Bumps, wrong way driving makes for challenging traffic situation downtown

Despite plenty of signage, including a "No Right Turn" sign at the intersection of Clay and Fourth Street and "Do Not Enter" signs on both sides of Fourth Street facing Clay Street, many people continue to go the wrong way down Fourth Street. Local business owners along Fourth Street contend that two to four drivers per day - sometimes more - make this dangerous choice. Combined with a series of construction projects, including the recent repaving of Highway 70 along Center Street, and it's been a adventurous summer driving through the downtown area. 

With the arrival of September, the semi-official transition from summer to autumn has taken place in Mebane and surrounding communities. As the vacations and beach trips have wound down, and the children have made their way back to school, Mebanites are preparing for the onset of falling leaves, cooler temperatures - we wish - along with shorter evenings. 

It has been another interesting summer in the downtown area, particularly on the traffic front. The recent repaving of Center Street in downtown Mebane has made for some interesting driving, to say the least. But that doesn’t cover the extent of all the wackiness we’ve seen downtown in July, August, and September. 

A couple of weeks back, in early August, we saw a double-wide trailer get stuck along Center Street, just in front of the main downtown area. It had to slowly make its way through the local corridor, with the stoplights along Center Street scraping along its top. It took several minutes, but finally the trailer did get through on its way along Highway 70 east into Orange County.

It was a reminder of the challenges that Center Street - and all of downtown Mebane - faces as the city expands and continues to see more residential and commercial traffic. The Highway 119 bypass heading towards Caswell County will help, but only to a point. Folks who need to get to Hillsborough and points east from Haw River and Burlington still won’t have a much better option than to make their way down Highway 70 and into Mebane on their way east. In turn, folks coming from Efland and other areas in western Orange County will also continue to find Highway 70 appealing. 

Center Street has recently been going through a repaving project, which has made for some challenges in the past several weeks. A couple of times, when I’ve been burning the midnight oil getting the Enterprise finished in time for our weekly deadline in late August and early September, I’ve noticed the crews working in the middle of Center Street at all hours of the night. I’ve heard the sledgehammers cracking away distressed old street segments, and noticed all the vehicles and workers slowly pulling away the street top. This past Monday evening they were out there well after midnight, repaving the westbound section of Highway 70 just in front of the Five-Star Building. By Tuesday night, the crews had moved to the eastbound side. 

The stripping away of the old street top has created gaps in the road - essentially multi-inch dips between the surrounding streets and the various entrances onto Center Street. 

The dips are big - in some cases several inches between layers of asphalt. If you hit them at any kind of speed, you will know it. Even at the slowest speeds, negotiating all these bumps has been a real test on the endurance of local automobiles. Fresh off getting a new set of brakes, I may be due for some shock and realignment work after a few hard drops up and down the uneven pavement in August and September. 

The bumps have been many - whether they’ve been getting off side streets onto Center Street, getting off Center Street onto these side streets, or turning off Center Street to cross the railroad tracks. And it hasn’t just been uneven sidewalk. With the manhole covers and other underground piping protruding several inches up, driving in downtown Mebane this summer has been maze-like as we’ve worked from side to side trying to avoid pitfalls. 

The uneven pavement and protruding manhole covers haven’t resulted in a lot of fender benders, thankfully. But it has created longer lines getting out of town along Third and Fifth Streets, with the slamming on brakes and other difficulties associated with maneuvering all the roadblocks and bumps. Although most of the work has been late at night, outside the typical peak driving times, there have been some delays and slowdowns as well on the part of local construction crews, with their ubiquitous orange cones and red/orange two-faced signs, one saying “Stop” and the other saying “Slow.” 

We can only hope all this work and this nice repaved road will serve the people of downtown Mebane and surrounding commuters for years to come. The initial impressions from driving on the new surface are promising. A new segment of North Charles Street at its intersection with West Clay Street is a sign of what to expect - a smooth, even crossing that makes for easier driving. I just hope they can get all those bumps on the side streets evened out at some point. 

The repaving work on Center Street is far from the only activity downtown this summer. A construction project taking place at the corner of Fourth and Center Streets in July, complete with sawhorses, tool trailers and a sizable crew, made for a congested trek through this already-busy area. There was also work being done on Fifth Street near its intersection with Clay Street, which held up traffic for a few days. 

Being situated on Fourth Street ourselves at the Mebane Enterprise, we talk a lot to the local business owners, and clearly there’s an ongoing concern about this local road. As the only one-way road in the downtown Mebane area with exception of the segment of N. Charles Street near the front entrance of Yoder Elementary School, Fourth Street can be downright dangerous at times.

We’ve written in this space before about the concern of vehicles going down the wrong way of Fourth Street, and it continues to be an ongoing concern. City leaders in Mebane have had ranging plans to improve Fourth Street over the years, including creating a street walk promenade in the middle of Fourth Street that would shut it down to local traffic. Local business owners are not crazy about that idea, citing the lack of nearby parking spaces.

While they’re happy to have the additional parking spaces on Fourth Street for their customers, and do not wish to see Fourth Street completely shut down to local traffic, it doesn’t mean that the local business owners like the day-to-day ongoing concern of getting up and down Fourth Street. 

Just get an ice cream at Muffin’s, grab a beer at Whiskey Sowers, or stop in to get your hair cut at Lisa’s Beauty Shop or Bella Bleue Spa, or stop into Eclection Emporium or Solgarden to do some shopping, and bring up the topic of traffic on Fourth Street. You’re likely to get a pronounced eye roll. And also a statement along the lines of, ‘Something needs to be done.’

Local business owners will tell you that never does a day go by without at least one car going down Fourth Street the wrong way. On an average day, anywhere from two to four cars - sometimes more - make this foolhardy choice. 

Frankly, it’s gotten worse since the last time I wrote about it a couple years ago. And one of the biggest reasons why it has gotten worse is that now bicyclists are peddling down Fourth Street the wrong way. 

One day last week early in the morning, I had to nearly swerve to avoid a bicycler coming down Fourth Street the wrong way as I was parking near our building. I noticed another doing the same thing earlier in the week. Headphones on, with no care or worry in the world as a large sports utility vehicle barreled towards him, on the man peddled. 

My single biggest fear is that the timing of a car turning off Center Street at just the right time onto Fourth Street at just the right speed, combined with a car or bicycle turning at just the right time off Fourth Street onto Center Street at just the right speed, will result in a devastating collision. Keep in mind that often when cars suddenly realize they’re going the wrong way down Fourth Street - all the cars are facing the other direction, and there’s no stop signs on the southbound side - they tend to speed up, often to dangerous speeds on this little road, to make it through.

As my father has told me before, a storm is coming.

It’s not happening for a lack of signage. Not only are there “Do Not Enter” signs on both sides of Fourth Street facing Clay Street, there is also a “No Right Turn” sign directly in front of the intersection with Clay Street and Fourth Street heading east, towards the Lofts at White Furniture.

Like with so many other things in modern times, people are simply ignoring the signs - oblivious to the dangers of driving the wrong way down a street as they idle away on their iPhone, sing along to the beat on their headphones, or eat their lunch on the drive.

Once upon a time, there was a barrier in the middle of the street that helped keep people from going down the wrong way of Fourth Street. The story we’ve heard is that enough local businesses complained that the sign in the middle of the street was unaesthetically pleasing, and therefore it had to go. I sure wish they’d bring that barrier back, no matter what the local business owners think. I’ll take unaesthetically pleasing over potentially dangerous any day of the week and twice on Sundays. 

I hope it doesn’t come to a devastating collision before more attention gets brought to the day-to-day concerns of moving and driving along Fourth Street. For my part, I’m not worried about aesthetics. Frankly, I don’t care if you put a scarecrow in the middle of Fourth Street. Whatever it takes to keep people from making that dreaded turn off Clay Street to head south the wrong way.