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Which way's best for downtown streets?

In a public comment session Monday night on the proposal to change traffic flow in Hillsboro’s downtown core to two-way streets, the few citizens who attended had plenty of strong opinions on the matter.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Downtown Hillsboros one-way grid may soon be a thing of the past if the city council approves a plan that would convert the streets back to two-way.

While just 15 people turned out for the informational session, several downtown business owners voiced their strong support for the plan, which would convert Southeast Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth avenues and Southeast Lincoln and Main streets to two-way streets. Several citizens expressed concerns about traffic congestion.

The downtown streets have been one-way since the late 1960s, when city leaders converted them from two-way to alleviate traffic congestion through town on Main Street.

Now city officials and downtown business owners believe making the streets two-way would bring more business to the city’s core, helping to make the downtown area an “18-hour community,” where amenities would include retail shops, restaurants, a grocery store, arts and entertainment and residential units, explained city Economic Development Director Mark Clemons. Sixty cities across the nation have made the switch or are in the process of converting streets in their downtown areas to two-way, Clemons said.

“I love downtown and I’m worried for you,” said Karen Hershey, who works near the Pacific University Health and Education District. “I’m not afraid of change, I’m afraid of the traffic (the conversion could create). You’re going to have people afraid to come down here.”

Hershey said she visits downtown on her lunch break, but wouldn’t if she was concerned about getting back to work in time due to traffic tie-ups.

“What I don’t want is for taxpayer money to be spent on one solution and create a different problem,” Hershey said.

The estimated cost of the project, which may also replace three stoplights along Main Street with stop signs, is $2.5 million.

“I called around. My neighbors are all against it. Leave it. It isn’t hurting anything,” said Vernon Mock, who said he visits Main Street every day for coffee at the Hillsboro Pharmacy.

Pharmacy owner Doug Johnson spoke in favor of the conversion.

“The emphasis is always on Main Street,” Johnson said. “This has very little to do with Main Street.”

Instead, he said, it’s about getting more people downtown and onto the side streets, where fewer and fewer businesses are choosing to locate because of lack of foot traffic.

Denzil Scheller, who owns the Venetian Theatre, also supports the two-way conversion, partly for pedestrian safety purposes.

“This is the county seat. People come from all over (Washington County) for jury duty. If you don’t look both ways, you’re taking your life into your own hands,” Scheller said.

The City Council is scheduled to hear the first reading of the Two-Way Core Conversion ordinance May 6. Public comment will be taken at that meeting, Clemons said. A second reading is scheduled for May 20.

If the council votes to accept the ordinance, work would move forward on the changes.

Design and permitting would take place in 2014-15 and construction in 2015-16.

The project would be funded by money from the Strategic Investment Program (SIP), said City Manager Michael Brown.

“There would be a ‘burn-in’ period,” Clemons acknowledged, explaining that it would take a few years for current residents familiar with the one-way grid to get used to a new traffic flow.