Main Street makeover: Business owners divided over Carson Street plan |

Main Street makeover: Business owners divided over Carson Street plan

Sandi Hoover / and
Brian Duggan /
Courtesy Carson City PlanningKey to the vision of putting the town back in Carson City's downtown is the creation of two lanes of traffic, more parking and a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere where locals and visitors will want to stop, shop and enjoy the capital city. This artist's rendering shows what the downtown corridor might someday look like from Proctor Street facing north.

Carson Street, known for its bumper-to-bumper traffic and other unpleasant – even dangerous – conditions for motorists and pedestrians, could soon undergo a makeover.

City officials estimate that since opening the freeway to Fairview Drive last year, about 10,000 vehicles a day have been siphoned off Carson Street.

Officials also credit the newest phase of the freeway with cutting in half the number of accidents downtown.

The palpable difference now makes it possible for leaders to pursue their long-held vision of putting the town back in the downtown.

Key to that vision is the creation of two lanes of traffic, more parking and a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere where locals and visitors will want to stop and shop and enjoy the capital city.

The Carson City Board of Supervisors recently gave the Public Works Department a green light to pursue a grant that, if awarded, would provide 80 percent, or $240,000, of the cost for a $300,000 study to look into narrowing a portion of Carson Street to two lanes.

The 20 percent match of $60,000 would come from the existing budgets of the Carson City Redevelopment Authority and the Carson City Regional Transportation Commission.

The concept for a two-lane highway through the downtown corridor emerged after an

18-month master-planning process, said Carson City Planning Director Lee Plemel.

“The downtown study was part of that process, and involved two-day charettes and public information gathering with the goal of finding out, ‘What would you like to see the conditions of the downtown be?'” Plemel said.

The study would take a look at Carson Street from Stewart Street at the south, and north to John Street.

Residents and other participants in 2005 identified the capital improvement program for downtown Carson City as a high-priority action item, and the narrowing of Carson Street as a major component of that plan.

Benefits to the downtown were listed as on-street parking, improved safety, amenities for pedestrians and bicyclists, and a visually aesthetic and inviting atmosphere – all expected to bolster economic development initiatives in that area.

But reactions to narrowing Carson Street have been mixed.

Many businesses in the core of downtown between Telegraph and Fifth streets say they would invite the narrowing of Carson Street if it meant more parking instead of the busy four-lane thoroughfare.

“Parking down here is terrible,” said Danny Miller, a bartender at Jimmy G’s Cigar Bar. “I don’t know how most people here feel, but traffic here is too fast, nobody follows the speed limit.”

Vicki Shell, general manager at the Firkin and Fox on Third Street, agrees that parking is tight.

“Parking is an issue,” she said. “It would be nice for the lunch customers and businessmen to have more parking.”

Mark Schmidt, the store manager at Carson Jewelry and Loan, 308 N. Carson St., said even though people don’t have to walk that far, potential customers still have to at least park around the corner on Proctor Street in order to get to his business.

If the street were narrowed he would have parking right in front of his store.

“I would love to have a parking space in front of my business,” Schmidt said, adding, “they see your business, they can visualize, and they can park right in front of it.”

But businesses south of Fifth Street have a different perspective.

Steve McIntyre, manager of the Arco AM/PM gas station at 720 S. Carson St. just south of the Ormsby House, said business is already down 20 percent because of the bypass that opened late last year.

Any more changes to his traffic-dependent business could spell doom, he said.

“They’ve already taken away 10,000 cars or more with the silly bypass … and us people that pay taxes are tired of it,” McIntyre said, estimating another 20 percent of his business would disappear if Carson Street were to be narrowed.

“It’s just ridiculous,” McIntyre said. “I don’t understand why they don’t just make downtown a car-free zone. Let’s just go no cars in Carson City, how does that sound?”

Lily Gotchy of Lily’s China Bistro, 280 S. Carson St., said she would oppose any changes to Carson Street, especially near her restaurant, which is just north of Stewart Street.

“Why change it?” Gotchy asked. “I don’t understand. For what reason?”

Kirsten Newbury, manager of the Flower Bucket, 651 S. Carson St., said that while the bypass has reduced traffic, and a narrowing of Carson Street would continue that trend, her business would continue to attract customers. She also has a parking lot.

“We’re not really a walk-in. Once in awhile we’ll get someone, but most of our customers intend to come here before they get onto Carson Street,” she said. “So I don’t think it would have a big effect, although we wouldn’t get our occasional walk-in.”

Others in the community say things have changed considerably since 2005-06, and any spending from city coffers should be curtailed. They say that until the economic crisis is over, the city needs to tighten the purse strings, and that the $60,000 approved as the match portion to the Carson Street study could be better spent on something else.

Plemel said the study hasn’t been conducted yet, but he wouldn’t characterize the proposal as “narrowing.”

“I would characterize it as a pedestrian improvement project. The goal is to get people out of their cars to help downtown businesses and improve the pedestrian environment,” he said. “It’s not walkable right now.”

Carson City Transportation Director Patrick Pittenger said that although the study would look as far south as Stewart Street, a two-lane Carson Street is not being considered past Fifth Street.

“We’re looking at Stewart Street because we’re considering improving that intersection as a gateway to the downtown,” Pittenger said.

He also explained that the study will go to John Street (a block north of William Street on the north end) because it will be necessary to move traffic from four lanes down to two within that block.

“We need to make sure that intersection works, and the new striping could start at John,” he said.

Pittenger also explained that if the downtown is converted to two lanes, there are a number of remedies in the works which would improve the flow and comfort for everyone in that area:

• Pocket left-turn lanes would be provided such as the one in front of City Hall.

“Anywhere there’s a light, there’s a left-turn pocket so that anybody turning left doesn’t back up traffic. Cars going east and west will have a much easier time of it,” Pittenger said.

• Traffic signal lengths would be shortened.

“The cycle length is fairly long right now to keep Carson Street traffic moving. That would be shortened so east-west traffic wouldn’t get stuck. All this makes it easier to cross the street,” he said.

• With only two lanes to cross instead of four, pedestrians won’t need to be given as much time to cross. “It’s better for pedestrians and vehicles,” he said.

• Pittenger said that the city has been preparing for the transition to two lanes by making significant traffic capacity improvements on parallel streets such as Roop, Curry and Stewart.

Plemel said parallel parking was also suggested during the master planning process.

“The previous opinions at the time were that diagonal parking causes more accidents, but if there’s a lot of support for diagonal, it certainly could be done,” Plemel said.

“That’s another good debate,” he said. “With parallel you get a little more sidewalk. You could lose a little of that sidewalk with diagonal parking.”

“Another newer concept, said to be safer, is back-in angled parking,” he said, “but I don’t know if people are ready for that.”