Some business owners on American Street in Sitka are asking that the city change its status from one-way, back to two-way. The conflict over the downtown route came up at a recent Police and Fire Commission meeting, and commission members weighed in.

American Street runs perpendicular to the city’s main downtown thoroughfare, Lincoln Street, which was closed to traffic this summer during the biggest cruise ship days. And in early May, the city modified American Street to a one-way heading northbound ‘to preserve parking and assist with traffic flow.’ At the time, a city press release said the change would be in place ‘until further notice, for the summer season.’ But while Lincoln Street opened back up to full use in October, American Street technically remains one-way.

Thad Poulson owns the Sitka Sentinel, on American and Barracks Street. He said the public hadn’t been given the appropriate notice about the closure.

“I was surprised on May 13 this year, to learn, after 53 years living and newspaper publishing Sitka, to learn that a downtown street may be changed from two-way to a one-way with no advance notice to the public or to affected individual property owners, of whom I am one. And that is what happened to American Street on that day,” Poulson said. “As to why I should be surprised? The simple answer is it has never happened before, as far as I know”

But Stedman Insurance owner Carl Stedman said a lot of drivers hadn’t really noticed the change, and just kept driving both ways.

“There’s poor signage, [and] it caused some problems. On American Street intersection with Lincoln Street, there’s a stop sign, still there, facing the wrong way of a one-way street. There’s no one way sign,” Stedman said.

American Street also has parking on one side– Stedman said that needed to be maintained. But he knew there wasn’t necessarily consensus on the traffic.

“There’s not a real good answer to the situation. Doesn’t matter what decision you guys make, it’s probably going to be wrong in some peoples eyes,” Stedman said, and some in the audience laughed. “So, I still feel strongly, it’s worked for 41 years as a two-way street. People just need to go slow, you’ve got to be polite,” he added. “And, you know, when somebody gets a delivery, I can go out the other way and not think I’m breaking the law.”  

When it came time for the commission to consider the item, commission chair Gregg Olson wondered if the street had been reconfigured due to safety concerns and asked if there had been any accidents. Sitka police Lt. John Achee said in the last three years there hadn’t been any accidents reported. As for changing the traffic configuration, Olson said the feedback they’d received from the public was mixed. 

“There’s not unanimity on what people think should happen,” Olson said. “Number one, I don’t know what it is we’re being asked to do. And number two, I don’t know if we know enough to do it.”

Olsen said without more guidance from the city’s Public Works department on why the traffic flow changed, he didn’t know what the commission could do. Commissioner Loyd Platson agreed that some clarification would be helpful.

“Maybe someone from Public Works comes before this body then explains the rationale,” Platson said. “What are the pros for doing it the way that they’re doing? What are the cons for doing it? And explain that to us, if they want us to have the input, and allow the public to be here at that time to ask questions as well.”

Platson however thought the commission could take one step: recommending the street go back to two-way until further information and notice is given to the public. His motion passed unanimously.