Friday, December 18, 2009

18 DEC 09: Trees? If You Please....

Remember that midday drive I took Wednesday through downtown Columbus? I saw more than that traffic island flowing with water. I saw a preview of an upcoming traffic mess. You might want to avoid one particular intersection for the next several months - unless you really enjoy the two-lane driving on Whittlesey Road on shopping days.

As I drove south on Veterans Parkway, I came upon a logjam at 13th Street. A line of southbound cars was stopped in front of me. A long line of eastbound cars was stopped for the traffic light as well. This might be expected at 4:00 p.m., but this was around 12:00 noon - and without a $1.05 gas discount gimmick at the Chevron station.

With the way in front of me blocked and not moving, I admittedly pulled a driving stunt. From the right through lane, I turned right onto 13th Street to get around the problem. It's an approach I don't take very often - but I've watched enough drivers on Atlanta freeways to know how it's done.

As I made the right turn, I saw what was causing the logjam. Southbound traffic on Veterans Parkway was forced to merge into one lane, south of 13th Street. At 15th Street there are three southbound lanes - so to get to those new "funnel cake sticks" at the downtown Burger King, you have to drive through a funnel of sorts.

Expect more bottlenecks on Veterans Parkway downtown, because ground was broken Thursday for the latest Columbus "Streetscape." Improvements are planned for several blocks, beginning with 13th Street -- so the city's strategy is a bit like starting with the toughest questions on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader."

The latest Streetscape promises all sorts of things for Veterans Parkway....

+ More medians. Veterans Parkway already has them from Fourth to Eighth Street -- and driving is more mentally stimulating when you realize someone might try a U-turn in front of you.

+ Wider sidewalks. They'll be welcomed by frustrated drivers, who are stuck so long in construction traffic that they decide to park their cars.

+ More than 100 new trees. Yes, Trees Columbus is involved with this - and all the rain this year has given the group new clout, because trees might actually find water to grow.

Columbus Councilor Mimi Woodson is glad to see to new Streetscape begin. She told WRBL Veterans Parkway downtown is "the entrance to our city." It is? Then why aren't these improvements happening at the Harris County line?

Mimi Woodson added the Veterans Parkway Streetscape work will encourage people in "South Columbus" that their area is on the rise. Maybe I don't know the boundary lines, but I don't really consider 13th and Veterans Parkway part of South Columbus. After all, Gateway Lincoln-Mercury one block east claims to be in Uptown -- which helps to sell its upscale cars.

But let's face some facts here. Sections of Victory Drive have had trees in the median for years - yet that corridor is still straining to make an economic turnaround. More drivers might have to make turnarounds to reach businesses, but I don't think that counts.

Besides, Veterans Parkway downtown has plenty of thriving businesses now. Burger King and Arby's built new restaurants there. Even Dunkin Donuts has a stand downtown - apparently bringing in coffee so good, Starbucks is scared to buy the abandoned Krystal building.

Another Streetscape project also comes to mind - the work in downtown Phenix City which lingered far past the original deadline. I'd guess Veterans Parkway is a busier road than Broad Street, since it leads to the Civic Center. Do we really want the hockey night fights starting before the game, between stuck drivers?

There are thankfully ways around the Streetscape work at 13th and Veterans Parkway. Those of you who remember the parkway bridge work several years ago know the top two detours. One is Second Avenue. The other is Fifth Avenue - assuming the rain finally will stop, so parts of that road don't become giant ponds.

But if you have to drive down Veterans Parkway, allow a few extra minutes in getting to Civic Center events. And don't be surprised if beggars realize what's going on, and start walking along the lines of trapped cars selling packages of tube socks.

Let's walk around other top stories from Thursday....

+ The Nash Finch Company announced it will open a new Columbus plant, and add 175 new jobs. The company services government commissaries, such as the ones at Fort Benning. This news surprised me - and made me wonder how soldiers are punished these days, if outside firms peel the potatoes.

+ Walden Books announced it will close the Peachtree Mall store in January, as part of a nationwide cut. Stocking financial management books simply isn't good enough - you have to read and apply them.

(Before you ask - no, that other chain of bookstores has NOT announced plans to change its name to Books-Two-Million.)

+ WLTZ showed a new design and logo for the Columbus Red Lobster restaurants. It's being premiered here, then will spread across the country. As long as they don't change the design of the cheese biscuits, customers probably won't care.

+ The Georgia Lottery presented a million-dollar check to Seale mother and college student Casandra Dixon. She won a scratch-off jackpot at a Citgo station on South Lumpkin Road. See, this proves it - there's plenty of hidden money in "Columbus South." You simply have to pay a couple of dollars to get it, then be very lucky.

SCHEDULED THIS WEEKEND: Thoughts on the death of a famous name.... and we begin our review of 2009's most interesting stories....

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