Wednesday, March 06, 2013

And they put up a parking lot ...

I've been trying to think up a catchy name for the festival Chariton by rights should be hosting this year to mark the 50th anniversary of our distinctive traffic pattern and parking arrangements on the square.

This is a John Rhodes photograph taken from the roof of what then was Rexall Drug of the new arrangement when it was brand new and in pristine condution --- on Saturday afternoon, June 9, 1963, the first day motorists had a chance to see if the new system would work. Rhodes was associated then with the Chariton newspapers and the original eight-by-ten now is in the museum's Johanna Holmberg collection.

The project resulted from a traffic and parking survey undertaken during October of 1962 by the Motor Club of Iowa at the behest of the city, county, Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. Concern arose because there seemed to be insufficient parking on the square and the traffic pattern then in place was confusing and at times dangerous. At the time, all parking was angled at courthouse and business curbs with nose-to-nose double rows of vehicles in middle of Grand, Braden, Main and Court.

The design was developed during the winter following by the Club's Department of Traffic Engineering, unveiled during early February, 1963, and although somewhat controversial, adopted during May.

City Council approved the plan on Monday, May 6, in part because the paving company that completed the project already was resurfacing Highway 34 west of town, knocking several thousand dollars off the projected cost. Total cost was $17,490, which covered resurfacing the west, north and east sides of the square, repair work on the south-side surface and installation of curbing and islands.

The idea was to create the sequestered parking lot still in place around the courthouse, introduce parallel parking next to business curbs and mandate one-way traffic all around the square. This traffic pattern became practical only because of the new Highway 34 bypass that diverted vehicles on that busy highway to south of town rather than across the south side of the square.

The Motor Club proposed to supplement on-square parking with off-square parking lots, a part of the plan never fully implemented, and to pay for everything by installing parking meters --- an idea that never gained traction. The council's May 6 resolution specifically excluded parking meters.

Once introduced, it soon was discovered that two-way traffic was necessary across the south side of the square. Originally, those entering the square from either the southeast or southwest corners were forced to drive all around it before exiting and those interested in just passing through resisted that --- creating some interesting vehicular confrontations. Re-introducing two-way traffic on the south side and blocking the entrance and exit to the parking lot there were, and remain, the major modifications to the plan.

The photograph suggests that motorists originally were expected to take their driving cues from signage painted onto asphalt --- another part of the plan that didn't quite work out. The current nests of upright signs at each corner resulted.

The system has served Chariton quite well, actually, although strangers occasionally become disoriented and end up bucking one-way traffic trying to get from here to there. And planners of the current day seem to take an instant dislike to it. The rest of us are used to it.

I complain a little when forced to drive all the way around the square in order to park on the east side of the interior parking lot --- then remember near-death experiences backing into busy traffic lanes from the angled parking places in cities like Centerville, where older parking arrangements remain in place. Then I don't complain so much.

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