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'Road diet' on Kenmore Boulevard in Akron gets mixed reviews from residents and business owners

Posted at 4:53 PM, Oct 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 06:45:11-04

Some major streets in Akron are shrinking as part of a plan to reduce vehicle lanes and slow down traffic, while also attempting to make the area more walkable and bring back business vitality.

In the case of Kenmore Boulevard, a "road diet" over a one-mile stretch has either satisfied appetites for change, or left people with unsettled feelings in their stomachs.

"This is the main thoroughfare," said longtime neighborhood resident John Fogle. "They messed with the main thoroughfare of Kenmore."

A $42,848 project funded by the Knight Foundation, the Akron Civic Commission and the city of Akron changed Kenmore Boulevard from four lanes (two eastbound and two westbound) to one lane in each direction from 20th Street to 2nd Street.

Parking spots were moved out several feet from the curb and bike lanes were added on both sides of the road.

"Bicycle routes are fine if we have bicyclists. We don't," Fogle said.

Akron Chief of Staff James Hardy disagreed and said the bike lanes should be thought of as "if we build it, they will come."

"These bike lanes on Kenmore Boulevard will eventually connect through a loop to the towpath trail which carries millions and millions of users throughout Northeast Ohio every year," Hardy said.

Others have criticized what they consider confusing striping and a lack of signage.

Ryan Blair is the manager of Glass House and said people are abruptly moving over along the boulevard.

"The transition is very dangerous. There's not a lot of signage. It's very condensed, very clustered. It's meant to slow down traffic, but it does it in such a dramatic way, it's causing more problems than benefits," Blair said.

Hardy said the average speed has been reduced from 30 to 28 miles per hour since the changes were made. The speed limit in that area is 25 miles per hour. Small plastic posts, known as bollards, help funnel drivers in the right direction and more of them will be added.

Some residents have complained that traffic gets clogged at times when cars get stuck in a single lane behind a slow truck, but Hardy doesn't believe that is a major issue.

"We have not seen any slowdowns that would impede safety or create a traffic jam to the point where someone couldn't get through," he said.

Jerry Grodon, the owner of Stone's Kenmore mattress and Furniture, said some of his customers have complained about the new design and the parking, but he likes what he sees so far.

"I think it adds a new dimension. It kind of gives this a fresh look," Grodon said. "I do see the vision."

Hardy believes the re-designed road will encourage more foot and bicycle traffic and bring an added boost to shops in the area.

"We want to bring people back to the district as part of our overall strategy of neighborhoods, but specifically in Kenmore."

The Knight Foundation paid for an experimental project along East Exchange Street near the University of Akron, which also reduced lanes and added bike lanes. Many motorists complained about backed-up traffic and the design was reversed.

But Hardy said he doesn't expect the same thing to happen in Kenmore.

"This is definitely a permanent public improvement."

Whether it's actually an improvement is being debated daily in the neighborhood.

Fogle foresees another potential problem when the snow starts flying.

"When it snows, they're going to have a hard time clearing the streets," Fogle said.

Hardy acknowledged change is difficult, but he's asking people to keep an open mind.

"We hope that in time everyone will see the benefits that a lot of other business districts have seen doing road diets.

Hardy said other road diets were recently completed on Cedar Street and Tallmadge Avenue and others are planned for Wilbeth Road and East Exchange Street near Mason Community Learning Center.