The heated debate over the future of Main Street continues.
It was standing room only — and some residents even stood in the foyer outside the chambers with the door wide open — as the Susanville City Council held a 90-minute special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 to discuss the future of Main Street. But if the three councilmembers present at the meeting (Mayor Kevin Stafford, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Franco and Brian Moore) hoped for a clear direction from the public, that hope unfortunately remains unrequited as residents passionately argued both sides of the issue — some in favor of Caltrans’ proposed striping plan to reduce traffic to one lane in each direction through Uptown Susanville and others who opposed the plan.
The matter was continued, and the special meeting ended about 6:30 p.m. due to a regularly scheduled Susanville Planning Commission meeting in the chambers.
Originally the council planned to take the matter up again at its regular meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 7, but Mike Wilson, city administrator, told the newspaper the council will hold another special meeting on Main Street at 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 31.
A second item on the July 23 special meeting’s agenda, approval of Resolution No. 19-5680, adopting updated HOME Guidelines and revert back to existing 2015 CDBG Program Guidelines, was not discussed and the item was continued until the council’s Aug. 7, meeting.
According to the agenda, Dan Newton, public works director, wrote, “Caltrans has presented a plan for the city’s consideration. The plan reflects a potential re-striping option for Main Street in Uptown Susanville. Caltrans has not formally requested the city’s approval of this plan but has presented it as an option at a meeting of the local (Lassen County) Transportation Commission requesting feedback. The plan is Caltrans’ response to a concerned citizen’s request to address the lane drop at the west end of town that was necessitated by the installation of the barrier wall.”
According to Newton, three options were available for the council’s consideration — request Caltrans to proceed to restripe Main Street as proposed; request Caltrans to restripe Main Street according to its previous configuration; or, request Caltrans to come up with a different striping configuration.
Derek Willis, a deputy district director for Caltrans who attended the meeting, said the state agency would need the council’s recommendation by the first week in August. He said a decision after the Aug. 7 meeting would allow Caltrans to complete the project on time.
Newton also wrote, “Regarding the construction of the bulb outs along Main Street, several concerns have been expressed. Council will receive feedback from the public and discuss issues and concerns with the bulb outs and possibly provide a recommendation to Caltrans on the bulb outs.”
Caltrans explains the Main Street project
“I think they put us under the curb again,” one resident said, “and it seems like that’s what Caltrans does to us all the time. Businesses have closed because of Caltrans dictating how the stoplights and stop signs are going to be like on Weatherlow. Tri-County Glass went out of business because of it — they lost all their parking because of how you have to merge onto Main Street. I’m worried about you guys coming in and taking little bits, putting a bike lane in and then pretty soon we don’t need that parking, we need a double bike lane. It’s just one more thing to take away from us.”
Willis addressed the council and the public to open the meeting.
“This is something that’s been in the works quite a while,” Willis said. “It was back in 2015 the discussion about bulb outs and re-striping Uptown came into play.”
Willis said the concerns were pedestrian safety and traffic calming.
He said forcing westbound traffic to merge into one lane at Weatherlow Street is one of the big negatives of the project.
“But it slows that traffic down, which is a positive thing,” Willis said. “You put the traffic into one lane for the pedestrians trying to cross and you have one lane in each direction and the left turn lane … The points of decision are pretty simple, there are two lanes and no hidden cars.”
He said vehicles traveling eastbound at Weatherlow would have an easier time making a turn if Main Street were one lane.
But Willis noted the new striping does not really change the roadway.
“The real estate that’s there is going to stay there,” Willis said. “Curb to curb, the real estate is not changing … The only difference is how you paint that canvas, (how you) re-stripe it … It really becomes an operational thing, not a space thing.”
With the one-lane in each direction and a center turn lane, Willis said the public would have eight feet for parking, a five foot buffer or bike lane and 13 foot traffic lanes.
Responding to a question from a resident, Willis said, “There will be a little bit more traffic congestion. It will be slower going through here. It’s not a significant difference.”
A resident disagreed. He said his neighbor, a truck driver, called this “a nightmare, a liability waiting to happen. He’s having his back wheels going over the curb and if someone’s not paying attention, a pedestrian, that will be an issue.”
Another resident complained about the bulb outs on Weatherlow and the difficulty turning there.
“The city’s been in touch with us, and we’ve been talking to Dan Gibbs and Dan Newton and we’re in the process of redesigning those bulb outs,” Willis said. “We’re trying to make the Americans with Disabilities Act work and get those ramps correct. That’s the law. That’s something we have to work with.”
Some residents cut him off complaining about the bulb outs, and Willis responded, “I do know as of 2015 these bulb outs were asked for by the city. This wasn’t something that was just put on by us, it was asked for by the city. They’re ADA ramps also.”
Another resident complained the ADA ramps with the bumps actually create a hazard for handicapped people.
“It’s a regulation,” Willis said. “We don’t have a choice.”
Resident Bill Feierabend said, “So, as I’m understanding this, you’re kind of intentionally creating a choke point at the top of the hill to slow down the traffic and make it safer for everybody.”
“That’s what would happen if you so choose to put that in, that’s what would happen,” Willis said. “Right now people are using that as passing lanes, and they’re speeding up. From a business point of view, that doesn’t help anything at all. You want people to slow down and see what’s going on.”
Gary Felt said he’s lived in cities with bulb outs, and he’s in favor of bulb outs.
“These are not bulb outs,” Felt said. “These are jutting into the roadway … and all they do is interfere with the radius of turning.”
He said Caltrans could construct ADA complaint ramps without the bulb outs.
Looking at it from all sides (Felt said he has a commercial driver’s license, drives a car, a motorcycle, rides a bike and is a pedestrian), “I think we’re creating solutions for problems that don’t exist.”
Felt’s comment got a round of applause.
A resident asked about lighted crosswalks Uptown, and Willis said those were possible, but the city would have to pay for them.
Kevin Smith, owner the Sears store, said the merge lane heading toward Town Hill would eliminate two parking places in front of the store.
“I’m looking at the map … and with that white (merge to one lane) line, my parking is gone. I’m really concerned about that,” Smith said. Willis said he’d take note of that.
A resident said one lane in each direction would make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street, but another said it would be impossible to get onto Main Street if there was one lane in each direction.
Another resident questioned if more pedestrians and bike paths would help Uptown Susanville, adding, “We’re not a hipster community.”
Ken Theobald, a member of the Lassen Union High School Board of Trustees, suggested cars would speed up in front of the high school as the roadway changed from two lanes to four according to the Caltrans proposal. Perhaps it would be better to continue one lane in each direction up to Grand Avenue and maybe even all to Ash Street.