Metro officials say they will continue to meet with Avenue of the Arts business owners and residents in an effort to resolve concerns about a proposal to convert a downtown segment of Fifth Avenue to a two-way street.
In a March 11 letter addressed to Mayor Karl Dean , a group of “unanimously opposed businesses and residents of 5th Avenue of the Arts” expressed frustration that they had been left out of preliminary discussions about the project, which they say will “ruin” the neighborhood. The group writes that they are “organizing to stop the changes as proposed” and has requested a meeting with the mayor and other officials to discuss the project.
“Public Works has met with them twice, and we’ve asked Public Works to continue to meet with them to hear their concerns,” Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said in an emailed statement Monday.
The Metro Traffic and Parking Commission was scheduled to take up the matter at its March 11 meeting but granted requests for a deferral. It will appear again on the agenda for the commission’s April 8 meeting.
Bob Murphy, president of RPM Transportation Consultants, the firm working on the project, said the idea surfaced when traffic planners working with the Music City Center started looking at the surrounding areas, and decided that making Fifth Avenue south of Broadway a two-way street would facilitate a more direct traffic flow. He also noted that converting Fifth Avenue was identified as a priority in the SoBro Master Plan.
With that in mind, Murphy said, it wouldn’t make sense to leave the block of Fifth that constitutes the main segment of Avenue of the Arts (from Church Street on the south to Union Street on the north) as a one-way street.
“If we’re going to convert [the stretch of Fifth Avenue that is south of Broadway] to two-way — which I think makes a lot of sense and I don’t think there’s a lot of people that have a problem with that — what we’re going to end up with is a segment of Fifth Avenue that’s one-way between Broadway and James Robertson Parkway,” he said.
Murphy said traffic volumes on Fifth, north of Broadway, “may increase a little bit if it goes two-way” but that a lane in either direction will be enough to handle it.
Some residents and business owners  have expressed concerns over making Fifth a two-way street as well as a possible "major thoroughfare" for bus rapid transit. They've also said the dialogue and decision-making process regarding the plans for the corridor have not been as open as they would like.
At a recent meeting with some residents, business owners and Metro officials, Murphy said he heard the group’s concerns, starting with their feeling that the project had been sprung on them.
“We acknowledge that,” Murphy said. “We didn’t do, really, as good of a job as we should have kind of bringing them into the process. But we’ve been trying since then to make sure that we’re listening, and we’re certainly willing to continue to dialogue and try to figure out the best way to work toward a mutually agreeable solution.”
Mark Macy, director of engineering for Metro Public Works, said he and his staff have met with many of the businesses along the corridor, including the Ryman Auditorium, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and the Bridgestone Arena. In almost every case, he said, they’ve been able to resolve businesses’ tangible concerns about loading zones or parking.
“Now, in fairness to the people between Church and Union, they have some of what I call intangible concerns, like the fear of change or something like that,” he said. “And that’s pretty difficult for me to resolve other than to assure them that in a lot of cities two-way traffic is actually something cities are going towards. So if you’re a business, and all things are equal, you’re going to want the two-way access more than you’re going to want one-way access just because you get twice as much accessibility going by your door.”
Macy, and Public Works spokeswoman Jenna Smith, said the department would continue to meet with concerned business owners and residents.
“We want to because we want to be able to hear any concerns people have so we can work on resolutions,” said Smith. “Generally, we can come to a good resolution if we all kind of are talking and brainstorming, and knowing what everyone’s questions and issues are.”
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