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Rick Taylor, owner of the Hudson & Essex restaurant and winery in downtown Mansfield, listens during a Feb. 11 public meeting as city engineer Bob Bianchi explains a portion of the plan to convert Diamond Street to two-way traffic. (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Improving "to" traffic while not affecting "thru" traffic is a primary goal of converting Diamond Street to two-way traffic in the downtown.

That was a key message city engineer Bob Bianchi delivered during a 45-minute public meeting Tuesday night before a large audience in City Council chambers, a session that included a lengthy question-and-answer session.

Bianchi said the goals are improved access for occasional downtown visitors and friendlier traffic patterns, while also considering "thru" traffic movement along Diamond from First Street on the south, to Main Street on the north.

"We believe we can do it," Bianch said.

"For you and me, the people who have been in the downtown and understand the downtown network, we don't think anything about it. For the occasional visitors, they have to think about our one-way street networks. It takes some consideration.

"We want those occasional visitors to become frequent visitors," Bianchi said. "How do we increase the ability of people to get to their destinations downtown?"

The $360,000 conversion proposal is another part of the Mansfield Rising downtown reinvestment plan, which suggests the city adopt and implement a complete streets policy in the downtown area. 

It would be similar to Mulberry Street, one-way southbound for many years, which was was converted to two-way traffic in August 2019. Like Mulberry, the conversion will require council approval, which could come by the end of March.

"We try to come up with the best plan we can, vet it through public involvement and then bring it to council for approval," he said, noting all nine council members were in attendance Tuesday. "We hope to incorporate (public input) into our plan, see if we can, then go to the full council."

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Mansfield city engineer Bob Bianchi went over proposed changes Tuesday to a proposal to convert Diamond Street to two-way traffic. (Richland Source file photo)

WHY AND HOW: Bianchi divided his presentation into two primary parts -- why the conversion needs to be made and how it would be accomplished.

The engineer said the Mansfield Rising downtown revitalization plan has been a critical component for the momentum of downtown improvement for the past few years. The meeting Tuesday came on the same day the Richland County Foundation Board announced its approval of a five-year, $1.5 million investment in Mansfield Rising projects.

"How do we make the downtown more friendly, for lots of reasons, but also from a traffic perspective?" Bianchi said. "How do we revitalize this downtown and build on the momentum that has been happening over the years?"

Bianchi said studies show other cities are making the same conversion from one-way to two-way streets. He said the move to one-way streets began after World War II and continued into the 1970s.

"The goal was how do I get traffic through the downtown as fast as I can, efficiently and safely? Consequently, traffic going north and south has been a one-way network to get traffic through the downtown," the engineer said.

Fifth and Fourth streets, which go east and west, were successfully converted to two-traffic traffic in 1990.

"We have (also) had success with Mulberry Street, as well. We think that has been a good project," he said.

Mulberry Street between Second and Fifth streets was done with two southbound lanes and one northbound lane. Bianchi said Diamond will be similar, but will provide two lanes northbound and one lane southbound.

The engineer utilized several large street illustrations, showing a step-by-step process how the road would change and how parking would be impacted while maintaining lane widths of at least 11 feet through the entire project.

There would be 37 metered parking spaces and 35 dedicated two-hour free spaces. In addition, 27 off-street parking spaces would be added utilizing the lower tier of the former city parking garage.

In the plan, Diamond Street would become two lanes (one north, one south) at the U.S. Post Office building. That conversion currently happens when Diamond combines into Main Street.

"We have not thought about restricting any left-hand (turns)," he said. "We will have to evaluate that if the project moves forward."

Motorists approaching the city from the north on Main Street would have to make a choice between continuing south on Main or merging to go south on Diamond. A section of Surrey Street that connects Main and Diamond will have to be eliminated, Bianchi said.

"This is probably the most important part of this project in making this work in terms of accessibility," Bianchi said. "People will have two opportunities to get to their destinations downtown."

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A large group of residents, downtown business owners and elected officials participated Tuesday in a meeting to discuss the conversion of Diamond Street to two-way traffic through downtown Mansfield.

Q&A AND PROMISE FOR MORE: Bianchi fielded several questions from those in attendance and promised to continue the conversations.

"We have heard some great concerns and I would like to speak to more of you individually and dive into the concerns some of you have. I really do. We want to look at it," he said, adding that every question and concern was being written down and would be addressed.

Local architect Dan Seckel asked Bianchi to compare the number of vehicles on Mulberry to the amount of traffic on Diamond. The engineer said Diamond has a significantly larger amount of traffic, but didn't think it would be an issue.

"Mulberry Street has the real estate to handle thru traffic and so does Diamond," he said. "We can make it work with the traffic signal timing."

Richland County Prosecutor Gary Bishop expressed concerns about employees utilizing the Park Building parking garage, especially probation/parole officers who make frequent trips in and out of the facility.

"It's difficult to predict or model future traffic that has never done these movements before," Bianchi said. "We may have to restrict a left-turn movement onto Diamond. (But) at this point, it may not be much of a concern."

Richland County Transit bus drivers questioned the safety impact of the conversion on their efforts to go into and out of the transit building, which, they said, was designed for Diamond to have one-way traffic.

One participant asked about North Park and South Park and Bianchi said they would remain one-way with access to North Park from Diamond and access to South Park from Main.

Others suggested the city will need to step up enforcement of assigned truck routes through the city to reduce the amount of truck traffic straying off the designated "thru" streets.

One participant asked if the city is looking to make Main Street into a two-way street.

"We're looking at the possibility of that, but not with this project," Bianchi said. "We can't help but evaluate the two-way traffic configuration downtown on Main Street, First Street and Second Street."

Bianchi said council will likely conduct three readings on the proposal once it's officially placed before them. If it's approved, Bianchi has said concrete work could begin in May, followed by paving in July and in signal installation in August, if the signal poles are available.

Bianchi has said paving would be done at night and that the street would likely only have to be closed for one full day at the end to complete striping and signage.

Mayor Tim Theaker has said previously no general fund money would be spent on the conversion.

Instead, he said, funds for the project would come from four sources -- the permissive sales tax, the street fund, road resurfacing fund and the Downtown Improvement Fund, which began when City Council approved a $5 increase in motor vehicle registration fees in May of 2018.

That increase generates about $220,000 annually and was used in 2019 to help fund a downtown beautification effort, the Mulberry Street conversion and the addition of a mid-block, brick crosswalk on Fourth Street between Main and Diamond streets.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"