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Wrong way on two-way streets

In one of my favorite movies, “The Princess Bride,” one of the characters keeps using the word “inconceivable” to express his confidence that certain things won’t happen that, in fact, keep happening. Finally, my favorite character, Inigo Montoya, observes: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Well, I keep hearing the words “two-way conversion” of downtown Hillsboro’s Main Street. The mayor and a few vocal proponents using that phrase think it means a way to entice visitors downtown; that slowed traffic will increase “impulse” shopping; and that traffic congestion will somehow convey a vibrant impression of popularity.

I don’t think it means what they think it means.

The thing is, just because popular places become congested does not mean congested places become more popular. In fact, contrary to the studies the city cites, other studies suggest the opposite is true: congested places become avoided.

I love historic downtown Hillsboro. I regularly patronize its local and family-owned businesses. I want to see them thrive. I’m not afraid of change. I just don’t think “two-way conversion” means what they think it means.

I think it means locals, like me — who can currently come downtown during lunch or a work break — will avoid downtown for fear of being stuck in traffic and late getting back to work. I think it means frustrated drivers who become so focused on getting through traffic jams that they don’t pay as much attention to pedestrians or bicyclists, let alone consider “impulse” shopping, and cars idling in stop-and-go traffic, stalled behind delivery trucks or other cars trying to parallel park.

Ironically, traffic congestion, air pollution, wasting gas, and a less friendly pedestrian and bicycle environment are directly opposed to the community’s goals of a cleaner environment, encouraging more bicycling and more liveability as set out in the vision statement of “Hillsboro 2020.”

Yet even if the two-way conversion actually had hard evidence it would help, not harm — is the taxpayer expense really justified? I’ve been downtown for Tuesday and Saturday markets, for the Christmas tree lighting and for theater and arts events. These events are packed! When there is a reason to come downtown, people find their way.

In these days of smart phones and GPS, are visitors really deterred when given good reasons to come?

Besides, downtown Hillsboro doesn’t need to hold visitors captive in traffic. We already have a regular set of captive visitors who should be enticed and rewarded — jurors! Have jurors been given a “thank you for your service” packet from the Downtown Merchant Association of discount coupons and little freebies that would encourage them to explore downtown shops when their jury service is over, rather than simply getting in their cars and going back home?

In the last 20 years since I’ve lived in Hillsboro, I’ve seen wonderful changes in historic downtown and am very appreciative of the hard work the city and downtown merchants have done. I’m very supportive of the city providing some money for public events to draw people downtown; to improve signage; to support creative marketing and advertising; and to help historic downtown continue to promote itself and make its presence known, locally and beyond.

But to spend $2.5 million of public money to gamble on the controversial “two-way streets” conversion that might actually undermine the revitalization of downtown — well, let’s hope that’s inconceivable.

Karen Hershey lives in Hillsboro.



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