We're still not sold on the idea that tearing up the pedestrian mall in the center of downtown Youngstown is the answer to what ails the heart of the city, but now that work on reopening Federal Street to two-way vehicular traffic is about to begin, we urge Mayor George M. McKelvey and city council to choose the option that does not include a traffic circle.
Even in those communities where circles are common place, driver confusion remains a persistent problem. With one lane of traffic in each direction feeding into the circle, as is being proposed for Federal Street under one of the options, the problem of traffic jams is exacerbated. With more than one lane, the potential for accidents increases as drivers weave in and out to ensure they are in the proper lane as they approach the circle.
If the goal for getting rid of Federal Plaza after more than two decades is to make it easier for drivers to maneuver in the downtown area, then a traffic circle at the point where Market Street becomes Wick Avenue would be an impediment.
The option that calls for traffic signals to be installed at the intersection of Federal Street and Market/Wick is certainly more conducive to opening up the downtown area.
Moving forward: While we would have preferred to have been commenting on the schedule for renovating and upgrading the pedestrian plaza that starts at Phelps Street and goes east to Walnut Street, it is now clear that after at least five years of discussions, studies and more discussions, city government is ready to move forward.
Plans envision construction beginning in mid-2002 and ending in the spring of the following year. The one good thing about this project is the fact that the federal government is paying for 80 percent of the $2.5 million price tag, while the city's share is coming from its Community Development Block Grant annual allocation. The CDBG program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The impetus for getting rid of the pedestrian mall and replacing it with two-way vehicular traffic came from former Mayor Patrick J. Ungaro who contended in 1995 that the plaza had outlived its usefulness. Ungaro pegged the cost of rehabilitating the walkways, seats and light supports, especially between Phelps and Market, at about $1 million. The former mayor was of the opinion that the federal government would not provide the money for upgrading the plaza.
Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, deserves the credit for securing the federal grant to extend Federal Street from Chestnut Street on the west end of downtown to at least Champion Street on the east. City officials are still trying to decide whether to retain a block of the pedestrian mall, between Champion and Walnut streets, to have a gathering place for the parties on the plaza and other events.
While we continue to believe, as we said in an editorial in 1996, that, "People who work downtown seem to like having a pedestrian mall in the heart of the city," the public has spoken -- through its elected officials and at a public hearing this week. It's time to get on with the Federal Street project.