Franklin Street in downtown Norwich switching to two-way traffic Thursday
Norwich — It's been decades since a driver could travel southbound on Franklin Street toward Main Street legally, but business owners say that hasn't stopped countless people from trying it anyway.
Starting June 1, they can do it without hearing honking horns, frantic yelling and having to quickly turn into a parking lot.
“All the time, every day,” Jackie Quercia, owner of Norwich Coin & Jewelry Exchange, said when asked how often she sees wrong-way drivers coming down Franklin Street. “They won’t be going the wrong way anymore.”
Norwich Public Works crews have installed signs, ripped out a sidewalk bumpout at Willow Street and this week will paint new yellow lane divider lines on Franklin and Willow streets to allow two-way traffic for the first time in decades.
Franklin Street from Willow to Bath Street will be converted to two-way traffic Thursday, and Willow Street between Chestnut and Franklin will become a two-way street.
The project, costing the city Public Works Department about $10,000, is the first phase in what Public Works Director Ryan Thompson and City Planner Deanna Rhodes said will be quick and inexpensive downtown improvement projects.
“It’s going to boost those businesses,” Rhodes said. “Right now, it’s a little tricky to get to those businesses.”
Rhodes said city officials from different departments are discussing ways to prompt more development and make the city more inviting and attractive. In her regular visits to downtown businesses, Mayor Deberey Hinchey has heard requests from Franklin Street business owners to make the street two-way.
Because of the Franklin Square traffic island, with northbound traffic entering Franklin Street from two directions, Thompson said Franklin Street vehicles cannot go all the way to Main Street. Southbound traffic will stop at Bath Street and must turn right onto Bath toward City Hall. Vehicles can turn left onto lower Broadway to reach Main Street.
City officials are looking at a possible roundabout at Franklin Square to improve traffic movement in all directions.
“It just happens to be just the right amount of space to make a modern roundabout,” Thompson said, adding that those discussions are preliminary at this point.
Nine parking spaces will be lost in the conversion, a concern to some business owners, but they still support the change.
Police Chief Patrick Daley said police will monitor the new traffic pattern, but he does not anticipate needing to station officers at the street. Signs, painted stop lines and a new flashing red light at Willow and Franklin should be enough to alert drivers, Daley said.
Business owners welcomed the traffic changes and hope more improvements will come. Quercia, whose store has been at 35 Franklin St. for 30 years and downtown for 34 years, has been asking for two-way traffic for years, she said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” she said one afternoon as two customers departed. “We’re not losing that much parking. We’re lucky we have a (parking) lot right next door. The couple who just left walked down from Billy Wilson’s (on Broadway) and they didn’t complain.”
Stephanie Simplice, owner of Steflorah Barber & Salon at 91 Franklin St., is a newcomer to the block. She also supports two-way traffic, despite losing parking in front of her shop.
“Parking will be an issue, but it will be good,” she said. “Most cars drive that way by mistake anyway.”
Franklin Street from Main to Willow Street has seen an economic revival over the past two years. Norwich Community Development Corp. opened its Foundry 66 shared workspace facility in the former Norwich Bulletin building in October.
Epicure Brewing will open June 8 at the Bath Street end of the Bulletin complex. Co-owner Jason Vincent — former vice president of NCDC — said the owners hadn't planned on opening one week after the traffic change, but are glad it worked out that way. These Guys Brewing Co. opened in July 2015 at 78 Franklin St., adjacent to the NCDC building.
NCDC President Robert Mills said two-way traffic should help businesses and make downtown more navigable. Foundry 66 often hosts business workshops that have brought outsiders downtown, including recently a group of real estate agents.
“A few of them never showed up, because they couldn't figure out how to get here,” Mills said.
Several other new businesses, including Steflorah, have moved into small storefronts across from Foundry 66.
But Simplice said the Internet has yet to catch up to the transformation of the one-time blighted street. Google images of Franklin Street show vacant, boarded up buildings, including the red two-story building that houses Steflorah and the Foundry 66 building. The city's online property tax database also shows a vacant storefront in Steflorah's spot.
“People tell me when they look me up on Google, it shows a closed building, and they ask me if I'm closed,” she said.
Simplice reached out to Google. “I even took a picture of the front and emailed it to them,” she said, but she hasn't received a response.
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