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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 15, 200912:00 PM EST

Traffic patterns and public space safety on 2009 agenda for Downtown

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

At least two busy Downtown thoroughfares will be converted from one-way traffic to two-way traffic this year, including Bay Street between Ocean and Newnan as soon as April. That was the report from Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Deputy Executive Director Paul Crawford at Wednesday’s quarterly meeting of Downtown Vision, Inc. (DVI).

“We recognize that one-way streets can make Downtown confusing so we’re taking a methodical approach to changing some traffic patterns,” he said.

Along with Bay Street, Independent Drive from Laura to Newnan Streets will also be switched to two-way traffic in 2009.

Crawford also presented an update on the Laura Street renovation project and said funds were appropriated at Tuesday’s City Council meeting that created a budget of more than $2 million for the project, and the money came from excess funds previously appropriated for other street projects.

He explained the work that has been going on along Laura Street and said, “The engineers you are seeing on the site haven’t begun the project yet – that are locating underground vaults and utilities. We plan to have the plans compete by the end of May and expect construction to begin by October, but people need to understand the project will take longer than usual because it will be planned in a way that the construction won’t restrict access to the businesses along Laura Street.”

Crawford also said plans to install new traffic lights along Downtown’s routes for football game days are also being considered.

“The project is out for bids for signals that can change the direction of lanes for special events. After we get the prices we’ll decide whether to move ahead with the project.”

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been receiving comments from City Hall workers that they are sometimes finding it difficult to find a table for lunch in Hemming Plaza because the park is being used by so many transients.

“We are trying to get a handle on why people are congregating at Hemming Plaza,” said DVI Executive Director Terry Lorince, who then pointed out, “It is a public space and as long as you’re not doing anything illegal, you have a right to be there.”

DVI Director of District Services Amy Harrell said a recent survey conducted by the Sulzbacher Center indicated 70 percent of the people who use Hemming Plaza are homeless.

Lorince said one proposal is to provide a “day center” for transients and that topic is already on the agenda for a meeting DVI will host for Downtown property owners and the general public at 9 a.m. Feb. 10 in the Conference Center at the Main Library. The theme of the meeting will be safety in public spaces and representatives from the mayor’s office, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, the JEDC and the JSO will be present to hear suggestions and answer questions.

“Destination Downtown,” the Friday night “pub crawl” from Dive Bar on East Bay Street to the Landing that debuted last week was a big hit, according to Rachel Nudge, public relations director at the Landing.

“The idea is to bring people in from the suburbs and it was great to see Downtown businesses working together to create an event like this,” she said. “It’s an evening of entertainment with a focus on safety. A company called ‘Designated Drivers’ provides free transportation from club to club and for $25, they’ll drive you and your car home if you wish.” The Hyatt and Omni hotels are also offering a $79 “Take the Elevator Home” room rate on Friday nights.

“I think it’s great that we have enough venues now to do an event like this,” said Lorince. “I have a feeling when the weather gets warmer, ‘Destination Downtown’ will grow by leaps and bounds.”

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