September 6, 2013 11:29:34 AM
Nathan Gregory - email@example.com
They like the idea of public buses. They don't like the idea of bus stop shelters at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets.
That's what downtown business owners and residents told the Columbus Historic Preservation Commission during a meeting Thursday. The commission was considering a request from Lawrence Transit System to construct four shelters at that intersection, as well as one at the intersection of 12th and College streets.
The commission ultimately tabled the request after hearing an hour's worth of public input. The matter will be taken up again in October.
The main concern raised was the potential safety hazard bus stops would present for pedestrians crossing the intersection. Commissioners and attendees also agreed that buses stopping to pick people up would further congest the busiest downtown intersection.
The physical appearance of the shelters was also not satisfactory for board members as it did not reflect the visual character of the historic district.
The proposed bus shelters are 10-feet long, nearly 3-feet wide, and have metal flooring inside. The graphic provided to the commission depicted a mostly steel structure, including the beams and roof.
"It's almost like something from (2001:) A Space Odyssey," commissioner Betty Miller said.
Business owners added that the structures would have a negative impact on foot traffic if they're placed directly in front of business entrances.
Lawrence Transit System director of Columbus operations Dorothy Dowdell said that while she will continue trying to work with Main Street Columbus executive director Barbara Bigelow and others to find solutions, the bus company won't stop at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets at all. The company still plans to pick people up at other non-downtown stops when operations begin, though no firm date has been set.
On Tuesday, the Columbus City Council unanimously approved Dowdell's request to place shelters in city rights-of-way outside of the historic district.
Lawrence Transit System has missed two previous deadlines set by the city for buses to begin service. Those issues revolved around the issue of shelters, as well as bus stop permits.
The Indiana-based company proposed installing a shelter first in front of Cafe on Main before eventually proposing one on each of the other three corners after operations began.
Cathy Coleman, who said she and her husband have spent two years renovating the old BancorpSouth building, said one alternative would be placing the shelters at the intersection one block down on the corner of Sixth and Main streets. She cited Mississippi Department of Transportation statistics indicating that Main Street sees about 15,000 vehicles a day on average, while Fifth Street sees about 11,000.
"We've got two lanes handling that amount of traffic. If you could move it one block over, you're looking at 1,000 vehicles a day. You're also looking at a two-lane road that is not very heavily traveled. It would be safer for the pedestrians you're picking up," Coleman said.
She said putting the shelters at Fourth and Main streets could also work.
Dowdell noted the shelters were designed to protect people waiting for a ride and the stops could not be moved for a period of three to six months because they're already programmed in the company's GPS.
"The bus routes were already approved (by MDOT and LTS' insurance company) before we began putting in signs," Dowdell said. "The stop can be removed. It just can't be moved to another area right now. I can delete that stop for you if you don't want it in front of your business."
Southside resident Alice Lancaster noted the short amount of time the traffic light at Fifth and Main due north stays green for motorists and said buses stopping there would mean long waits at red lights.
"That light only allows me to drive seven seconds going straight ahead at that intersection. If there's a bus stopped there putting people on it, I won't make that light for two or three times," Lancaster said. "None of those four need to be at that intersection. It would be fine if they were a block off."
Columbus Arts Council Executive Director Tina Sweeten-Lunceford noted the walk signal doesn't remain flashing long enough for pedestrians to finish crossing the street. Impatient drivers already take liberties in those areas, she said.
Representing Cafe on Main, Bill Strauss told Dowdell the shelters would be a haven for loiters.
"(Having shelters at all four corners) is asinine," he said. "It's crazy. It's so out of character with the town and there's no place for the bus to stop. Your bus stops are going to be nothing but a hangout. I know it's going to happen."
Strauss said he pays $13,000 for his business to be located at that intersection. He said he felt like the idea of bus shelters "has been shoved down our throats because we didn't know about it." No one asked him anything about the matter, he said.
"I'm pissed," Strauss said. "And I'll lay on that street before you put a bus stop and they'll have to run over me. There won't be a bus stop in front of my business."
Commission chair John Hudson wrapped up discussion by echoing the concerns mentioned and calling for further study until the commission meets again on Oct. 7.
"We haven't discussed if there's any advertising on these bus shelters, if there's going to be a ticker, which we don't allow. We don't allow lighting downtown," Hudson said. "The shelter itself is not acceptable to us. It has to be more historic. We'd love to see buses downtown, but the merchants have worked too hard not to have a say."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.