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Voters will decide months-old traffic dispute

Campaigners on both sides of Mitchell traffic-direction ballot issue are slinging slogans. "You're going the wrong way!" tout many ads by the two-way street proponents. Safety and a vibrant downtown are their main issues. "If it's not broken, why...

One way
A pickup drives down West Fourth Avenue Thursday afternoon in Mitchell.(Chris Huber/Republic)

Campaigners on both sides of Mitchell traffic-direction ballot issue are slinging slogans.

"You're going the wrong way!" tout many ads by the two-way street proponents. Safety and a vibrant downtown are their main issues.

"If it's not broken, why fix it?" say many supporters of keeping the streets one-ways.

Sarcastic signs up and down the one-ways ask whether two-way streets will actually increase safety, make Main Street more vibrant or decrease traffic. The signs end with a sardonically posed question: "Really?"

On Tuesday, voters will head to the polls to decide whether Second, Third and Fourth avenues will remain one-ways or be changed to two-way streets. The change to two-way traffic was approved in October by the Mitchell City Council, but petitioners referred it to the ballot.

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Jeff Logan and Jerry Toomey have served as spokesmen on opposite sides of the issue after the debate began in October.

Logan, owner of Logan Luxury Theatres and an advocate for changing the streets to two-ways, said the one-way streets have outlived the original purpose.

"Back in 1950, when they designated those streets as one-way, they were trying to ease congestion downtown," Logan said.

Originally, there were three schools on Second Avenue. Now Whittier and Notre Dame schools are gone and Longfellow Elementary does not face Second Avenue, all of which means there should be less congestion on the streets, according to Logan.

Returning the one-ways to two-ways would slow traffic rather than speed it, he added.

"This is what a lot of opponents don't understand," Logan said. "The streets will have oncoming traffic, which will slow it down rather than drivers using one-ways as a zip through there."

He said two-way traffic will create more visibility for businesses and create easier access to the downtown area, resulting in more business on Main Street.

Logan and other two-way supporters back up their argument with reports from traffic engineers at the University of California, Berkley, and other sources.

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Toomey, a former Mitchell City Council member, current candidate for mayor and spokesman for keeping the one-ways, acknowledged engineers say one-way streets typically have faster traffic. But he said the only explanation for it is that there isn't any oncoming traffic.

"If you can create the illusion of a bustling city by creating two-way streets, it's actually kind of a mirage they're creating that this is a hub of activity," he said.

Toomey said downtown is not that hectic and that two-ways will create congestion. To increase vibrancy on Main Street, Toomey said Mitchell Main Street & Beyond needs to work with the city to create a public square or something else to attract more people downtown.

"I'm all for Main Street & Beyond," he said, referring to a downtown advocacy group, "but to me changing the streets that are not broke for 60 years, why change it?"

Those in favor of two-ways have claimed many vehicles go the wrong way on Second, Third and Fourth avenues and say they have witnessed many near-miss accidents.

"There's so much confusion," Logan said. "People turn from Main going the wrong way on a one-way and go headlong toward a car or just continue on. They're oblivious to the cars facing them all the way."

Toomey disputes that with the aid of accident statistics. According to statistics from 2007 to 2011, on Second, Third and Fourth avenues there were 206 accidents, eight of which were caused by vehicles driving the wrong way. On Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues, there were 225 accidents.

From Eighth to 15th avenues, there were 198 accidents.

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Toomey said two-way streets will create more traffic, which could cause more accidents and congestion downtown. Logan said the same amount of traffic will travel the streets if the one-ways are changed to two-ways.

Toomey said parking will be a major issue on all the streets. He said it's already difficult to drive down the one-ways with vehicles parked on both sides.

"Vehicles would have to stop to let other vehicles through if they're changed to two-ways," he said.

In his research, Toomey said he's found many cities similar in size to Mitchell that switched to two-ways and have had more congestion, causing more pedestrian accidents. Toomey said in order to make a two-way work, with parking on both sides, the street needs to be at least 41 or 42 feet wide to allow for ample parking space.

The city widened Second, Third and Fourth avenues between 2002 and 2006.

Logan said there is more than ample space on the three one-ways, which now range from 30 to 42 feet wide from Edgerton Street to Foster Street. A street map provided by the city of Mitchell shows the one-way streets downtown from Sanborn Boulevard to Burr Street vary from 36 feet wide to 42 feet wide.

"These are as wide or wider as any streets in town," Logan said.

For comparison, East Fifth Avenue is 40 feet wide from Wisconsin to Foster, Sixth Avenue is 40 feet wide from Edgerton to Kimball, and Sixth Avenue is 30 feet wide from Kimball to Mentzer.

Logan added that studies indicate two-way streets function well at a 36-foot width, considering most vehicles are 5½- to 6-feet wide and trucks are 6½- to 8-feet wide.

Toomey argues the streets are still too narrow, not allowing enough room for parking and possibly forcing the city to eliminate parking on one side of the street to allow for traffic flow.

"Even though they widened the streets, they're still not wide enough," Toomey said.

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