Proposed 5 Points Concept Plan still in flux

Proposed 5 Points Concept Plan still in flux
The most current design of the proposed improvements to the 5 Points intersection, prior to changes discussed by a gathering of 5 Points merchants and community members.

If there’s one thing nearly everyone in 5 Points agrees about, it’s keeping the iconic beacon in place as the neighborhood landmark. What splits the community is the kind of traffic infrastructure that might be built around it.

When concerns arose recently about the possibility of the 5 Points beacon being sacrificed for the intersection improvements, some members of the 5 Points Merchants Association began to explore the idea of a roundabout, with the beacon permanently installed at the center.

In a meeting called by District 14 Councilman Jim Love May 19 at the Whiteway Deli to discuss the beacon and the possibility of building a roundabout at the 5 Points intersection, more than 40 people expressed differing opinions about what kind of facilities would best improve the iconic intersection.

Many touted the roundabout as the best way to combat a perceived danger for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists currently entering it from any of five lanes of traffic, while others expressed the belief a roundabout would increase the danger for pedestrians attempting to cross any of the five streets.
Presently traffic enters the intersection at the heart of 5 Points two ways from Margaret and Park Streets and one way from Lomax Street with the beacon sitting somewhat off-center in the middle.

Enter the concept plan

When merchants and residents of historic 5 Points took a walking tour three years ago with city leaders, civil engineers and traffic planners, they had three simple goals in mind. First, improve pedestrian access in the 5 Points retail area. Second, improve pedestrian and bicycle safety throughout 5 Points and, third, accomplish the above with no loss of parking spaces.

The concept plan for a 5 Points Streetscape, drawn up by Tocknell Planning Services and EnVision Design+Engineering, went one step further, recommending Lomax Street be changed to a one-way street eastbound, pro­viding a wider sidewalk for outside dining.

For more than a year, in 2013-2014, there were at least a dozen meetings at which interested parties reviewed the proposed drawings, yet some expressed concerns that traffic might increase on Margaret Street and that there would be no appreciable gains in parking.

Finally, in mid-2014, it appeared nearly everyone was on board with the proposed $4 million streetscape proposal, which had the approval of the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission and Riverside Avondale Preservation. Next up was approval by City Council to put $750,000 into the 2014-2015 budget for the design phase and construction drawings.

However, beyond a $99,000 line item for follow-up design and engineering studies in the 2014-2015, the 5 Points Concept Plan was not funded for the first phase, nor did it make it into Mayor Lenny Curry’s 2015-2016 budget.

All seemed quiet with the 5 Points Concept Plan as proponents waited for indicators that the project would be funded, if not within the 2016-2020 Capital Improvements Plan, then shortly thereafter.

Difference of opinion

As the May 19 meeting progressed, it was clear two major issues were at the forefront: preserving the landmark and improving pedestrian safety. One camp felt a roundabout would accomplish both. However, some pointed out how confusing and potentially dangerous the historic intersection can be. “A confused driver is the enemy of a pedestrian,” said Robin Lumb, who works for the City of Jacksonville as its policy director.

Still others shared statistics over a ten-year period to prove the opposite. A crash analysis created by Signal Four Analytics software using crash data provided by the Florida Highway Patrol showed two bicycle and four pedestrian accidents – with no fatalities – had occurred at the 5 Points intersection in the past 10 years.

“It’s one of the safest intersections in the city,” said Bill Bishop, architect and a former City Council member, who is in favor of a roundabout. “5 Points works because it’s confusing.”

Not everyone agrees with Bishop.

Those involved with development of the original concept plan, including Lumb, a 5 Points resident and former City Council member, and Stephen Tocknell of Tocknell Planning Services, indicated a roundabout would not fit within the right-of-way parameters surrounding the five-way intersection nor would it automatically preserve the beacon.

“It is essential to preserve the beacon as the iconic landmark for 5 Points,” said Lumb, “It will be preserved, but will be moved about seven feet,” he said, adding the flashing light atop the beacon was not up to Florida Department of Transportation standards. “We might be able to add back the neon sign,” said Lumb, referring to signage that had existed on top of the beacon within the past 50 years.

Tocknell noted the currently proposed “simplified intersection” was better than a roundabout. To create a better environment for pedestrians something needs to be done with traffic before it got to the 5 Points intersection, he said. “If you tighten everything up, you slow the traffic down,” said Tocknell, referring to the addition of a median on Park Street at Margaret Street. “A roundabout is counterproductive.”

Lumb, speaking for Mayor Curry’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, said the City would not fund a roundabout. “Sam feels it is traffic-centered, not pedestrian-centered, and a roundabout will change the character of 5 Points,” he said.

Once the merchants were reassured the iconic 5 Points landmark was not in jeopardy of being removed, thoughts turned to other ways to improve pedestrian safety and accessibility. Although the proposed concept plan shows curb cuts and crosswalks as close as possible to the entrances of each of the five streets coming into the complicated intersection, several at the meeting said motorists speed up once they have negotiated it.

Christina Wagner, Rain Dogs co-owner, was particularly upset over the traffic on Margaret Street toward Riverside. “The crosswalk at Regions Bank is dangerous,” she said, adding she has almost daily near-misses with motorists when she walks across the street.

Cheryl Corrado, Derby on Park, offered a welcomed suggestion. “Can we not put in raised crosswalks?” she asked. Lumb agreed, suggesting the crosswalk also be raised at the Sun-Ray Cinema.

Ron Root, a local property owner, suggested reversing the direction of the proposed one-way Lomax Street, making it one-way westbound toward the 5 Points intersection. “It would slow traffic down approaching the intersection and could also provide a staging area for deliveries,” he said. Root also cautioned against ideas of making Margaret Street one-way, stating it would create significant back-ups between Riverside Avenue and Herschel Street.
Public Works Operations Director Bill Joyce indicated he would take ideas back to Waitz & Moye, the civil engineering firm hired by the City for the project. Councilman Love will schedule a subsequent meeting to review those changes.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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