BERLIN — While there may be many big changes for the Town’s festivals in store for 2012, the layout of the street closures is unlikely to be one of them.
In early December, local business owner Gail Lewis petitioned the Mayor and Council to consider including part of South Main Street — between Jefferson and Tripoli streets — in the festival driven street closures. Generally for the Town’s big festivals Main Street is closed from Jefferson Street to a point north, often the Municipal Parking Lot.
Multi-stage events and especially the Fiddlers Convention often have a stage set up at the corner of Jefferson and Main Streets which has a significant influence on the crowds. While thousands may congregate from Jefferson Street North, few people venture South.
Lewis’ hope was that for events like this the stage could be moved closer to the Berlin Visitors Center, which would increase visibility for more of the South Main Street shops.
Lewis held that closing Main Street at the corner of Jefferson Street discouraged revelers from traveling beyond the area’s borders to the shops including her own, the Visitors Center Galleries, NEST, A Thread of Elegance, and the Main Street Enchanted Tea Room.
Town Administrator Tony Carson, along with other town staffers and Olive Mawyer at the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, were charged with looking into the potential and possibility of changing the closures’ range.
Upon completion of his investigation, Carson had little in the way of good news for Lewis and the other South Main Street Merchants last week.
“What we found out is that State Highway would not be in favor of that,” Carson said.
The biggest hurdle would be getting approval or even compliance from the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), according to Carson. The SHA requires that any closure be at an intersection and would therefore require a South Main Street closure to commence at Tripoli Street, well past the practical demarcation point.
Carson said that the SHA is unwilling to allow circumventing standard street closure procedures for the benefit of a few businesses. The allow streets to be closed based on the minimum practicable effect on motor vehicle traffic not related to event attendance. That is, increasing foot traffic was not a good enough reason to move closure.
Moreover, according to the research done by the Town staff, closing Main Street at Tripoli Street, even if the SHA were amenable to the notion, would cost the Town about 80 parking spaces.
Councilwoman Paula Lynch suggested a compromise wherein a “No Thru Traffic” sign could be placed at Tripoli Street allowing attendees to still come in and park without the expectation of passing through into the Downtown.
Doing more to encourage parking along South Main Street, however, might be a compromise that benefits all Town merchants without having to make any changes to the closures at all.
Carson pointed out that the Baked Dessert Cafe and Gallery, Bungalow Love and other shops on William Street were also cut off but benefitted from being near the on- and off-street parking available near Town Hall.
One possible solution could be the addition of banners highlighting South and off-Main Street shops a little more aggressively.
“That’s always been our main purpose,” Carson said. “To get [foot] traffic to flow on all streets.”
Community and Economic Development Director Michael Day said that the addition of the signage to the side of the Chamber of Commerce has already significantly increased the number of visitors at the galleries there.
“As much as we want to do everything we can to promote the entire town,” Mayor Gee Williams said. “We also want to be practical.”
He and the Town Council charged the staff with continuing to try out potential banner solutions. A point Carson made was that, while they could remain removable, the banner design should be static enough that it would be appropriate to use for all the events that include street closures.
“I think before spring gets here we want to have a solution in place,” Williams said.