The proposed changes to Poplar Street to make it safer and more efficient might well be as close to perfect as is possible — from an engineering standpoint.
But before the Walla Walla City Council gives its approval to the latest recommendations to the project at tonight’s meeting, it would be wise to make certain that the public is crystal clear about what is being proposed and the ramifications of those changes.
Changes to Poplar Street have a history — including voter backlash against Council members — of being controversial.
Let’s look back 40 years to when the city made Poplar Street one-way and did the same to Rose Street. The idea was to create easy access to downtown via these one-way streets.
This is why the city now has some goofy intersections at Poplar and Alder streets and Rose Street and Isaacs Avenue. These were called “gateway” intersections.
However, when the one-way streets opened in the early 1980s there was chaos. Chaos!
Many drivers mistakenly drove the wrong way for days while others seemed to stubbornly refuse to go in the proper direction.
After a loud public outcry, Poplar and Rose quickly returned to two-way traffic. Subsequently, modifications were made to gateway intersections.
This type of debacle does not need to be repeated.
Ironically, some of the changes approved for this project involve fixing the Alder and Poplar gateway intersection.
Tonight, the Council is considering a recommendation to remove traffic signals at First, Third and Fourth avenues on Poplar Street. The traffic signals on Second and Fifth avenues will be retained. Stop signs will be added at those intersections for northbound and southbound traffic. Pedestrian crossings with rectangular flashing beacons operated with push buttons will be added.
The plan already calls for two roundabouts — one at the intersection of Palouse and Alder streets and another at Park Street where Poplar and Alder diverge. A third has now been proposed, at the intersection of Palouse and Poplar street, which will be before the Council tonight.
To be clear, none of this is new information. The city held a virtual open house on its website. The city recorded 166 people watching the presentations and 70 people completing the survey.
About 70% of the respondents to the survey liked the idea of replacing the traffic signals on Poplar with stop signs on the side streets.
Is that going to satisfy the public? Will there be a revolt when Poplar Street is reopened?
That’s what the Council needs to decide tonight when it weighs whether to approve the changes or, perhaps, seek more public input.