Uptown traffic. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Uptown traffic. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Uptown business groups have thrown their support behind a proposal to alter traffic patterns in Uptown Kingston by reversing the flow of traffic on two one-way streets in the heart of the Stockade business district. But others are wary of the proposal’s cost and possible unintended consequences from changing long-established traffic schemes.

The plan would reverse the flow of traffic on Wall Street, which currently runs from south to north, and Fair Street, which runs in the opposite direction one block away. Proponents say the new traffic scheme would drive traffic entering the city via the Washington Avenue gateway up Wall Street, the traditional heart of the Uptown business district. The proposal has been kicking around since at least 2009 when it was included as part of larger plan to improve traffic flow in the notoriously labyrinthine and dauntingly confusing streets of Uptown Kingston. That plan, which included upgrades to traffic signals, improved signage and changing traffic patterns on Crown and other Uptown streets, was developed by the Ulster County Transportation Council and adopted by the city. The report recommended that the changes be phased in over time to spread out the costs and minimize disruption, but none of the changes have been implemented in the five years since the report came out.

“There were parts of that plan that were controversial,” said Tom Hoffay who represented the Uptown business district as Ward 2 alderman from 2008 to 2013. “But [altering traffic flow on Wall and Fair streets] seemed to be something everybody agreed on.”

A lot of support

The proposal got new impetus earlier this year when Uptown business owners asked the council to consider reversing Wall and Fair between North Front and Pearl on a temporary basis. The proposal is more limited in scope than that put forth in the 2009 study which called for reversing traffic flow for the entire length of both streets; proponents say this plan’s limited duration would give the city a chance to see how it works.

“The problem right now is that people go looking for Uptown Kingston and they end up shot out into another neighborhood,” said Robert Tonner, CEO of Tonner Doll Co. and president of the Kingston Uptown Business Association. “The hope is that this will change that.”

So far the plan has backing from KUBA’s board of directors as well as the Kingston Farmers Market — which sets up on Wall Street on Saturdays in the summer and fall — and the Pike Plan Commission, which represents about two dozen property owners on Wall and North Front. On the council, the proposal has thus far been championed by Majority Leader Matt Dunn (D-Ward 1). Dunn said that changing the traffic pattern, and possibly implementing other recommendations of the 2009 study, could boost business for Stockade District businesses and sales tax revenue for the city.

“We know that if you upgrade and redirect traffic so that it flows through the heart of the Uptown Business District we could see a number of benefits,” said Dunn. “The way its set up now actually acts as a deterrent to people coming here.”

Some misgivings

Alderman Brian Seche (D-Ward 2), who represents the Stockade District, said that he was willing to give the proposal a try, at least on a pilot basis, despite misgivings about its feasibility. Seche said that he was concerned about possible costs related to altering traffic signals for the switch as well as potential unforeseen impacts at school crossings and intersections along the route.

“The more you get into it, the more you see that there’s multiple layers involved,” said Seche. “It’s not as simple as turning things around and throwing up a few stop signs.”