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Businesses expect short-term pain for Cherry Street improvements

City’s traffic calming work is expected to last until October

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It’s been years in the discussion, but city crews have started construction this month for a traffic calming project in the Rountree neighborhood that is expected to enhance safety and quality of place, officials say.

The busy commercial intersection of East Cherry Street and South Pickwick Avenue is a primary focus of the project, which includes extended curbs, enhanced greenspace, shorter crosswalks and replacement of water and sewer lines. The project cost is $484,000, said Brett Foster, a traffic engineer with the city of Springfield. The city is responsible for $170,000, with City Utilities of Springfield covering the remainder to handle line replacement work, he said.

“It’s going to not only be aesthetically pleasing but it will also serve a really good purpose for a small amount of money,” Foster said, adding the work is expected to wrap in October.

Project improvements will extend on Cherry Street between Fremont and Weller avenues. The curb extensions, also known as “bulb-outs,” will visually and physically narrow the street and force traffic to slow down, Foster said. Additionally, three raised crosswalks are being added at the curb extensions, narrowing crossing distance to 22 feet from its current 37 feet.

“Traffic calming is any means or methods we use to give either a real or perceived view of traffic that they need to slow down,” he said. “The word calming is used for that reason. It’s not just for speeding but to also make yourself more aware that you’re changing environments.”

Long-term gain
City officials have long heard complaints from Rountree residents and businesses about vehicles exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, said Tina Stob, senior designer with the city. Solutions have been discussed with those in the neighborhood for around five years.

Local businesses say the project, which limits vehicle flow to a single lane of westbound traffic for much of its four-month duration, brings some short-term pain for long-term gain.

Colleen Smith, owner of Tea Bar & Bites Bakery and Cafe, said speeding and pedestrian safety issues have existed at least since 2004, when she opened her 621 S. Pickwick Ave. restaurant.

“Now, with all the new businesses popping up, there’s just so many more pedestrians and bikers, which we love. It’s a treasure of the area here,” she said. “It’s needed to be done for a long time.”

The business scene near the Cherry and Pickwick intersection has expanded in recent years. Market concept Culture Counter, a brick-and-mortar spot for Skully’s Food Truck, live music venue and bar The Royal, Artistree Pottery and Fleur Floral Studio are among those that have opened there in the last 18 months.

“I have been advocating to the city about it before we started the brewery,” Curtis Marshall, co-founder of Tie & Timber Beer Co. LLC, said of traffic calming measures.

The brewery opened in 2018 at 1451 E. Cherry St., near the Pickwick Avenue intersection.

“There’s a lot more pedestrian traffic that are crossing Cherry Street from the north and south. To me, it’s a public safety issue,” Marshall said.

However, he realizes the vehicle traffic restrictions may turn away some customers this summer as work continues.

“I have no doubt it will affect sales at some point,” Marshall said, noting with growth comes pain points. “It’s hard to measure or project what that will be.”

Marshall said brewery customers are used to walking a block or two and hopes that will continue during the construction.

“We only have 30 parking spaces, and we have hundreds of people come through here every weekend,” he said. “There’s plenty of on-street parking and our customers know that. In that sense, we’re kind of lucky.”

Parking has always been at a premium at Tea Bar & Bites, Smith said, adding she’s gotten a lot of walk-in traffic from the Rountree residents over the years. Her cafe’s indoor dining room just reopened in May after closing in March 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant has served customers from its outdoor courtyard and via carryout and curbside orders in the interim, she said.

Smith also expects the work will cut into sales by an undetermined amount. She said revenue was down around 50% year-over-year in 2020, declining to disclose figures.

“We just take it a day at a time. It’s been a challenging year and a half,” she said, noting she was helped by roughly $40,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans. “We’ve had to do so many different things here and accommodate in different ways. It’s all been a learning curve for everybody.”

The city’s portion of the Cherry Street project is funded through its one-eighth-cent transportation sales tax alternative transportation program. Nixa-based D & E Plumbing and Heating Inc. will complete the gas and water line work for City Utilities, according to city officials.

The city’s work at Cherry and Pickwick follows the completion in May of a median designed to limit turns to one lane in each direction at National Avenue and Kingsley Street. The project, which city officials say cost less than $10,000, was funded by the city’s quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax. The median was built with the intention of reducing vehicle accidents at the intersection. A recent crash analysis found 22 crashes within a 30-month period at the intersection, with 21 attributed to left-hand turns.

The intersection is less than a mile south of Cox South Hospital and several businesses such as Legacy Bank and Trust and Los Cabos Mexican Grill and Cantina are in the vicinity.

City staff also has paid attention to the intersection at Campbell Avenue and Sunshine Street this year, Foster said. Roughly 61,000 vehicles per day go through the intersection, he said, noting there have been traffic flow issues in recent months due to the popularity of businesses such as Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and Raising Cane’s, which opened in late 2020. The stretch has been dubbed “chicken strip.”

“What we’re trying to do is use some driver education and some sign issues to try and make improvements,” Foster said of using message boards alerting drivers to utilize those businesses’ back entrances. “It’s usually just a few people an hour that cause issues. It’s not a huge problem to fix.”

Under consideration
Foster said traffic calming projects elsewhere in the city are being evaluated as funding is available. However, the need far outweighs resources available to add the features.

“We’re hoping to eventually employ it in a lot of places in Springfield,” he said, noting the city is studying curb extension designs at intersections for South Avenue and Pershing Street, as well as Elm Street and Jefferson Avenue. “We don’t have anything specific on the books yet.”

At Tea Bar & Bites, Smith said the timing of the Cherry Street work isn’t ideal, as her eatery emerges from a rough financial period.

“There’s never going to be a good time,” she said.

“The sooner, the better; let’s get it done and go through some growing pains. It’ll be well worth it in the end.”

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