Easing foot traffic woes

Experts troubleshoot sidewalk congestion

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2003

A group of consultants is strolling with tourists in Juneau this week in an effort to find a solution to persistent overcrowding on downtown sidewalks.

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"We are watching the operation and the flow - where people are coming from and going to at peak hours," said Sonia Hennum of Portland, Ore.-based Kittelson & Associates, a transportation and traffic planning firm. "We are interested in the interaction between what we call 'travel modes,' like tour buses and people walking."

The city hired the consultants to conduct a downtown tourism transportation study and produce suggestions for pedestrian and vehicle infrastructure improvements to be used by the state Department of Transportation. Egan Drive and the lower part of South Franklin Street are part of the state's road system, and are eligible for federal highway improvement dollars.

Though the focus would be on the state road area, city and state development would be shaped by the consultants' suggestions, said Sam Kito III, Juneau's transportation development manager, who is overseeing the contract.

Numerous studies and surveys have indicated downtown Juneau has a problem with overcrowded sidewalks and traffic in the summer tourist season, especially in the area of Egan Drive, Marine Way and South Franklin Street.

Nagui Rouphail, a professor of civil engineering at North Carolina State University, spent Wednesday morning observing tourists as they disembarked a large cruise ship. His informal analysis - he counted 30 people per foot per minute - confirmed the studies' findings.

"That's about twice the flow that would be comfortable," he said.

For the initial phases of the transportation study, consultants interviewed "stakeholders," or people who have direct experience with downtown crowding. They also held a public meeting Tuesday night, which was very sparsely attended. The group plans to hold another meeting next month.

On their observational stroll Wednesday, Rouphail, Hennum and consultant Wayne Kittelson informally interviewed George Reifenstein, who manages the Mount Roberts Tramway.

"The pedestrian thing really worries me," Reifenstein said, adding he is a firefighter and has had to respond to emergencies in the area. The congestion is a safety concern, he said.

The consultants are looking at ways to help with better pedestrian "flow" on downtown streets. Among them are soft barriers, such as posts and ropes, and a possible retooling of traffic patterns.

The consultants also are looking at a plan to extend an old construction road that runs on the hillside parallel to South Franklin, creating an alternate route for large trucks and traffic, Kito said.

Additionally, consultants will examine a plan forwarded by city engineer Rorie Watt, which suggests moving the Timberwolf, William and Anthony and Pioneer Jewelers buildings to create more pedestrian space. Watt said part of the congestion problem downtown is the right-of-way - the area the public uses for sidewalks, water mains and sewer mains - is just too small and is based on outdated standards.

"The right-of-way is from the late 1800s and times have really changed," he said.

Watt's plan would move the businesses about 20 feet away from South Franklin Street, further out on to the water toward the pier area where the cruise ships dock. He estimates it would cost about $3 million to move the buildings.

Pioneer Jewelers owner Penny Tripp was surprised to hear about the suggestion, and said her structure was newly built.

"The building was built on pilings, it's not something you can just pick up with a sky crane and move," she said.

Watt said many cities, such as Boston and Seattle, move buildings as part of transportation improvement projects. He also stressed his plan was just a suggestion.

"It's just an idea. Whether it's a good idea or not I don't know, but is it feasible? Sure," Watt said. "It depends on how much you care about this issue and how much you would value another 20 feet of sidewalk space."

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

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