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Traffic congestion a concern for Knightstown Council

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Knightstown officials are grappling with a classic good news/bad news scenario on its town square these days.

The good news? Downtown business is growing. The bad news? Customer parking for those businesses are creating some difficulty for emergency services, particularly the Knightstown Fire Department, which has to navigate its large vehicles through the maze of vehicles along South Washington Street.

“I don’t think we have room for the square anymore,” Town Council President Sarah Ward said, partially in jest. “Welcome to growing pains.” 

Ward and fellow council members engaged in a thoughtful discussion about how to solve emergency vehicle problems, and, at the same time, keep the thriving business momentum alive.

The recently opened Mexican restaurant on the square has been a hit, but also complicated the problem.

“There is concern about parking on the square on the Mexican Restaurant side because they can’t get the fire trucks down there and they want to go up that street,” Building Inspector Ben Bowling said.  “They don’t want to go over to Adams. They want to go Washington. It has been suggested to make one side parallel parking to the curb and one side angle parking.”

Bowling said more new businesses on the square will only complicate things until a solution is found.

“We are going to have two new businesses on that square,” Ben Bowling said. “One on the south side of that alley. Tucker Real Estate is moving in there.”

Bowling said on the north side of that alley, north of the Burch Tree Cafe & Bakery, another business is planning to open.

“My concern is if he doesn’t do it on the west side of that square also. If you don’t, you’re jeopardizing first responders ability to get to those residences and the apartments upstairs,” Bowling said. “I’ve had a heart attack, and I know seconds count when you have a heart attack.” 

“You have such long vehicles these days,” Bowling added. “I’ve noticed (Utility Supt.) Randy Anderson and his crew, when they go in there for lunch, they park way at the north end, because they realize the danger. I’ve seen Randy and his crew do that, because vehicles that stick out too far make it difficult for emergency vehicles to go through.”

Councilman Kevin Knott acknowledged that downtown Knightstown is busier than ever.

“Is it to the point where anyone has spoken to those businesses on the square?” Kevin Knott asked. “Being in Knightstown for 57 years, I see more traffic flow in the town than we’ve ever had. I think we have to be careful and have a methodical plan in place. I certainly do understand about first aid and fire trucks and ambulances, but I just wonder how far down the chain the communication is going.”

“I don’t think we can afford to lose the parking,” Councilman Roger Hammer said. “That’s my opinion. You have a lot of businesses there. Obviously, you want to be able to get through but I would say we first should attempt another method rather than getting rid of probably a third of our parking.”

Bowling suggested narrowing sidewalks on both sides might solve the problem.

Hammer said that idea could actually solve another problem as well.

“On the west side, we have a step down,” Hammer said. “I actually think it would be good to get rid of part of that sidewalk and that step down. I watched an older gentleman yesterday morning fall off of that curb.”

But there could be simpler, less expensive solutions.

Hammer suggested putting up signs designating some of the parking for “smaller vehicles only” that would leave room for emergency vehicles. 

“I think a simple solution would be to put up signs and ask larger vehicles to park out of the way,” Hammer said. “We set some specific locations for larger vehicles and see if we can make an improvement there. You see it everywhere, right? Smaller vehicle parking. I personally don’t think we can afford to lose that parking on the square. We don’t have enough parking in town.”

Knightstown Police Chief Chris Newkirk suggested a study be done.

“We need to put something on paper to start with and start looking at several different plans,” Newkirk said. 

“To me, (reducing the sidewalk) is a second option,” Hammer added. “The third or fourth or 10th option is maybe cut a few spaces. But to me, cutting spaces is just a really bad idea.”

Some said the only time there’s a problem is when two pick-up trucks are sitting next to each other and limited pick-up trucks to one side might be all that’s needed.

“How many hours in a day is it like that?” Anderson asked. “It’s not like that all the time.”

Ward, the grand matriarch of the council, said parking should not be a big issue where restaurants are concerned.

“I’ve certainly walked two blocks to get to a restaurant I want to go to,” Ward said. “And if I can do that at my age, I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing. If the restaurant is that good, you’ll go a little farther.”

A study is expected to be presented to the council at its April meeting for further discussion on the issue.