What a new city of Waco study calls the “17th-18th-19th Corridor” can be as awkward to travel as it is to say.
The transportation artery runs more than six miles from Gurley Lane to Lake Shore Drive, serving as Waco’s main southeast-to-northwest axis. It’s speedy enough between Interstate 35 and Waco Drive – all too speedy, given that the one-way pair of 17th and 18th Street offer up to eight lanes between them.
But past Waco Drive, 17th Street swerves into a residential area, then joins 18th at Homan Avenue at a confusing pinch point. Past that, it becomes a two-way street hemmed in by fading commercial buildings. And throughout the corridor, speeding cars and the lack of sidewalks make it difficult for neighbors and pedestrians.
Now the city and a consultant, Freese and Nichols, are rethinking the corridor with an eye to making it safer and more appealing for residents, businesses and pedestrians, as well as cross-town car commuters.
In some areas, that could include calming traffic by removing a traffic lane in each direction and replacing it with a buffered bike lane and a wider sidewalk. Other possible changes could include new sidewalks for pedestrian access and synchronization of traffic lights to ease congestion.
An initial public meeting Wednesday for the $224,000 study drew about 45 people and sparked a spirited debate about the future of the corridor and whether the priority should be traffic flow or neighborhood quality of life.
Freese and Nichols consultant Kevin St. Jacques said the corridor carries about 15,000 cars per day between Waco Drive and I-35 — down from about 25,000 a decade ago.
St. Jacques suggested that the entire stretch between Gurley Lane and Homan Avenue could be reduced to two traffic lanes and one bike lane in each direction without creating congestion problems.
“You’ve got essentially a four-lane road carrying 15,000 people a day,” he said. “That’s very manageable.”
Farther northwest, the four-lane, two-way stretches of 18th and 19th Streets between Cumberland Avenue and Park Lake Drive could be converted to one lane in either direction, plus a turn lane in the middle. That is already the configuration between Homan and Cumberland.
Some at the public meeting Wednesday objected to the idea of constricting the width of the corridor, arguing that the continued growth of China Spring and Bosqueville call for more capacity, not less. But others in the crowd said suburban traffic already uses other routes, including Lake Shore Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, to go toward I-35 and downtown.
Ralph Cooper, an attorney who lives on North 15th Street, said inner-city residents shouldn’t have to sacrifice their quality of life so that suburban commuters can speed through their neighborhoods.
“People who want to drive fast on the way to downtown should not be moving to China Spring,” Cooper said.
St. Jacques said use of the corridor could grow in coming decades, but in that case, bike lanes could easily be removed.
Freese and Nichols consultants have been working on the study for the last month but plan to spend another year or so working on it. They have been doing traffic studies and interviewing neighbors, business owners and other stakeholders along the route.
Gabriela Colman, who grew up at 17th and Morrow Avenue and now lives across the street, met with the consultants this week. Colman said she appreciates the approach the team is taking in looking at “complete streets,” or streets that are designed to meet the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, residents and businesses as well as motorists.
Speeding around curve
She said 17th Street between Waco Drive and Homan Avenue isn’t safe because people speed around the curve.
“I’ve witnessed several car wrecks,” Colman said. “There have been times when cars swing around the corner and hit parked cars. . . . We hesitate to walk around our property because cars barrel down the street so fast that it’s not safe to be on the sidewalk.”
Mike Stone, executive director of Waco Community Development Corp., said the traffic speeds along 17th and 18th have kept his North Waco-based nonprofit group from building homes along those streets. It was a negative factor a few years ago when his group was looking at a development on the old Sanger Avenue School property between those streets.
At the meeting Wednesday, Stone suggested turning the stretch of 17th and 18th Streets two-way between Waco Drive and Homan Avenue to tame traffic. The two roads have been one-way streets since 1962.
St. Jacques said a two-way conversion can be studied further, but it would likely create congestion problems at Waco Drive and would interfere with traffic light synchronization.
The scope of the study does not include how the city would pay for any improvements that it might suggest.
Jim Reed, capital project manager for the city’s public works department, said public input will be recorded and carefully considered as part of the study.
“Nothing we’re doing is preconceived,” Reed said. “We want to make sure we have a consensus recommendation that accommodates all kinds of travelers — pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit riders. … It’s a long process, but at the end we hope we can identify a series of changes that we need on that corridor.”
For more information, visit 17-18-19corridorstudy.com.