By Cory Smith
The Nelson Street bridge has been open to traffic since before Thanksgiving, but some parking spaces along Washington Street will not be coming back.
The spaces were among those removed to make room for the traffic that was re-routed to Washington Street as the bridge was replaced.
Now city officials say they want to keep the parking spaces west of Lee Street heading to the Washington and Lee campus closed.
“It is for the safety of people who use that [area of the street] for a pedestrian crossing on a regular basis,” said City Manager Jon Ellestad. “Basically for the W&L students.”
Ellestad said parking spaces once available from Randolph Street heading toward City Hall will also not be replaced. The reason there, he said, is the same.
“It’s to improve safety, especially for the people who walk down the sidewalk on the north side of the street,” he said. “When there are cars parked on the other side, that means the travel lane is right next to the sidewalk, and we want to move the cars over a little bit.”
City officials made their decision after seeing the effect of removing parking along Washington during the nine-month bridge construction. But to the relief of downtown business owners, they restored parking in front of their shops.
“It has already increased business,” said Hunter Mohring, manager at the Healthy Foods Co-op at 110 W. Washington. “Customers who have been coming here for a long time have said that … it is too hard to go around the one-way streets to get back here and hope for parking, so we can tell that business has picked up, and we are happy about it.”
Mohring doesn’t think the decision to keep parking spaces west of Lee Street, which are close to her store, will greatly affect business.
“It may affect us a little bit, but this was a nice enough gift that we’ve got here,” Mohring said. “I understand they expressed a desire to have that so it would be safer for students, so I don’t have any problem with that.”
Ellestad said re-opening the Nelson Street bridge should even out traffic flow along the two streets.
“This takes a large percentage of the vehicles off Washington Street that had been going down Washington during the bridge construction phase,” he said. “I think we’re pretty much back to normal [flow].”