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Diagonal parking a conundrum for downtown Sylva

fr sylvadowntownBusiness owner Marion Jones claims to sit on Sylva’s Main Street watching traffic more than any other person in town. 


As he puts it, “Ain’t nobody sat on that street as much as I have.”

Planted in his favorite chair in front of his shop, Jones Country Store, he can definitely say there is something wrong with Main Street — in every aspect from its blind parking spaces to the speed of traffic. 

Exactly how to fix the problems is what downtown patrons, merchants and town leaders hope to figure out as they move forward on a mission to improve Sylva’s main downtown thoroughfare.

“We’ve go to do something,” Jones said. “I don’t think they can make it any worse.”

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Main Street traffic is a longstanding safety issue in Sylva, one oft discussed but never acted on. Now, the Sylva town board is asking residents for their input. The town is hosting a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at town hall for the public to sound off on problems they see with the street and possible solutions to them.

The biggest complaint on Main Street is parking. Main Street is one-way, with diagonal parking spots. Drivers are mostly blind when backing out of the diagonal spaces into lanes of oncoming traffic. Oversized vehicles make that situation even worse, oftentimes jutting out into the lanes and blocking the view of anyone parked next to them attempting to back out.

Drivers often enlist a friend when backing out of a Main Street parking stall to stand outside the car and give the all clear signal. Jones says he acts as the lookout for little old ladies leaving their downtown parking spots as cars come flying by.

“The fastest place in town is right in front of my store,” Jones said. “They’re flying when they go through there.”

While some problems that face Main Street will take in-depth planning, the parking problem might be addressed with a little bit of paint.

Town leaders have kicked around the idea of marking off the back end of the slanted parking stalls, to let drivers of oversized vehicle know when they are parked too far back, or are just too plain long.

“If your vehicle is over this line, the end of your car is in the lane,” Town Manager Paige Roberson said. “It’s a safety concern.”

Another idea to make parking safer is to change the angle of the slanted stalls and make them closer to parallel with the street. It may reduce the number of cars that can squeeze downtown, but the less severe angle should make leaving a parking spot easier.

Another idea is to reverse the parking stalls, so they are pointing in the other direction. That way drivers have to back into their spaces, but then simply drive forward to leave.

However, all these possible remedies may in turn cause unforeseen complications. That’s why board members are holding the forum.

“My theory is you don’t want to do anything then find out that it’s worse than it was,” said Harold Hensley, a town board member.

With each proposal comes a potential downside. 

Reversing the parking stalls might deter passersby from stopping at downtown business if they are confused about how to park in a slanted space facing the opposite direction than they were driving on the one-way street. 

Meanwhile, painting a line directly behind the parking stalls might confuse out-of-town drivers into thinking the lane is wider than it really is, leading them too far left. 

“We don’t want to run them into the curb extensions,” said Reuben Moore, a N.C. Department of Transportation traffic engineer stationed in Sylva.

Redrawing the parking lines — even though it would sacrifice the number of spaces — is  the easiest fixes being floated for Main Street.

But there is also talk of turning it back into a two-lane street. Or perhaps utilizing a traffic island. Or making the left lane turn lane at every intersection to slow traffic who otherwise use the double travel lanes to pass other cars. Moore said cars are traveling on average 10 miles per hour above the 20 miles-per-hour speed limit.

But each promising solution threatens another set of problems. A two-way Main Street would mean Mill Street, the one-way going in the opposite direction, would have to become two-way again also, and it may be too narrow for that.

Turning the double travel lanes of Main Street into left turn lanes at every intersection could scare off people looking to park downtown but who don’t want to be stuck in the left turn lane while scanning for a spot on the left side. And, it may overload the right lane and make parallel parking on that side even more arduous.

“They wouldn’t be able to zip through town as fast,” said Moore, pointing out the positive, before adding the negative. “But parking on the right side is already hard  — and it wouldn’t get any easier.”

Moore said it would be up to the town to come up with a solution they think is fitting, and DOT would most likely go along with it if it appeared to be a viable solution.

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