestion and delaying vehicle traffic, according to a $55,000 study reviewed Tuesday by the Arlington City Council.

Last fall, the council approved the study on how downtown traffic could be affected if Abram Street between Cooper and Collins streets were reduced from its current five lanes to four, three or even two lanes.

Each lane reduction would free up 10 feet of space to add features such as wider sidewalks, more landscaping and streetlights and even on-street parking on the north and south sides of the street, officials said.

“As you take the lanes away, the traffic congestion and delay increases,” said Marshall Elizer, a consultant with Gresham, Smith and Partners.

A second phase of the study, which will include multiple public meetings to gather input, is expected to launch this year to help the council select a final road width. Voters approved bond funding in 2008 for Abram Street reconstruction, and work could begin on the downtown stretch as soon as 2015.

Abram Street between Cooper and Collins currently has two eastbound lanes, two westbound lanes and a center turn lane. Between 24,000 and 27,000 vehicles use the street each day, but by 2030 consultants project them to increase by 8,000-11,000.

Based on traffic modeling, consultants said keeping Abram’s configuration will provide the best overall traffic service but at the expense of the kind of pedestrian features that city officials desire. Arlington would have to buy land on both sides of Abram to reach that goal.

A walkable downtown is one of the goals the city adopted in 2004 as part of its vision for the heart of the city. Public Works Director Keith Melton said Arlington is working to create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown without “creating total gridlock.”

“We’re trying to mesh with the synergy that is happening in this part of downtown,” said Melton, pointing to the growth of the University of Texas at Arlington nearby and the influx of new restaurants. “We’re also trying to balance pedestrian needs with traffic needs.”

According to the traffic study, reducing Abram to four lanes would “slightly increase traffic delays and travel time” but would provide 10 feet along most of the corridor to allow for amenities.

The three-lane option would have a “moderate” impact on traffic service, primarily in the evening peak hours, but would provide 20 feet along the corridor for amenities.

The two-lane option provides the most space for amenities – 30 feet – but would create a “significant impact” on traffic service on Abram during the evening peak hours and would also create substantial diversion to other roads.

Melton said that besides wider sidewalks, on-street parking and landscaping, the freed-up space could be used by businesses to create patio areas or other features for visitors.

Brett Warmus of Arlington, eating lunch at an Abram Street burger shop Tuesday, said he believes that reducing traffic would help create a more vibrant downtown where people would feel comfortable walking to shops and restaurants.

“I’d rather have the walkability and have downtown prosper,” Warmus said. “There are so many east-west alternatives” to Abram.

But business owner Buddy Saunders said a street has two purposes – to get people to a destination on that street, such as a business or a home, or to get people from one place to another. Saunders, who owns an office/warehouse on Abram Street, said he doesn’t see how a significant lane reduction would benefit most residents.

“If you are going to do something that’s going to increase traffic congestion, you better have a really good explanation of what the benefit is,” Saunders said.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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