Sheridan's Main Street is the heart of the city. There's a historic theater, shops, and restaurants that show off its Western heritage. It's the place where the community gathers for festivals and events. And now, it might be changing.
Since mid-August, the city has been testing the idea of reconfiguring its Main Street. The redesign changed the number of lanes on the road from four lanes to two with a center turn lane. It also added a 4-foot buffer zone between parked cars and the traffic lanes.
Brian Craig, Sheridan's community development director, said community leaders started talking last year about ways to transform Main Street to make downtown a place residents and visitors want to spend more time.
"The main, overarching theme is placemaking, community building, making sure that we have a place not only visitors like to come and hang out but also our community can get behind and be proud of their Main Street," he said.
For the past year or so, Sheridan and the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) joined forces to make the experiment a reality, and it's been exciting for both parties to work on plans.
WYDOT District Engineer Scott Taylor said this is the first time a reconfiguration test like this has been performed on a state highway.
"It's pretty cool because it's kind of groundbreaking for the city of Sheridan and WYDOT to at least attempt something like this," Taylor said.
After several weeks of living with the new configuration, the city and WYDOT revealed the results of their surveys and data from the test at a public meeting.
WYDOT took traffic counts before and during the test to compare. District Traffic Engineer Michelle Edwards said the change didn't cause many drivers to avoid Main Street, though they did feel some impact.
"It really appeared to function pretty adequately during our peak periods, but we did see queues back up into the intersections every once and a while, usually related to someone making a parallel parking maneuver close to an intersection," she said.
Edwards said a few other issues came up. The new buffer zone was stripped to look kind of like a bike lane, which led to a lot of confusion. She said if the idea goes through, they'll look at different ways to stripe it. WYDOT officials said it will not allow a bike lane on Main Street because of the potential for accidents and a lack of space.
They'll also figure out a better way to merge cars near the Main Street and Dow Street intersection.
Beyond traffic impacts, the city also wanted to gauge how residents felt about the changes. Brian Craig, the community development director, said the results were mostly positive.
"We got great results, close to a thousand responses, close to about two-thirds positive and of the remaining 7 or 8 percent were neutral, so a little less than 30 percent were negative or didn't want to see the test continue permanently," he said.
Craig said most of the positive responses say it's safer to be downtown, whether that's while walking or parking.
Some business owners said their customers are mostly in favor of it, and that it's safer for kids or people with disabilities to get in and out of parked cars and get into their shops.
PJ Treide owns Big Horn Design Studio on Main Street, and he said he's in favor of the change.
"Watching people, now, come downtown, the traffic is a little bit slower, but we seem to think that's actually a better thing, people are looking around, seeing the businesses," he said.
But some residents don't like the slower pace and that traffic backs up when someone is taking too long to parallel park.
The city and WYDOT now have to think about whether a permanent change is the right solution. And if it is, the big question is when to do it.
WYDOT is planning to resurface Main Street in 2023, and Craig said that plays into what could happen next
"The three options are [to] do it as soon as possible when the numbers and the ability and the material arrive, do it in 2023 or leave it as the four-lane," he said.
If the city decided to change the road before the resurfacing, it could cost anywhere between $50,000 to more than $200,000. That's because the mast arms on traffic poles might have to be replaced.
But if the city waits, WYDOT says it could possibly pick up some of the tab and the city could qualify for grant money.
WYDOT says they need a recommendation from the Sheridan City Council by March 1 in order to start its design process for 2023.
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