North Street and Hillcrest Avenue / Flyer staff photo
A plan to redesign the North Street corridor is moving along.
The goal is to improve intersection function and increase walkability and pedestrian safety along the 1.5-mile stretch of road from Garland Avenue to Mission Boulevard.
The city plans to use $3.4 million in transportation bonds voters approved in 2019 for the project.
Public input was accepted in November to gauge support for the initial designs, and the City Council’s Transportation Committee reviewed the concepts at its most recent meeting.
City Public Works Director Chris Brown said the plans start at Garland Avenue, where the main focus is to try and tighten the intersection up so that it’s more pedestrian-friendly.
“We do have quite a few pedestrians that cross at that location coming from Harp’s going toward the university as well as coming across to go down North Street,” said Brown.
The slip lanes on three sides would be removed in favor of standard right-turn lanes, and pedestrian refuge islands would be installed between directional lanes to shorten the distance for people using the crosswalks.
Sidewalks would be added to the south side of the road from Garland to Columbus House Brewery, and a wider bike trail would run from Garland to Gregg Avenue on the north side.
Mount Comfort Road would be cut off at Oakland Avenue, eliminating its current vehicular connection to North Street, according to the designs. Drivers headed west could still avoid the Garland Avenue intersection via Mount Comfort by turning north onto Lindell Avenue.
Committee Chair Sarah Bunch said that’s a popular route for drivers, but it does seem dangerous for anyone walking by.
“That’s the way I always go, but I know people come off (North Street) very quickly there because it’s not like you’re making a turn, but rather just veering off,” she said.
Sidewalks would be added to both sides of Lindell as it branches off from North Street toward Oak Plaza shopping center to ensure there’s ample pedestrian access to the restaurants and shops in the area.
A single lane for westbound traffic on North would continue all the way to the Scull Creek Trail crossing instead of becoming two lanes at Gregg Avenue.
The extended reduction in width is needed in order to fit the trail on the north side of the road, Brown said, adding that he doesn’t anticipate there being much effect on traffic since westbound congestion doesn’t usually occur east of Leverett Avenue.
The wider trail would shrink to an 8-foot sidewalk after crossing Gregg Avenue, and then transition to the south side of the road at Woolsey Avenue.
Westbound traffic would gain a left turn lane at College Avenue which should improve the efficiency of the intersection, which tends to stack up with traffic at peak hours, Brown said. The traffic signal currently has a split phase which only allows traffic in one direction at a time coming from east or west on North Street.
The current intersection design only allows for a few vehicles in the new left turn lane, but Brown said it’s possible the stacking lane could be extended if the city can work with the developers who are planning an apartment complex for veterans at the county-owned parking lot at the southwest corner of North and College.
The sidewalk on the south side of North Street would continue to Mission Boulevard and link with the planned Mission-Razorback connector trail.
Improving safety at the Hillcrest Avenue intersection on top of the hill has been the most talked about concept.
Eastbound traffic doesn’t currently have a stop sign, but westbound traffic coming over the hill must stop at Hillcrest. The stop sign includes large, vertical reflectors on the support poles, but Brown said that doesn’t keep people from running the stop sign.
“They’re either barely slowing down and seeing that there is no traffic and no need to stop, or just kind of completely missing the stop sign altogether,” he said.
The proposed solution is a mini roundabout to slow traffic without requiring vehicles to stop. The concepts show a single-lane roundabout similar to those that the University of Arkansas constructed on Stadium Drive, which have a smaller central island that emergency vehicles could easily drive over. Another upcoming example is a three-way roundabout that’s being built at the intersection of Old Missouri Road and Zion Road in north Fayetteville.
Survey results from November show 25 comments from people who are both opposed to the idea and who support a mini roundabout.
Meredith Dowse, who lives at the corner of Hillcrest and North, spoke during the committee meeting, and questioned whether a roundabout would improve safety at the intersection.
“It’s already a blind hill,” said Dowse. “I feel like you’re still going to have the same problem you have now.”
Brown said a roundabout would force drivers to veer right and slow down as they move through the intersection instead of rolling straight through and possibly causing a collision.
Bruce Richart said he thinks the stretch of North Street between Mission and College is one of the most dangerous streets sections in the city. He said he lives along that stretch and has had his fence driven over three times in 14 months. Richart said he’s all for safety improvements, and if the city chooses not to build a roundabout, then a signal or some flashing lights should at least be considered.
Bunch asked whether other options are possible for the Hillcrest intersection.
Brown said yes, and while it would be less expensive to simply add blinking lights to the intersection, there’s nothing that would deter a driver from running a stop sign if that’s their habit. While a smaller roundabout’s center island is mountable for emergency vehicles, it would still be a significant bump that could damage a passenger vehicle if a driver tries to plow over it without using the roundabout lane.
Committee member Holly Hertzberg asked Brown to prepare cost estimates for the roundabout and for other options to consider at the next meeting.
Sonia Harvey, who also serves on the committee, said she wishes there was a roundabout in her neighborhood at a dangerous intersection where she was recently the victim of a hit-and-run. She said she’s seen a lot of people run stop signs, but has never seen cars collide at a roundabout. Saving a little money shouldn’t be a factor when considering safety improvements, especially when lives are at stake, Harvey said.
Brown said final recommendations would be presented at the committee’s next meeting later this month. After that, the full City Council will make the final decision.