The Second Street Couplet

Is it traffic poetry for downtown—or merely prose?

No, the Second Street Couplet is not part of a poem.

It’s part—a significant part—of a package of proposed changes to the traffic landscape of downtown Chico.

At a public workshop held Wednesday morning, Aug. 26, at the Old Municipal Building, city officials unveiled a plan to change First Street into a one-way westbound from Flume to Salem streets and make Second Street one-way eastbound from Broadway to Flume. These parallel one-ways, connected by Main, Broadway and Wall, is the so-called Second Street Couplet.

Before a group largely consisting of owners of affected downtown businesses, such as Collier Hardware, Panama Bar and Café, and Tres Hombres, city Building and Development Services Director Fritz McKinley introduced the proposal, along with other possible changes.

The latter included making Second Street into a three-lane roadway (one lane in each direction with a center left-turn lane) between Broadway and Orange, adding curb “bulbing” in key areas for increased pedestrian safety, adding bicycle lanes and diagonal parking on First and Second streets, and converting Wall Street to two-way traffic to aid circulation between the proposed couplet and Third Street.

“We have always had discussions about bikes on Second Street,” offered McKinley, standing before a large map of the proposed changes, estimated to cost $1.25 million to $1.5 million. “The college has approached us about bikes on Second Street, and we are working with the college on that.” He also cited the need for increased parking downtown and the volume of car, bike and pedestrian traffic in that area as reasons for the proposed changes.

Parking spaces would increase by about 50, said McKinley, and a possible roundabout at the notorious five-way intersection next to the Chico News & Review office would help with flow of traffic and provide a visually demarcated entry point from the east into the downtown area.

A suggestion from one workshop attendee that this roundabout area be used as a spot for a welcoming piece of visual art was greeted favorably by McKinley.

City Senior Planner Bob Greenlaw emphasized that the proposed project “uses the pavement we have. We are not expanding the roadways. The amount of development would be less than if we completely reconstructed the area.”

Greenlaw also pointed out that part of the logic behind the Second Street Couplet is to reduce the amount of pollution-causing idling of traffic and improve circulation of traffic on Second Street by forcing traffic to use currently underutilized First Street.

The subject of delivery trucks was a hot topic for workshop-goers. Will deliveries occur on only one side of Second Street? Will trucks park side-by-side on Second and block traffic? Will there be specific, non-peak times for deliveries to be made?

Greenlaw acknowledged the need for businesses and drivers to “have some training” in the new system so that delivery trucks would not pose a problem, but he and the audience seemed to come to a mutual agreement that it would take only a short time for everyone involved to get used to it.

McKinley and his group plan to take their proposal to the City Council’s Internal Affairs Committee sometime in September and the council after that.

After getting approval, Greenlaw assured everyone, the project will be on the “fast track,” with elements of it such as the roundabout created in about a week, with workers working 24 hours a day.

Dr. Deborah Penner, whose Chico Creek Chiropractic firm is located next to the potential roundabout, was smiling after the meeting.

“I’d love to see a 12-foot-tall bronze statue of Ishi right there in the middle of that roundabout,” said Penner. “Wouldn’t that be great?”