A U-turn on downtown design
Marion’s downtown revitalization has brought many welcome changes. Focused lighting highlights not just dull old backtop but also more lively storefronts and sidewalks. Space for banners will help downtown be more festive. People who find stairs challenging have much-needed alternatives for entering stores. Crosswalks are highlighted to enhance safety and ease of transit.
Overall, the project seems to have been quite successful. But, nice as the work might seem, there also appear to be some problems.
One was timing. First the street was resurfaced, then the curbs and sidewalks were changed, and now the city wants to repair aging water mains beneath the street.
It seems as if the projects were done in reverse order from what efficiency would dictate. All that nice blacktop and possibly some of the nice new curbing and sidewalks may have to be torn up, depending on what’s found in pipe replacement.
Then there’s another problem, which we initially didn’t mention because we thought it might just be us who noticed it.
As part of the project, crosswalks were moved several feet back from each intersection. The idea might have been good. Creating curb “bulbs” — also known as “neck-downs,” “flares,” and “chokers” — reduce the crossing distance and improve how easily pedestrians are seen.
Moving crosswalks back from each intersection also meant motorists complete any turns before encountering a crosswalk spanning the street onto which they are turning. Not having to look at an angle also helps increase pedestrian visibility.
But it also has an unintended consequence for motorists stopping at the intersection — particularly if the intersection isn’t controlled by a traffic light. Unless a motorist stops on or past the crosswalk on the street he or she is driving on, seeing other vehicles to know when it is safe to enter the intersection becomes very difficult.
At first, we thought we were the only ones having trouble seeing unless we crept forward, past the designated stop line and into or even past the crosswalk. But in recent weeks we’ve been hearing from many others who find this to be a problem.
The problem is made much worse when oversized vehicles like huge four-door pickup trucks are parked near the corner. The situation is downright impossible at 1st and Main Sts., where W. Main St. jogs nearly the full width of the street north of E. Main St.
Seeing whether it’s safe to turn onto Main or to cross the street on 1st necessitates driving through the crosswalk and sitting almost within the intersection itself. This is made even more confusing by the local custom of U-turns on Main at that intersection.
We definitely aren’t advocating eliminating U-turns — a move that would be only slightly less controversial than replacing the Stars and Stripes mural at Veterans Park with a swastika or hammer and sickle.
But we would like to suggest a solution — a roundabout at the 1st and Main intersection, perhaps with a fountain, flowerbed, or both in the center island.
Not only would this eliminate an inadvertently created safety hazard. It also would provide a much needed end piece to the downtown design.
Years ago, the stately Rogers Building, better known in recent years as the old creamery building, provided a western bookend matching the historic Hill School to the east.
Residents have lamented the loss of that historic building for decades. A roundabout with fountain, garden, or both would answer that lament while also improving driver and pedestrian safety and celebrating something unique about Marion — the tradition of “dragging Main.”
Of all the things we could think of starting fund-raising or grant-writing drives for, this should belong at the top of the list — particularly since we might be needing to excavate the area anyway for the water project.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Sept. 19, 2019