UPDATE: This article has been updated with new information on the city's Downtown Integrated Street Master Plan.
Alderman Erik Helgestad doesn't want to make downtown Waukesha harder to get around.
And he thinks that changing the two-way Gaspar Street to a one-way street would do just that.
"One of the biggest things we've had to do over the years is to get people to know that the one-way streets are gone," said Helgestad, who represents the downtown area. "I have friends in Milwaukee who still believe that there are still one-way streets, so I have to dispel that myth. So bringing the one-way streets back would be counterintuitive."
Helgestad is one of many expected to attend a public input meeting next week on the city's plan to redesign Gaspar Street in the coming years.
The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, at in Room 207 at city hall, 201 Delafield St. A short presentation will be held at 5:45 p.m. before the public gets a chance to weigh in on the redesign of Gaspar Street from West Main Street to West Broadway.
The redesign, specifically a plan to change the north-south street to a one-way street where traffic would be directed north, has caused pushback from downtown stakeholders since it first caught the attention of business and property owners during an informational meeting on a related downtown road project in late December.
The plan, however, has been included in the city's Downtown Integrated Street Master Plan in 2013.
Community Development Specialist Jeff Fortin said the Integrated Street Master Plan was a supplemental plan to the Central City Master Plan, which was approved in 2012.
"It was a more detailed plan that dealt with the streets and streetscape downtown," Fortin said. "It included specs for the new paver and tree grate system, benches, planters, and pretty much anything else within the public right-of-way downtown."
Helgestad was at the December meeting and said he has received mostly negative feedback on the city's proposal.
"Overwhelmingly, business owners and residents prefer two-way streets," Helgestad said.
Part of larger plan
The plan to alter Gaspar Street is part of the city's larger overhaul of downtown's roads and streetscapes.
The city is entering the third of a seven-year road reconstruction project that continues this spring, extending on West Main Street from Clinton to North Barstow streets.
The intersection of West Main and Gaspar streets are within these boundaries.
As a result, despite the complete redesign of Gaspar Street from West Main to South streets and West Broadway from Riverfront Plaza to Gaspar Street not scheduled until 2020, the one-way street plans are nonetheless at the forefront of everyone's minds.
Helgestad said various options will be presented to residents at the meeting.
These include converting Gaspar to one-way traffic in which traffic would flow north only from the intersection of Broadway and South to Main Street, preserve two-way traffic on Gaspar Street or create a pedestrian terrace, dead-ending Gaspar Street to the Avalon Square assisted living facility driveway.
Helgestad said he's concerned that the switch to one-way streets would make it more difficult for drivers getting to downtown's main parking garage.
"I'm concerned about the access to the South Street parking ramp as well as traffic increasing," Helgestad said.
Safety a concern
Regardless of what comes out of next week's meeting, Norm Bruce, owner of Martha Merrell's Books in downtown, said pedestrian safety must be at the center of the discussion. Bruce's store is at the corner of West Main and Gaspar streets at 231 W. Main St.
"I don't know if you want to go back to a one-way street," Bruce said. "But I am also concerned about people crossing that street."
Helgestad is just happy the concerns have prompted the city to give people the opportunity to give their opinion.
"I've gotten many emails and phone calls on this issue, so it's good the options are being laid out there," Helgestad said.
Additional questions on the Gaspar Street redesign can be directed to Project Engineer Alex Damien at email@example.com or (262) 524-3907.