New London is diverting traffic from downtown

Afternoon traffic negotiates the new one-lane traffic pattern on Bank Street in New London Thursday, July 27, 2017.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
Afternoon traffic negotiates the new one-lane traffic pattern on Bank Street in New London Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Tim Cook/The Day)

I will say upfront that I don't like the experimental traffic arrangement on Bank Street, which now offers two buffer zones for people but just one lane for cars.

Of course, I don't get a vote.

And the people who do — or should, anyway — seem to like it a lot.

At least that's what I learned on a stroll up and down Bank Street this week, asking any downtown merchants I could find about the new single lane of traffic for cars.

Everyone I talked to likes the change. They said it has calmed the street, made it more pedestrian friendly and safer.

Moreover, they say they've heard from customers who also report that they like the change, which makes it easier to park.

Still, I can't help being a bit curmudgeonly about it.

It reminds me of the old days when they eliminated traffic completely on upper State Street and christened it a pedestrian mall, Captain's Walk.

People were excited then, too.

Then it killed all the business there. Recorded music wafted across the empty pavers and the concrete planters in the shape of whales that had been installed over the old road bed.

But by the time the city admitted the mistake and reopened the street to traffic, it was too late, and too many of the storefronts that had gone empty remained so.

I know that changing Bank Street from two lanes of traffic to one is much different.

But it seems to be conceived in the same vein, to wring out the urban culture that comes with a busy crowded street. That's why people gravitate to cities in the first place.

If you want calm and more generous parking spaces, go to the mall.

There have been two lanes of traffic on Bank Street since there have been cars. The city has survived that all these years.

Think of a 1969 Plymouth and the days when long-fendered behemoths like that filled two lanes of Bank Street.

This experiment of narrowing the space allotted to passing cars on Bank Street already is causing drivers to avoid the downtown altogether.

I found and followed some of these detour-seeking drivers, many of them Electric Boat workers leaving the city at the end of the work day.

Choosing to avoid the new Bank Street bottleneck is a no-brainer, as traffic now naturally backs up where two lanes merge into one.

The detouring drivers are finding their way through a warren of neighborhood streets, often driving fast, to make their way up to the Interstate 95 entrance from Huntington Street.

Diverting traffic from a commercial thoroughfare into residential neighborhoods seems misguided to me.

I know this is only part of proposed downtown traffic pattern changes, an experiment at that, and maybe if they were all implemented, cars would stop using the residential streets.

Who knows?

One business owner told me she would change the timing of the stoplights and eliminate the stop sign at Bank and Golden streets, to keep traffic moving faster.

Maybe that would help eliminate the backups. But it also seems to me that speeding up a single lane of traffic through the downtown is not such a good idea, either, for business or safety.

If the Bank Street business owners remain committed to this change, then hats off to the city for accommodating them. It should be their decision.

I hope they're right.

It makes me wonder what other things I never thought of as a problem, like congestion on one of the city's main commercial thoroughfares, the city will tackle next.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the nature of the traffic pattern change on Bank Street, which now contains two buffer zones for people and one lane for cars.

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