Street Smart Plan: Suggestions on how to adjust downtown traffic flow

The Street Smart Plan is presented as a viable and less disruptive alternative to the downtown portion of the South Main Gateway Plan. It is the result of a 19-year study that involved observing traffic patterns day and night, seven days a week, during event days and normal everyday operations. One-on-one interviews were conducted with hundreds of people, including local residents, downtown business and cultural leaders, and visitors to the area from as close as adjacent suburban areas to tourists from around the world. This study and this resulting plan were privately funded at no cost to taxpayers and is being offered free of charge to the City of Rockford and all its citizens.

Main Street: The North/South Axis

The main objective of any changes made to traffic patterns in downtown Rockford should be to restore urban order and logic to accessing and navigating around our city center. The most obvious and important improvement would be to restore Main Street to be the north/south counterpart to State Street. Just as State Street is the east/west axis through the entire city (handling two-way LOCAL traffic through the city), Main Street must provide that same advantage for north/south LOCAL traffic all the way through the city.

From a tourism standpoint, this is the easiest way to explain getting around inside the city. “State Street is our main east/west axis, and Main Street is the main north/south axis.”

It’s as simple as that! There is no other street in the inner city that can offer this one continuous north/south axis but Main Street. Let it be noted that the only other single street that offers the advantage of two-way north/south traffic through the entire city is Alpine Road, which is 4 miles east of our city center! And even that dead ends at Samuelson Road on the south and Illinois 173 on the north. To look at the really big picture, Main Street actually starts at the Mississippi River and takes you to the Wisconsin border!

Main Street & The Cultural Corridor

The significance of keeping Main Street intact (for LOCAL traffic) cannot be stressed enough. If we truly want to create an effective and vibrant cultural corridor, it is imperative that all the major venues be connected physically, visually and psychologically on one continuous street without diversions, crossovers or cul de sacs. We have one street that can take motorists by practically every major attraction we have downtown from the MetroCentre to New American Theater to the Coronado to the Museum Center, and we block part of it off to traffic! Do we want to create a Cultural CORRIDOR or create a CURVE, which would eliminate several venues from this corridor?

Imagine being able to walk AND drive from the MetroCentre to the Museum Center and everything in between on the SAME street! All venues could be easily accessed coming from any direction, from any bridge and from any street that intersects Main Street. Can it get simpler than that!?

This plan, of course, would involve removal of the Downtown Mall. However, the two blocks that occupy the mall could still be used as a central gathering place by providing 16 foot sidewalks on both sides of those two blocks, with trees, interesting street furniture and lighting, etc. while still providing ample room for outdoor cafés and a much-needed drop-off point in front of New American Theater.

There should also be built into these most important blocks, the ability to close off the street easily for special events. This could be accomplished by a system of hydraulic pylons (utilized by cities throughout the world) that can be raised and lowered in seconds. As a flat street surface, the former mall area actually becomes more viable as an entertainment venue for special events. The way the Mall was designed in the 1970s makes it difficult to be used for most kinds of special events. Even On The Waterfront does not program the mall! With two-way streets surrounding this area, navigating around it, when used for a special event, becomes much easier.

A brief background

In the 1970s when downtown was dying, the Mall was constructed, cutting off State and Main streets to traffic. The Mall was already obsolete the day it opened. That was the final blow that sent downtown spiraling down to its darkest period in the history of this city. A classic case of too little, too late.

In the early 1980s, under the McNamara administration, the State Street portion was opened. That action helped bring some life back to the center city. Stewart Square and the Hughes Building were developed, NAT opened new facilities, J. R. Kortman and Café Esperanto opened, followed by Kinko’s in the almost-doomed Four Squires Building. Unfortunately, downtown never turned the big corner. Difficulty navigating in and around the city still prevails, with the Main Street Mall one of the biggest contributing factors. Besides the one-ways, the mall’s presence is the main reason for proposing confusing traffic diversions, curves and crossovers that make it so difficult for local traffic to get around.

There would not be one single public works project that would have a more profound and positive impact on how downtown functions and is perceived than opening up the mall. It would be truly a new breath of fresh air— an urban Heimlich Maneuver that would let our city breathe again. And if you can breath, you can once again sing! And downtown must sing again for the sake of all of us who call Rockford our home.

Through traffic & Illinois Route 2

It is understood that parts of Main Street are also Illinois Rt. 2 and must accommodate through traffic. If through traffic is to be diverted, it must happen somewhere other than diagonally through the intersection of Wyman and Mulberry, which is a part of the strategic epicenter of Downtown. Pedestrians and motorists alike understand grids. It is the way American cities are laid out and the way Downtown has been laid out for more than 150 years. It would be a mistake from both a motorist and pedestrian standpoint to disturb the logical urban grid that exists in this part of the city. In fact, it is all the traffic diversions that are in place now that have created this navigational nightmare in our downtown, contributing greatly to a hostile business environment that has existed for years.

Diverting through traffic (IL Rte. 2)

Three kinds of traffic must be considered. First, there is interurban traffic which is traffic traveling on Illinois Rt. 2 trying to get through the city as quickly and easily as possible. For instance, a truck coming from Byron making a delivery in Rockton. Second, there is inner urban traffic that is traveling from one part of the city to another, such as a motorist wanting to go from south Rockford to the North End. Third, there is local traffic. These are motorists interested in a venue, business, or government facility in the central core of the city. This Street Smart Plan accommodates all of them swiftly.

Illinois Rt. 2 Bypass: Interurban traffic coming from the south should be diverted at South Main and Harrison Avenue utilizing the newly completed western half of the “Ring Road,” i.e., Harrison/Springfield/Riverside. Interurban traffic coming from the north should be diverted to the same route at Riverside Boulevard utilizing this western “Ring Road,” which would be designated Illinois Rt. 2 Bypass. This bypass becomes the north/south counter part to to the east/west Bypass 20. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on this “Ring Road.” It would be a wise and cost-effective use of this already in place roadway. Converting it to “bypass” would just be a matter of signage—a minimal expense to the taxpayer.

Note: This could also help solve some perceived congestion problems at North Main and Auburn Street.

Illinois Rt. 2 business: Inner urban traffic coming from the south should be diverted over to Church Street via Cedar Street (which is south of the central core) and back over to North Main at John Street (which is north of the central core) where a crossover is all ready in place. It would be easier and LESS DISRUPTIVE to construc

t a cross- over at South Main and Cedar than to do that in the middle of Downtown!

“Business 2” could also be used as an alternative or detour route when the former mall section of Main Street is closed for special events. Diverting traffic to Church Street also keeps the cultural corridor pedestrian friendly all the way to the river. This allows Davis Park, the Library, Beattie Park, and the Riverfront walks in close relationship with the Cultural Corridor, instead of a divisive crossover street between the Cultural Corridor and riverfront attractions.

Local Traffic: Local traffic approaching downtown from the south on Main Street would now have three options after going under the railroad viaduct on South Main:

1) Continue straight ahead on Main Street for the Cultural Corridor attractions, such as theaters, restaurants, shopping, museums, etc.

2) Turn left on to Cedar Street to Church Street for all the criminal justice facilities and Business Illinois Rt. 2.

3) Turn right on to Wyman Street for Davis Park, the Library, Parking facilities, Bridges to the assisted, Riverfront Walkways, etc.

Both Wyman and Church Street should accommodate two-way traffic through downtown. Imagine being able to access the State Street Bridge AND the Chestnut Street Bridge from any direction on Wyman Street.

In summary, Main Street becomes the north/south counterpart to State Street, together providing a North/South Axis and an east/west Axis. Main Street becomes a true corridor to the majority of Rockford’s downtown cultural attractions. The western half of the “Ring Road” (Harrison/Springfield/Riverside) becomes Illinois Rt. 2 Bypass. Church Street becomes Business Rt. 2.

Church, Main and Wyman are all converted to two-way north/south streets. With Main Street once again open, the same number of lanes north and south through downtown are available as there are now without the confusion, without loss of parking, and still keeping our logical urban grid intact.

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