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Mixed Signal 

A proposed traffic light has one downtown neighborhood encouraged—and another concerned

One downtown neighborhood's traffic solution could exacerbate another's traffic problem—but a change of direction remains possible.

Because of the planned widening of 22nd Street and the construction of a grade-separated interchange at Kino Parkway, business owners in the Millville neighborhood—located north of 22nd Street and east of Park Avenue—hope for continued street access, especially for commercial trucks.

The Millville group fears an eventual loss of access to 22nd Street due to the street-widening, so last year, they sought the installation of a traffic signal at Santa Rita Avenue and 22nd Street. (See "Traffic Troubles," May 15, 2008.) That idea was shot down, but they were told a light would be installed in a few years at multi-lane Park Avenue and either 18th or 19th Street.

One Millville Neighborhood Association member says that about 160 trucks daily exit the area at Park Avenue and 19th Street, usually early in the morning.

To reach a consensus on where to place the new light, a six-member subcommittee with representatives of the three surrounding neighborhoods—Millville, Armory Park and Santa Rita Park—was assembled by the city of Tucson.

Their first meeting was in January, and according to the minutes, one of the Millville representatives supported the light being placed at 19th Street. He also asked that no median be installed at Park Avenue and 18th Street that would prevent traffic from crossing the street.

The other Millville spokesman also endorsed the light at 19th Street, whether the median was included or not. Based on those recommendations, the subcommittee unanimously backed a proposal which included the light on 19th, with a median on Park Avenue.

However, things soon began to change. First, the Millville representatives requested the median south of 19th Street be removed, and that it stop 115 feet south of 18th. Then, in June, the group completely reversed itself and endorsed having the light installed at 18th.

"The city said the median had to be there," recalls business owner George Kalil, president of the Millville Neighborhood Association. He says that when the city sent a representative to inform people in the neighborhood of the median requirement, the unanimous opinion about the light at 19th was, "No way!"

"People didn't want to have to step over the barrier to get across the street," Kalil explains.

According to Kalil, a light was apparently planned for 18th Street several years ago when Park Avenue was widened. In addition, a city consultant on the current project stated in September: "The heaviest traffic count is on 18th and supports a light there."

By that time, the city's Transportation Department had also publicly indicated its preference for the signal to be on 18th.

However, the turnaround left the Armory Park neighborhood—west of Park Avenue—in a quandary.

Even though there are speed bumps, a traffic circle and other mitigating devices on 18th Street west of railroad tracks in the neighborhood, some truck traffic still illegally uses the street to cut through the area. (See "Drive Through," Jan. 25, 2007.)

"I don't think any of us is thrilled about the light going in," suggests John Burr, head of the Armory Park neighborhood environs and transportation committee. "I personally don't like the idea of compromising an important part of downtown to let people drive wherever they want to."

Burr fears installing the light will create a truck route from Interstate 10 directly through the neighborhood. Despite that, at its September meeting, the Armory Park Neighborhood Association agreed to "support further development of the 18th Street light, with guaranteed mitigation agreements to absolutely prevent truck traffic westbound through Armory Park on that street."

For his part, Kalil says he doesn't want his company trucks going through the Armory Park neighborhood. "We won't be driving that way," he promises.

Both Burr and Kalil say they hope something can be worked out—but whether that can happen remains questionable.

According to Transportation Department spokesman Michael Graham, his agency is looking at a variety of options, including speed tables, traffic circles, curb bump-outs, additional signage and even electronic gates across the street.

Graham stresses, though, that the Transportation Department doesn't support closing the street, because of environmental-service and emergency-access issues.

On the other hand, Councilman Steve Leal, who represents the area, thinks blocking traffic on 18th Street is the only solution.

"It shouldn't evolve into a quasi-arterial," Leal says of the street. "It needs to be a cul-de-sac or have balustrades installed at the railroad tracks. Signage and (traffic) circles are silly, because traffic is just going to ignore them."

Last week, city officials held a meeting with Armory Park representatives to discuss possible mitigation measures. Whether a solution—short of closing the street—that will satisfy the neighborhood residents can be developed remains to be seen.

"We're trying to work well with all our neighbors," Burr indicates, "but people here are not excited about more traffic through the neighborhood."

Tucson Weekly contributor Tim Vanderpool is an Armory Park representative on the Park Avenue signal subcommittee.

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