While some Mitchell drivers have grown accustomed to and support one-way streets, efforts to convert them into two-ways continue sparking debate.
The idea to make the switch from one-way to two-way streets has been an issue that’s sparked heated debate among the Mitchell City Council and the citizens of Mitchell for the past decade. After Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson pitched the idea to keep a portion of one-way streets converted to two-ways throughout the remainder of the Sanborn Boulevard construction project during the Jan. 6 council meeting, residents who support one-ways made their case to divert them back when the final phase of the road construction begins in the spring.
Everson said switching the streets from a one-way to two-way streets — which consisted of West Second, Third, and Fourth avenues (between Rowley and Minnesota streets) — was a decision aimed at improving the traffic flow and access during reconstruction of the Sanborn Phase II roadway project.
While the council will vote in the spring to determine whether the portion of one-way streets that have been temporarily switched to two-ways during the second phase of the Sanborn improvement project will remain until the final phase of the project reaches its expected end this summer, Everson said he would like to see the two-way streets remain permanently. However, that would require an additional vote by the council, according to city code.
“The one-way streets are confusing to a lot of people, and I often see drivers going the wrong way down them,” Everson said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “It would eliminate confusion and simplify our traffic flow in the city, and commerce would benefit because people have found it easier to travel to businesses on two ways.”
According to former Mitchell Main Street and Beyond President Jeff Logan, he learned the first implementation of one-way streets in the city of Mitchell dates back to 1959. At that time, Logan found that the one-way streets were created to provide a quicker emergency evacuation route in the event of a nuclear bomb or warfare attack taking place.
Considering multiple decades have passed since the Cold War-era with the Soviet Union, paired with the lack of benefits he has found to support one-way streets, Everson doesn’t see the need for the one-ways to remain.
“That type of threat really doesn’t apply like it used to anymore. The only benefit I’ve been able to find for one-way streets is they move traffic faster,” Everson said of the one-way streets. “I understand it can be hard to support change after something has been the way it has for quite some time, but there comes a time when you should look at things and ask yourself whether this is logical. To me, it’s not logical to keep them.”
As drivers have been adjusting to the temporary two-way streets on portions of one-ways during the Sanborn Boulevard construction project, some Mitchell residents who previously opposed making the switch to two-way streets have had a change of heart.
Former City Councilman and State Legislator Mel Olson is one of those residents who has shifted his views in support of two-way streets following the city’s decision to temporarily implement two-way streets on one-way avenues. According to Everson, the switch went into effect in the summer of 2019, which was a decision aimed at improving the traffic flow and accessibility along those respective streets during reconstruction of the Sanborn Phase II road improvement project.
“I served on the City Council, and I signed the petition to keep the one-way streets one-way,” Olson said during the citizens’ input portion of the July 1, 2019, council meeting. “What I’m saying is that I’ve changed my mind.”
Throughout the duration of the Sanborn Boulevard project, Olson said he began taking notice of the confusion that the one-way streets can cause for drivers. By switching to two-way streets, Olson concluded it would make for safer roads.
“It’s a mess. When you come off the Highway 37 Bypass, it’s a two-way street for a time, which then turns into a one-way,” Olson said. “And now it’s a two-way on Minnesota Street to Sanborn where you can’t cross, which switches back to a one-way and people are confused. I don’t think it’s very safe.”
One-way supporters force public vote
A public vote took place in 2012 after the City Council sought to convert the entire one-way streets on Second, Third and Fourth avenues to two-ways. The plan to change the streets to two-ways came up against opposition from some community members, who ultimately were responsible for gathering enough signatures for a petition, forcing a public vote that defeated the plan. Thus, a portion of one-way streets still remain along Second, Third and Fourth avenues
Of the 3,804 votes casted, 2,393 opposed switching the one-ways to two-ways on the respective streets, while 1,411 approved, marking a 63% defeat for two-way supporters.
For City Council President Kevin McCardle, the 2012 vote speaks volumes and still holds weight in his future decisions regarding the one-way vs. two-way debate. McCardle lived on a one-way street for 25 years, and his support for keeping the one-ways upon the completion of Sanborn Boulevard construction remains despite having since moved to a new home.
“The people who voted for this matter, and they went out and did the work to get the petition signatures and got it done. That vote speaks for itself, and it was voted on fairly,” McCardle said.
Although McCardle witnessed out-of-town drivers mistakenly driving the wrong way down the one-way street he previously resided on at 700 E. Third Ave., he said it was a very rare occurrence.
While one-way streets are partly designed to help move traffic flow more smoothly and frequently, McCardle said eliminating the two-lane traffic traveling in opposite directions alleviates safety concerns he associates with two-ways.
“I liked how my kids only had to look in one direction for oncoming traffic instead of two directions,” McCardle said. “People who live on one-way streets are so used to it, and it would be a big change that some people who don’t live on one-ways might not understand.”
Steve Harms, a longtime Mitchell resident who lives on a one-way street, is an advocate for maintaining the one-way streets. Harms addressed his concerns regarding the narrow width of the one-way street he resides on along West Fourth Avenue.
“With the snow in the street, it is bad. On our block we have at least five cars parked one both sides most of the time, and there is no room for two cars to drive,” Harms said during the Jan. 6 council meeting. “I disagree that we should allow two-way traffic in that narrow of a street.”
Although the narrow width of the one-way streets, especially during the winter months with snow and ice build up, is a shared concern among one-way supporters, Public Works Director Croce said nearly all the city streets are relatively close in width. According to Croce, the city’s streets range anywhere from 30 to 40 feet wide.
“The other argument that 36 feet to 40 feet isn’t wide enough for two-way streets doesn’t add up for me, because all the streets in the city are right around the same width,” Croce said, noting West Fifth Avenue -- a two-way street -- is 36 foot wide.
Regardless of the street width, Melinda Moreno, a resident who lives at 715 W. Fourth Ave., cited the safety hazards she’s experienced since the two-ways have been in place during construction.
“There is just not enough room for two cars to pass, and it ends ups being you have to wait and move over to get through,” Moreno said.
Connecting access throughout city
The Traffic Commission unanimously approved a plan to shift the traffic pattern on the three avenues between Rowley and Lawler streets, which business owners backed as a way to better connect Main Street to intersecting roads. While the change is set to establish two-way streets in the two-block section of town, one-way traffic will still be required beyond Lawler and Rowley streets.
Five years after the public vote that saw the one-way streets prevail, the two-way vs. one-way debate heated back up after several Main Street business owners banded together in hopes to switch a portion of Second, Third and Fourth avenues between Rowley and Lawler streets to two-way traffic. And in mid-March of 2017, the Mitchell Traffic Commission approved a traffic shift on Second, Third and Fourth avenues from one-way to two-way streets from Rowley to Lawler streets. However, one-way traffic beyond Lawler and Rowley streets remained, as it does today.
The approval to implement two-ways on a portion of the respective avenues was a victory for some of the downtown business owners, as they stated it was a way to connect Main Street with intersecting roads.
Looking at the layout of the city’s streets, City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein emphasized the importance of creating more roads to help balance the connectivity throughout the city. Ellwein referenced the recent Community Visioning and Planning process that included survey responses from community members. A particular element that arose from the Community Visioning process was the need to improve better connectivity to more areas of the town instead of isolated areas such as the development on the south of Interstate 90.
“If we don’t do a better job of creating connections between the core of our community and the area to south of Interstate 90, you’re going to continue to see a divide in development in those two areas,” Ellwein said. “Right now, if you’re not familiar with town, we make it very difficult to get to our core of town.”
By opening up additional east to west travel routes that the two-way switch could provide, Ellwein said it could spur more balanced development growth throughout the city.
“There are really only a couple of north to south streets that can take you to the core of town,” Ellwein said. “When we make it difficult for people to drive east and west, we’re not bridging all of our development areas.”