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Should Cherry Street, a narrow street in the heart of downtown, be one way?

That's what many merchants on the street have proposed. They've presented a petition to town aldermen, who commissioned a study that is examining the street's parking, traffic flow, pedestrian usage and other aspects. 

Cherry Street merchants have been talking about traffic on their street for quite some time, said Walt McDougald, who owns Sweet! on Cherry Street with wife Sydney. The McDougalds started the petition asking the town to consider converting traffic on the road to one-way.

All but two Cherry Street business owners signed the petition (one owner opposed the change, the other was undecided, McDougald said).

“If you look at it now, you have cars parked on both sides of the road,” he said. “It’s not quite wide enough to support parking on both sides and (having) traffic in both directions.”

Making matters worse, he said, “people just don’t know how to parallel park," which often results in traffic jams that McDougald sees out of his window. 

The street was closed to vehicular traffic April 9 as the Metropolitan Sewerage District began repairing sewer lines underneath it. Roadway cuts were patched when work wrapped up about the end of the month. MSD is going to resurface and restripe the road, and the town will use the results of the study to determine how the roadway should be striped - for one-way or opposing traffic.

In the fall, the town will undertake a $35,000 transportation and circulation study of the central business district. The town will contribute $7,000 toward that study; the rest will come in July from a French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization grant.

The Cherry Street study cost the town $2,800 and will take 30-60 days to complete. J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning of Waynesville has started the study, principal engineer Mark Teague said. His firm is "preparing for data collection and a site visit to observe traffic patterns soon," he said.

The study will examine Cherry Street's circulation and vehicular patterns, as well as on-street parking and intersection operation. Data collected will include vehicle movement counts, roadway grades, lane dimensions, parking stall dimensions, parking occupancy, roadway width, pedestrian features and access locations. 

"The study will help determine the challenges and benefits of converting Cherry Street to a one-way operation," he said. "We will analyze those challenges and benefits of each option and, based on our findings, we'll make a recommendation to the town for their consideration."

Chifferobe has been on Cherry Street for five years in two locations. Owner Stephanie Wilder agrees with Walt McDouglad that street parking is a problem. She hopes a change will come.

“I think if the road was one-way and the parking was diagonal, it would help alleviate some of the congestion,” she said.

Making the road one-way could add more parking to the area, Dave Teske, who owns Kilwin's Chocolate, Fudge and Ice Cream on the north end of the intersection of Cherry and State streets, believes. He also thinks it could also improve pedestrian safety.

"In the summer months, a lot of people tend to use Cherry Street as a cut-through to get where they're going," he said. "When cars are parallel parked on both sides, it's hard for a driver to see when a pedestrian is walking out from between parked cars." 

Terry Silver, who has worked at Spice It Up for seven years, agrees with Teske. 

"If it ran one way then the town could probably explore other opportunities for parking options," she said. "Maybe designated parking for some of the elderly residents who like to come to the shops, or something along those lines."

The town will learn more about downtown parking and traffic patterns from the larger circulation study this fall, Settlemyer said. That study will examine the way all modes of transportation move through the downtown district and help town officials develop a better understanding of the patterns in the area.

In the meantime, the Cherry Street study will help the town decide what to do in one of the busiest parts of town. 

Cherry Street "needs to be studied to look at the impact it has on other issues we need to consider, like the impact of traffic on other areas or on parking," Settlemyer said. "This will help us understand the best way to accomplish that."

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