Bridge Predicament Points to Opportunity

by | Oct 15, 2014 | Uncategorized


A transportation experiment has been unfolding for the past few months on South Main Street in Jamestown – and you’ve probably been a participant.

It’s an unintentional experiment in traffic calming that stems from a maintenance issue at the bridge that connects downtown with Brooklyn Square. Some stones on this historic double arch bridge – parts of which date back to the 19th century – have fallen into the Chadakoin River, forcing engineers to close the bridge’s western sidewalk and narrow its roadway in both directions.

Motorists have responded to the situation in a very instructive way. They’ve been slowing down. And by slowing down and exercising due caution, Jamestown’s motorists have turned that area into a safer place to travel by vehicle and foot – without causing any notable problems or gridlock.

These behaviors demonstrate something that is now well-known to traffic engineers and urban planners: making our streets safer for all users usually doesn’t require elaborate traffic control devices or extensive driver education campaigns. Often, all you need to do is design streets in ways that encourage closer attention and slower speeds.

Jamestown’s drivers have recognized this for years through stark contrasts in local street design. When you drive on Third Street in downtown Jamestown, the street keeps you from going much more than 20 m.p.h. There are no flashing lights and no speed bumps. But the narrow roadway and context of the street create an environment where drivers feel most comfortable going slower than the speed limit.

As soon as you hit the Third Street Bridge, though – or Washington Street, or Foote Avenue, or parts of Main Street – the design of the street makes 30 m.p.h. feel too slow. So, drivers respond by going fast and creating spaces where pedestrians feel like an afterthought.

This has been the situation near the South Main Street bridge for years. Cars come gliding downhill, go under the viaduct, and enter Brooklyn Square at speeds generally greater than the legal limit. This situation has prevented a crosswalk from being installed at the bridge, despite the presence of the increasingly popular Riverwalk, because officials would prefer to see Riverwalk users cross at the intersection of Main and Harrison.

This rarely happens, of course. Most people who cross Main Street while using the Riverwalk – this author included – jaywalk at the bridge when the coast looks clear and have to cross a wide street that opens up to a wide and busy intersection.

This is why the current configuration of traffic at the bridge and the responsiveness of motorists to the narrower street present a significant opportunity. As the county, which owns the bridge, grapples with finding a solution and the funding to resolve the bridge’s structural problems, it should consider permanently changing how the bridge works.

By bumping out the curbs and keeping the travel lanes narrow, several things will be accomplished. Wider sidewalks will create more space on the bridge to walk and view the river, thus enhancing the Riverwalk experience. Wider sidewalks and narrower travel lanes will also considerably shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians, making the area much safer for all Riverwalk users. And by slowing the speeds of vehicles entering Brooklyn Square, the area will become a safer place for motorists.

These wide ranging benefits are a perfect demonstration of the “Complete Streets” movement that the City of Jamestown embraced in 2012 when City Council passed an ordinance calling for all future street design and construction work to seek to accommodate everyone who uses city streets. It’s part of a huge change in traffic engineering around the U.S., as communities adjust to the 20th century engineering mindset that made the speed and efficiency of motor vehicle travel the top priority – often to the detriment of safety and community character.

Correctly dealing with the South Main Street bridge could be a very visible part of Chautauqua County’s and Jamestown’s commitment to creating more walkable and lively places for residents and visitors. And it would be perfectly in line with recommendations from the city’s Active Transportation Plan, a plan initiated by the Chautauqua County Health Network’s Creating Healthy Places program that calls for fine-tuning infrastructure across the city to better accommodate all modes of travel.

The experiment on South Main Street – however unintended – is working. Now it’s time to take what we’ve learned from it and make a permanent and needed change.

–Peter Lombardi

This post originally appeared in The Post-Journal on October 13, 2014, as the JRC’s biweekly Renaissance Reflections feature.

Recent Posts

Third Thursday Line-Up Announcement

Live music and entertainment will fill downtown Jamestown with the return of “Third Thursdays Jamestown.” Every third Thursday in the months from May to September, will feature a free event at Winter Garden Plaza (313 North Main Street) from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The...

Opportunity Spotlight: 215 Spring St for Rent

215 Spring St is available for lease. This 400 sq ft storefront/office space is located across the street from City Hall and around the corner from the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts. Rent is $700 a month with all utilities included. Anyone interested should call the...

2024 Downtown Building and Business Improvement Grant Now Open!

Are you looking to adapt or improve your business?Is the downtown building you own not living up to all of its potential?The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s Building and Business Improvement Program(BBIP) may have the necessary resources. The program is a 50/50...

ArtScape Jamestown Opens Its 2024 Call for Artists and Sponsors

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is again partnering with Chautauqua Art Gallery and the City of Jamestown Parks Department to create an outdoor public art gallery in downtown Jamestown, N.Y. Artists of all ages who live in Chautauqua County or within 35 miles of Jamestown are invited to participate in this juried art competition.

Now Taking 2024 Reservations for Winter Garden Plaza

In 2023, we hosted some fantastic events at Winter Garden Plaza. For music, we hosted Third Thursday concert series and the Whirlybird Music & Arts Festival. We were also able to partner with Jamestown Pride, Jamestown Juneteenth, and the YWCA for programming in...

Hey lover of Jamestown! We need your input!

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is excited to be partnering with Main Street America to do some research, planning, and implementation to improve downtown Jamestown. Part of this work involves getting community input through a survey. Survey Link What is Main...

Host your event in Winter Garden Plaza

Vibrant downtowns have a range of events, big and small, that draw visitors and local residents to enjoy community assets, patronize local businesses, and add vitality to public spaces. To stimulate new and better events in downtown Jamestown, the Jamestown...

ArtScape Jamestown Opens Its Call for Artists

ArtScape Jamestown is inviting local artists to submit their work for a new public art program between now and April 7, 2023.  The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is partnering with Chautauqua Art Gallery and the City of Jamestown Park's Department to create an...

Historic Tax Credit Workshop: February 15th via Zoom

Do you have a property in one of Jamestown's Historic Districts or looking to purchase property in one of them? This tax credit zoom workshop is for you. Earn tax credits for property improvements. Feb. 15th 6:00 p.m. Join Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the...