by Daniel Schere | @Daniel_Schere

Winston-Salem residents are beginning to take notice of changes occurring along the Business 40 corridor close to downtown over the next couple of years.

Citizens met Thursday night with representatives from Davenport, a local engineering firm, to inquire about plans for a 1.2 mile stretch between Fourth and Church streets that will close the freeway for two years beginning in May 2016. The plan includes closing the interchange with Broad Street as well as the interchanges at Liberty and Main streets.

A number of citizens who live and work near the interstate have expressed interest in making Liberty and Main two-way streets in order to increase pedestrian traffic. John Larson, vice president of restoration at Old Salem, said the Business 40 project presents an opportunity to help tie downtown to the Old Salem community.

“Our belief is these streets are singledirectional streets and the city would be better served by converting them to two ways which was the original idea, and basically putting them back into the urban grid,” he said. “And right now they act as thoroughfares rather than urban streets.”

Larson pointed to the example of Fourth Street as a road that has succeeded due to a two-way traffic flow. He thinks a similar design for Liberty Street would help places like Old Salem and the Children’s Museum.

“If you look at say, city hall, or you look at the area going down to basically the coffee pot, it’s mostly ramps and asphalt,” he said.

“The belief then is that Liberty Street is a natural connector to Old Salem Road, which is a four lane road right now and it doesn’t need to be four lanes, because it’s over designed,” he said.

Larson admitted that some negative aspects of Business 40’s presence are unavoidable but the interchanges can be made more aesthetically pleasing.

“There’s always going to be a four lane chasm running through there, but you can deal with that if you’re not dealing with a block on either side of nothing but ramps and asphalt.”

Larson was the main architect of a position paper that a number of business and nonprofits along the Liberty/ Main Street corridor collaborated on in expressing their desire for the Cherry/ Marshall interchange to be spared during the construction. The Winston-Salem City Council approved the Cherry/ Marshall proposal on Sept 17.

Elizabeth Dampier, executive director of the children’s museum, said accessibility is the biggest issue they are considering in preparation for the construction.

“I think that we will have some of the same issues that other businesses that are trying to draw visitors to where we are,” she said. “What we will be thinking is what is the easiest way to direct visitors to get to us?” Dampier said she is interested in looking at different options including possibly running a trolley down to Old Salem or utilizing the Salem Creek Connector when it is completed.

“With the Salem Creek Connector, we’ll be interested to see how well that will serve us in getting people to us,” she said. “But again I think it’s one of those things that every for profit and non-profit university are going to be grappling with.”

Harry Knabb, the CEO of the nonprofit Art for Art’s Sake, said he is excited over the prospect of making Liberty Street two-way because he thinks this, in conjunction with the opening of the new park Artivity on the Green, will breathe life back into the street’s northern end.

“I think with Artivity on the Green, what’s it’s going to do is put a fresh new face on Liberty Street which is arguably one of the ugliest streets around town,” he said. “But I think that’ll prime the pump and fill some of these empty buildings to create a liveliness about Liberty Street. And if it’s two way that’s even going to increase the reason for being on Liberty Street.”

Knabb also noted that the construction on Business 40 will lead to a new traffic pattern that will take cars down Martin Luther King Jr Drive into downtown, warranting the need for two-way traffic on Liberty and Main streets.

Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, said he also thinks a two-way flow for Liberty and Main would attract pedestrian business.

“I think it would be a shame if we weren’t able to do that because that’s slower traffic, that two way pattern would really promote walkability and retail and shopping and that kind of vibrancy that we see both on Fourth and Trade,” he said.

Davenport project manager Royal Hinshaw said they are still analyzing the best strategy for Liberty and Main, and will be holding another meeting in April to discuss it.

“We’ll be looking at how these intersections will function once we hit the two-way situation,” he said.

Another area of concern brought up at the session was the area surrounding the interchange with Peters Creek Parkway. Winston-Salem Dash President Geoff Lassiter expressed concern over the intersection of Green and First streets near BB&T Ballpark.

“It’s just an area that needs to be emphasized more during the closing of how does it operate during ballpark hours,” he said. “It’s dangerous coming across the top of that hill, and as we look to go to two-way traffic, how do we slow our traffic in downtown areas to create pedestrian friendly spaces.”

Lassiter said he has stayed in communication with city officials over anticipated changes to the area around the stadium.

“Over 300,000 people come to the ballpark on an annual basis,” he said. “It’s the single largest visited facility in our city, and we’ve got to make sure with the traffic patterns, we’ve got to consider those before the closure.” !