Reversing Uptown’s one-way streets seen as biz boost

Uptown traffic. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Uptown traffic. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Uptown business groups have thrown their support behind a proposal to alter traffic patterns in Uptown Kingston by reversing the flow of traffic on two one-way streets in the heart of the Stockade business district. But others are wary of the proposal’s cost and possible unintended consequences from changing long-established traffic schemes.

The plan would reverse the flow of traffic on Wall Street, which currently runs from south to north, and Fair Street, which runs in the opposite direction one block away. Proponents say the new traffic scheme would drive traffic entering the city via the Washington Avenue gateway up Wall Street, the traditional heart of the Uptown business district. The proposal has been kicking around since at least 2009 when it was included as part of larger plan to improve traffic flow in the notoriously labyrinthine and dauntingly confusing streets of Uptown Kingston. That plan, which included upgrades to traffic signals, improved signage and changing traffic patterns on Crown and other Uptown streets, was developed by the Ulster County Transportation Council and adopted by the city. The report recommended that the changes be phased in over time to spread out the costs and minimize disruption, but none of the changes have been implemented in the five years since the report came out.

“There were parts of that plan that were controversial,” said Tom Hoffay who represented the Uptown business district as Ward 2 alderman from 2008 to 2013. “But [altering traffic flow on Wall and Fair streets] seemed to be something everybody agreed on.”

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A lot of support

The proposal got new impetus earlier this year when Uptown business owners asked the council to consider reversing Wall and Fair between North Front and Pearl on a temporary basis. The proposal is more limited in scope than that put forth in the 2009 study which called for reversing traffic flow for the entire length of both streets; proponents say this plan’s limited duration would give the city a chance to see how it works.

“The problem right now is that people go looking for Uptown Kingston and they end up shot out into another neighborhood,” said Robert Tonner, CEO of Tonner Doll Co. and president of the Kingston Uptown Business Association. “The hope is that this will change that.”

So far the plan has backing from KUBA’s board of directors as well as the Kingston Farmers Market — which sets up on Wall Street on Saturdays in the summer and fall — and the Pike Plan Commission, which represents about two dozen property owners on Wall and North Front. On the council, the proposal has thus far been championed by Majority Leader Matt Dunn (D-Ward 1). Dunn said that changing the traffic pattern, and possibly implementing other recommendations of the 2009 study, could boost business for Stockade District businesses and sales tax revenue for the city.

“We know that if you upgrade and redirect traffic so that it flows through the heart of the Uptown Business District we could see a number of benefits,” said Dunn. “The way its set up now actually acts as a deterrent to people coming here.”

Some misgivings

Alderman Brian Seche (D-Ward 2), who represents the Stockade District, said that he was willing to give the proposal a try, at least on a pilot basis, despite misgivings about its feasibility. Seche said that he was concerned about possible costs related to altering traffic signals for the switch as well as potential unforeseen impacts at school crossings and intersections along the route.

“The more you get into it, the more you see that there’s multiple layers involved,” said Seche. “It’s not as simple as turning things around and throwing up a few stop signs.”

There are 2 comments

  1. Ken

    Changing the direction of traffic flow on Wall St. and on Fair St. will solve nothing and could even make matters worse. Those proposing the street direction changes fail to show an understanding of the issue; fail to provide any data or information to show how the problem developed; and are, it seems, not equipped to expound a solution.
    THE ISSUE: According to the handful of individuals proposing the street changes, the economic vitality of uptown Kingston is not what it could or should be. Agreed. From what I understood after sitting in two meetings with them is that traffic is singularly, both the cause and the solution. If that were true, then why are stores in easy to navigate towns like Saugerties, Catskill, Hudson, and even Rhinebeck, doing so poorly, not to mention Woodstock which should be a ghost town because it is so far out of the way. Another statement on the issue is the reason that the economic vitality of uptown Kingston is not more robust is because the shopping atmosphere is not attractive enough. So what’s the cause for that? Hint, it’s got nothing to do with the traffic. (Explanations for these statements are too long to include herein).
    THE DATA: The data upon which they principally rely is a 2009 traffic report entitled Uptown Stockade Area Transportation Plan (USATP) commissioned by the Ulster County Transportation Council and developed by The RBA Group, an out of county business specializing in urban design, engineering, traffic and transportation, etc. One, or the main, purpose of the USATP was to recommend changes that could improve the economic vitality in the area. In this respect the RBA Group fell short, but nevertheless managed to develop a padded (58 pages) report which proposed many of the ideas everyone pretty much already knew regarding signals, signs and parking. This was accomplished with 31 pages of Google map type aerial photos, line drawings and street intersection statistics, supported by 27 pages of data describing the streets, the sidewalks, which way traffic flowed and for how many blocks, etc. The report addresses an area 40 to 50 times greater than the size of the area for which this proposed street traffic change should be addressing, that is, the 2 block area of the Pike Plan: North Front St. between Crown St. and Wall St.; and Wall St. between North Front St. and John St.
    As for the direction of traffic flow on Wall St., it is perfect as it currently is. Reversing Wall St. to run south could, arguably, just as likely have the effect of sending people out of the area even that much quicker, not to mention the loss of traffic coming up Route 32 from Rosendale, New Paltz and beyond, and directing them away from Wall St. to travel north on Fair St. instead. Don’t these visitors to uptown count for anything?
    Understandably, the individuals proposing this traffic scheme want to see things get better. So do I since I have a business on Wall St., but they offer no other data, information or solutions. I have tried twice to state my case to them to no avail. They are resolute in their fixation and are unwilling or unable to see the possibility that other factors, other than traffic, affect uptown Kingston’s business climate. I can think of many, I’ve not heard them mention even one. (Explanations for the above statements are too long to include herein).
    THE SOLUTION: 1) Understand the problem. Lots of people come here but they don’t come back. Why? People continually return to Woodstock, and even Rhinebeck and Saugerties. One reason is because of the climate (not weather), the surroundings, the conditions, the feelings, the mood. What is it and how do we get it?
    2) Attract small business store owners, the kind who see Woodstock and Rhinebeck like the culmination of a dream, who willingly sink their life savings into those zip codes, paying monthly rents 2 to 3 times more than what they would here in uptown Kingston. The number of stores going out of business in Rhinebeck probably exceeds those failing in uptown Kingston, yet the store locations are mostly occupied. Why is that, and not so here?
    3) Avoid activities that hurts the uptown Kingston business climate. We shoot ourselves in the foot more often than we realize. Many times each year in fact.
    4) Finally, for this writing, it would be advisable that individuals who make proposals affecting the masses bring some kind of verifiable data, evidence, facts, proof, whatever, to support their ideas. For individual businesspeople, they should also have a 5 year day-to-day/month-to-month track record in uptown Kingston, typical of wisely run businesses. In the case at hand, the proponents of the traffic change seem to be relying solely on the USATP as their data support. The RBA Group, in their concluding remarks in the USATP, wisely avoided stating that any of their recommendations would have the desired impact on the Stockade district’s economic vitality, instead cautiously choosing the word “could”, implying that, in the end the USATP is just a traffic plan, and no other conclusions should be inferred. From this we should also wisely avoid thinking that traffic flow is the solution to economic vitality.
    Explanations for all of the above statements are available but are too long to include herein.

  2. Emerson DuBois

    Nope. Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. We’re seeing so much good coming to uptown but it is a fragile recovery. I would categorize this idea as a step back.

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