Niles man forms plan to provide safer walkability

Published 9:14 am Monday, April 27, 2015

Submitted illustration

Submitted illustration

At a time when there is an increased focus on making downtown Niles a more accessible and enjoyable place for visitors and patrons, one man believes he might have the answer.

Brian Shier, owner of the Four Flags Hotel downtown, is attempting to gain support for his downtown Niles walkability and safety plan, which was developed years ago.

“The plan needs community support to convince the city council to approve it,” he said. “I am very confident that the plan will work with the community’s support. I see so much potential in what Niles has to offer.”

The goal of plan, Shier said, is to improve the walkability and safety of the downtown area and encourage tourists to stop and enjoy the many things Niles has to offer.

The main parts of the plan include:

• Changing parking from parallel to pull in on the south side of Main Street. Shier believes this would be safe than parallel parking

• Adding signage that warns motorists that pedestrians have the right of way

• Four way stops would be added where Main intersects Fourth, Third and Second streets. The traffic lights would flash red in normal situations and yellow during inclement winter weather.

• Adding a bicycle lane on the south side of Main Street

• Added parking/safety in front of the Ready Theatre block

Ric Huff, the city administrator for Niles, said it is great that someone like Shier is taking the time to try and make improvements. He said many of the components might work well, while others

might not.

Huff said parking a vehicle on an angle on a street like Main Street that has a steep grade could cause tire slippage in icy or snowy conditions.

“The car immediately darts in the direction of the slope,” he said. “In a parking space you will likely end up against the vehicle next to you.”

Huff also said four-way stops could be problematic in the winter time as vehicles often have trouble making it up the slope on Main Street, especially if they have to stop multiple times.

“That is why the lights are timed in the winter to keep vehicles moving up the hill,” he said.

Shier brought the plan before the city council last summer. At that time, city officials expressed concerns with it, including that it would make snow removal difficult and divert traffic to residential areas.

However, the council authorized the formation of a streetscape committee to begin making plans for the future look of downtown. Huff said the committee has yet to meet because they are waiting on the results of a PlacePlans study that will look at the best way to connect Front Street and Riverfront Park with Main Street.

As for the downtown walkability and safety plan, Shier said the Niles Downtown Development Association approved a $10,000 budget to implement and test the plan.

Shier hopes to get enough community interest to persuade the council to move the plan forward.

He believes the plan could change Main Street from a place where vehicles are trying to move through as quickly as possible into a destination where people can walk safely and enjoy the downtown.

“A small change could be just what is needed,” he said.

“Our community needs to improve to compete with other nearby communities if we want to have greater opportunities of bringing business to the area,” said Shier. “We cannot afford to talk about this for a few more years. Changes are needed and what better time than now while the Main Street bridge is being worked on.”