-  Downtown went to a one-way traffic grid back in 1968

The city of Hillsboro may soon be changing the direction of its downtown business district — literally.

A decision by the Hillsboro City Council on whether to make downtown streets two-way rather than one-way could come as soon as mid-month.

City officials have been considering reconfigurations to the street patterns for several HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Motorists might not have to navigate around the downtown areas many one-way streets, including this one at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Main Street, if the Hillsboro City Council decides to change the citys traffic grid. A proposal before the council could result in most of these sometimes confusing one-way signs coming down.

“It started in 2009 when Mayor (Jerry) Willey took part in a Mayor’s Institute on City Design,” said Karla Antonini, project manager for Hillsboro’s Economic Development Department.

Antonini explained that experts at the Portland forum recommended that Hillsboro alter the flows on its downtown streets because they were considered to be “convoluted” and “didn’t lend themselves to getting from Point A to Point B.”

The current review of the street grid was sparked by ongoing efforts to inject new life into the business district.

“This idea is a piece of the whole puzzle to revitalize downtown,” said HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Members of the city council could vote as soon as March 18 on whether to put a stop to one-way grids in the downtown business district.

Roadways in line to see two-way traffic include Main Street and Lincoln Street between First Avenue and Sixth Avenue, as well as Second Avenue, Third Avenue, Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue between Lincoln Street and Walnut Street.

Council members may vote on the issue as early as March 18, during the council’s regular meeting at the Hillsboro Civic Center.

Deanna Palm, president of the Greater Hillsboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is listening to the views of local business owners as it weighs its position on the issue. The chamber board is expected to take an official stance in late March.

“Obviously it’s something we’re watching, and we’re listening to what the business owners are saying,” Palm said. “The dialogue is something we’ve actively engaged in.”

According to Palm, business owners generally appear supportive of making the switch to two-way streets.

“We’ve heard a lot about the positive aspects,” Palm said. “We’ve heard about other cities making the same transition and seeing positive results.”

One snag in the idea is how to handle delivery trucks. Currently, with the one-way configuration, trucks can briefly stop in one of the lanes for deliveries while still leaving a lane open for cars. With a two-way street and oncoming traffic, that would no longer be feasible.

“Obstacles still exist in terms of deliveries. But the timing of deliveries can be planned and orchestrated so it doesn’t have much of an impact,” Palm said.

Palm said she believes two-way streets would be less confusing for motorists trying to navigate around the downtown area, and two-way traffic could increase the number of visitors.

“Anything that gives businesses more exposure is a positive,” Palm said.

Antonini noted that a transition to two-way streets would be expensive: The changeover would cost approximately $2.5 million.

“Where there are no (traffic) lights, we’d need to put lights in — especially where light rail crossings are. That’s where the expense comes in,” she said.

Antonini added it would take about seven months to plan the transition and as long as two years to completely execute it.

Doug Sellers, owner of Primrose & Tumbleweeds, a restaurant on East Main Street, believes the downtown core needs to go back to two-way thoroughfares.

“Downtown Hillsboro needs to be a destination and not a pass-through,” Sellers said. “I’m sure it made sense at the time they did this, but it certainly doesn’t make sense in today’s world.”

Tina Jacobsen, owner of Jacobsen’s Books, said she has mixed feelings about the proposal.

“I think it would probably be good for business,” Jacobsen said. “But I’m neutral on it. It used to be two-way, and it was changed for a reason. That was before my time, so let those who remember the way it was then make the decision.”

Fred Nachtigal, a member of the Hillsboro City Council, is one of those who remembers back to 1968 when downtown still had two-way streets. Nachtigal said he was in high school then.

“The conversion (to one-way streets) at that time was because it was too congested and delivery trucks couldn’t deliver — and I wonder what’s changed in the last 45 years,” Nachtigal said. “I’m still on the fence about it. Part of the reason for that is the cost. Originally it was going to be $750,000, and now it’s $2.5 million. It’s a large expenditure. If it achieves the desired effect, it’s OK.”

Nachtigal said the plan has some “ripple effects” that need to be considered.

“We’d have to put handicap parking on all the blocks, and we’d have to do something with loading zones for delivery trucks. And anybody trying to parallel park would slow everything up,” he said.

Nachtigal added that appealing activities — not two-way streets — entice more people to come downtown.

“When we have Saturday Market, or Bag&Baggage [Productions] has a play, people flood downtown,” he said, “and they don’t have trouble finding it.”

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