Maple Street residents weigh proposals for University Parkway traffic fixes

David Floyd • Updated Feb 14, 2020 at 9:30 AM

Looking at proposals for the West Walnut Street project, Johnson City resident Mike Foley doesn’t see many good options.

“For us people in the 800 block of Maple, I don’t think there is really a good option,” said Foley, who lives on West Maple Street, close to the point where the road intersects with University Parkway. Foley is retired, and his wife works at East Tennessee State University.

“It’s trying to pick the least inconvenient of the ones presented.”

In an effort to address traffic concerns from residents, namely those in the Tree Streets neighborhood near ETSU, Johnson City officials presented four options for the western portion of the West Walnut Street redevelopment project at a public hearing Thursday evening at City Hall.

Hoping to spur development in that portion of the city, Johnson City is gearing up for a multi-million dollar overhaul of West Walnut Street, which will involve adding green space and making the corridor more friendly to pedestrians and bike traffic.

Aside from leaving University Parkway unchanged or proceeding with the original plan, which would involve closing the Walnut Street intersection with a median that would stop just short of the West Maple Street intersection, officials also presented two new alternatives: One, leaving the Walnut Street intersection at University Parkway open but restricting left-hand turns onto Walnut Street, or two, extending the proposed median so that it blocks West Maple Street, preventing left-hand turns onto University Parkway from West Maple.

“We wanted to make sure they had adequate input in the process,” said Johnson City Director of Public Works Phil Pindzola, who estimated that about 60 residents showed up to the meeting. “We never wanted to shortchange that input. We think this accomplished that.”

The city held a meeting in December to gather feedback on the project, where residents expressed concern that plans would divert traffic onto neighborhood roads like West Maple Street.

After the meeting on Thursday, Pindzola said residents appear to be interested in the option that involves extending the median on University Parkway past Maple Street, which also appears to solve much of the congestion issues along University Parkway.

“We’ve got a real problem in that area just because of the location of the two signals and creating congestion,” he said. “We have that today. By eliminating that signal, we eliminate that congestion point. Then what we deal with are the issues of upgrading State of Franklin and University Parkway.”

Pindzola said the city will probably need to hold another meeting for residents to finalize options for West Maple Street. In addition to the four options for University Parkway, the city is also asking residents to indicate their preferences among a list of proposed changes to roads in the Tree Streets neighborhood.

Those additional options include: Installing traffic calming devices like speed humps or traffic circles on Maple Street, making Cherokee Street a one-way street northbound from Lynn to Maple, closing Cherokee Street at Lynn, or making Maple Street a dead end at University Parkway with a turnabout at the end of the road.

Foley said he doesn’t like the idea of losing the ability to turn left or right onto University Parkway out of West Maple Street.

“One of the reasons why we love living here is it’s so convenient,” he said. “My wife works at the university, so right now when she goes there she turns left and then right and then goes on down to her office. Now she’s going to have to go down to State of Franklin and deal with all that traffic.”

Kip Elolia, who teaches at Milligan College, also lives on West Maple Street. Following the meeting in December, he was concerned that blocking left hand turns from West Walnut Street onto University Parkway would divert traffic to West Maple Street.

He thinks the options the city presented at the Thursday meeting are better.

“We think this will handle the traffic,” said Elolia, who noted that he and his neighbors were looking favorably at the option of make Maple Street a dead end at University Parkway.

Although he said he’s having trouble honing in on a specific solution, Foley was also leaning toward the idea of blocking off Maple Street at University Parkway.

“I want to maintain the convenience that we have ... without having a bunch of traffic that puts pets, children, pedestrians in jeopardy,” he said, summarizing his thoughts.

Elolia said the plans for the project look nice, but he does want to ensure that any decision ultimately balances the needs of the neighborhood with the desire for more development.

“I appreciate the fact that they’re going to have kind of an environmentally friendly atmosphere with green trees and walking ways,” he said. “I like the idea of bicycle routes being put in place, so I think it’s going to be a nice university town.”

Walnut Street Proposals by David Floyd on Scribd