ELKHART — Michael Baker had been hoping that someday Harrison Street in front of his store would be switched from one-way traffic to two-way.
Soon, he’ll see it happen.
The owner of Michael Warren’s Salon, which faces Harrison Street near the U.S. Post Office, said he’s heard customers complain for years about the difficulty of getting to his business because traffic on Harrison is eastbound only.
“In the long run, it’ll be a good move for the city,” Baker said.
“I think it’s going to be good once people get acclimated because it’s going to put a lot more traffic by my business,” Baker said.
While he worries about the transition period as motorists become accustomed to the change, Baker predicts it will be an improvement for people visiting the license branch and for postal workers who must exit onto Harrison.
Baker is not alone. Several other business owners and others said they are looking forward to the change, which was finalized last week by the city’s board of public works.
The switch — which only involves two blocks on the east end of Harrison — will require a few new traffic signals, signs and street paint and should be implemented in early September.
The owners of a new bookstore just west of the salon also expressed excitement when told of the change.
“That would be very good,” said Belen Varela, a co-owner of the Christian book store, Liberia Cristiana, which opened earlier this month.
Varela said she thinks it will make it easier for customers to get to the store.
While businesses will enjoy the change, the biggest benefit will likely be for southbound motorists on South Main Street who often are literally trapped in traffic while waiting for train traffic to clear.
The change will allow south-bound motorists on Main to turn right onto Harrison and then use the Benham Avenue underpass two blocks away to get around the trains.
Officials believe the change could help reduce the “bottleneck” that develops each day when dozens of trains cross paths with South Main Street.
How much of an impact could it make?
“Huge potential,” said city engineer Mike Machlan, who said the city has been looking at altering Harrison for a few years.
The conversion to two-way represents the first such change in Elkhart in years, Machlan said, and follows a trend seen in other urban areas away from one-way streets.
To a certain degree, the heavy traffic that one-way streets were designed to alleviate never materialized, Machlan said.
Machlan said city officials will continue to look at other one-way streets to see if change is warranted.
“We’re anxious to see whatever we can do to help improve pedestrian and business convenience,” Machlan said.
The change could also invigorate the downtown area in a subtle way.
A handful of properties along the two-block stretch of Harrison are for sale and the change might make those more enticing to potential buyers, according to one real estate agent.
One example is the Winchester Mansion, an office building located at the corner of Harrison and Second streets, which has been available for more than a year.
Richard Hobson, a real estate agent with FM Stone, said he thinks one-way traffic on Harrison has been a detriment to selling the property.
He added, “That whole bottleneck around the post office is horrible.”
Nicholas Anagnos, whose family has owned and operated businesses at the corner of Harrison and South Main for decades, said the change is long overdue.
Who will it benefit? His customers? Postal customers?
“Everybody,” he said.