GREENFIELD — Just outside the picture window at SoupHerb, where diners enjoy a quiet lunch, semis roll past, making their way through the crowded intersection of State and Main streets.
The city’s main thoroughfare draws complaints from residents and business owners alike, who argue the congested roadway makes it difficult to enjoy Greenfield’s downtown.
How to solve the issue is a debate that comes to the forefront in nearly every municipal election and is a focal point of discussions of pedestrian safety. Now, city officials are discussing solutions with renewed vigor out of concern the congestion could hinder downtown revitalization efforts that have been gaining momentum.
A 2011 Indiana Department of Transportation study of the state’s highways shows nearly 15,000 vehicles travel daily on State Street near Main Street. About 1,130 of those are commercial vehicles. Main Street, near State Street, sees about 11,000 vehicles daily, and approximately 875 are commercial vehicles.
It’s an issue residents and city officials alike are concerned about as they consider revamping the downtown area.
In 2013, the city adopted a revitalization plan for the downtown area that includes building pedestrian-friendly promenades, enhancing building façades and bringing new restaurants and retail.
But bringing a plan that seeks to increase walkability could be a challenge, as those who frequent the area have complained the truck traffic makes them feel unsafe. The intersection of State and Main streets, which is anchored by buildings on each corner, is the heart of downtown but also unfriendly to foot traffic.
“It is a concern,” Mayor Chuck Fewell said. “We have a pretty vibrant downtown, and the trucks coming through are probably an inhibitor.”
There’s no cure-all for the problem. Instead, city officials are looking for ways to ease pedestrian discomfort crossing the busy intersection.
The revitalization plan for downtown includes details to address truck traffic. Creating curb bumpouts on busy roads, such as State and Main streets, will shorten the distance between streets, making them safer to cross, said city planner Joanie Fitzwater.
And creating greenery and streetscape will brighten the overall atmosphere in the area, she added.
Residents have questioned whether truck traffic could be rerouted, but that’s not as easy as it sounds, Fewell said.
And the design of the intersection makes matters worse. Off Interstate 70, State Road 9 is five lanes; but it is one lane near Hancock Regional Hospital and through downtown.
“It’s a bottleneck,” Fewell said. “That intersection was built and designed many, many years ago, … and we’re impaired with the type of intersection we have there.”
And State Street’s proximity to interstates 70, 74 and 69 doesn’t help the issue either, officials said. Traffic uses State Street (State Road 9) to get from I-69 to I-74, INDOT officials said.
One fix for the problem would be to bolster the capabilities of roads to the east and west of State Road 9, giving truck traffic additional routes.
That’s an option city officials are considering, but those efforts would be costly, and keeping the project from being intrusive to neighborhoods might be difficult, Fewell said.
“I don’t have an answer yet for where and how and when, but it is a process we’re studying,” he said.
City utilities director Mike Fruth said truck traffic in the downtown area has been an issue for many years. In the nearly 30 years he’s worked for the city, he said, he’s seen the volume of truck traffic in the area increase immensely.
It’s a double-edged sword: Increased traffic is inconvenient but also a byproduct of economic development.
“That’s what’s helped Greenfield thrive,” Fruth said.
INDOT studied the intersection about 15 years ago and found moving commercial traffic off State Road 9 would be difficult because it’s the only major route that runs north and south through the city, Fruth said.
Existing routes to the east and west aren’t designed for the weight of commercial vehicles, which causes damage to the streets. Because of that limitation, the city is restricted in possible solutions, he said.
“There is no silver bullet when it comes to taking the truck traffic away from there,” he said.
The best solution, he said, might be to improve other routes for local drivers to use.
A project to revamp Franklin Street is underway. Once complete, the project, which adds a lane from Main to Tague Street and improves the condition of the road, could entice drivers, including trucks, to use it and avoid downtown.
Greenfield isn’t the only Indiana city battling commercial traffic as it looks to revitalize its historic downtown, said INDOT media relations director Nathan Riggs.
Commercial traffic is an issue many cities and towns encounter during downtown revitalization because many downtown areas were built around major state roads and highways, he said.
“Those plans and those visions don’t always coincide with the heavy truck traffic that state highways can bring,” he said. “It is a challenging issue.”
An Indiana Department of Transportation study shows the volume of daily commercial traffic on State and Main streets in downtown from 2006 to 2011.
State Street: 1,188
Main Street: 429
State Street: 1,173
Main Street: 423
State Street: 1,120
Main Street: 410
State Street: 1,120
Main Street: 410
State Street: 1,130
Main Street: 874
*Data for 2010 is not available.