College Avenue merchants, neighbors and the city are in a dogfight with threats of litigation over a diverter blocking Northbound traffic along Benvenue Avenue from Ashby Avenue set up to slow traffic down while College Avenue is being repaved.
While the scheduled three-month construction along College Avenue from Dwight Way to Alcatraz Avenue has stopped all northbound traffic along College, a detour through Claremont Avenue, Ashby Avenue and Telegraph Avenue has been set up to ease the flow of traffic.
And the city has had to employ diverters and “pinchers” – the little orange poles that squeeze traffic into one lane – to further relieve the traffic along these roadways.
John Huffman, President of the Elmwood Merchants Association says the city promised him that Benvenue Ave. off of Ashby would stay open during the construction, so supply trucks and customers could use the street to access a parking lot on Russell Street that he says is very vital to area businesses.
“All of our businesses are looking at a 15 to 20 percent drop,” he said. “We’ll spend the rest of the year trying to make it up.”
Benvenue Avenue residents have another point of view. They are pleased that the diverter keeps heavy traffic from speeding down their residential road. And they say that the human traffic from the public library on the corner is all the more reason to keep it there.
Stuck in the middle, the city just wants to compromise.
At a meeting Monday night, Public Works Director Rene Cardinaux told Huffman that the city would move the diverter back one block on Benvenue, just North of Russell Street. As of Tuesday night it hadn’t been moved, Huffman said.
Cardinaux also told the merchants and neighbors that the city would work on a permanent plan for the intersection after the construction is through.
Both sides came away from the Monday night meeting sour.
“What puzzles the residents is why our City Council-approved traffic issues got somehow overturned last night,” said College Avenue area resident Sedge Thomson. “Why does just one diverter affect business? The whole process affects business.”
Huffmann said the merchants weren’t properly represented at the meeting, saying that about 20 neighbors and only two merchants were there.
Both Cardinaux and Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the meeting a success.
Tuesday morning, board members of the Elmwood Merchants Association met to deliberate whether or not to take legal action against the city and Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who they say has misled them throughout the process.
Huffman says that Worthington did not inform the area merchants of a consent calendar item he placed on the May 23 City Council Agenda that asked the city to come up with a paving plan, including mitigations to address the residents’ and merchants’ concerns about parking, traffic and temporary diverter removal and installation.
“They made changes and didn’t tell us,” Huffman said. “Worthington just slipped it through the consent calendar so (the council) wouldn’t object.”
Huffman went on to say that the merchants spoke to an attorney who told them that, while they have no case against the city, Worthington may have been in violation of a meeting act that requires elected officials to inform area residents of meetings.
“At first he said he said he supported us on this,” Huffman said. “No one was informed.”
City Council agendas are publicly announced, however.
“There is no earthly reason why anyone could sue me, or the city about how we relocate traffic,” Worthington said. “I’m 100 percent convinced that no judge in his right mind will find what we’re doing illegal.”
“I’m not worried about it. It’s an absurd, outrageous statement,” he said.
In the meantime, Thomson said the neighbors are enjoying a relatively auto-free College Ave.
“It’s like a European street feeling,” he said. “It’s promoted walking.”