This odd section of a Springfield city street near Battlefield Road is only one lane, but has always allowed two-way traffic. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

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OPINION|

If you've ever driven the stretch of South Market Avenue from West Woodland Street south to Battlefield Road — only a few blocks — you've encountered one of Springfield's least-known quirks.

This photo shows where the two-lane street abruptly becomes one lane. The photo is looking south on South Market Avenue. On the left is Greenlawn Funeral Home, South, which is on Battlefield Road. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

South Market Avenue suddenly becomes only one lane for about 150 yards, yet remains open to two-way traffic.

It does this with no signage, such as “Stop” or “Be Careful” or “Wait Your Turn, Bro.”

I've been there to observe. A driver headed in one direction waits for the other driver to go first, and then proceeds.

It reminded me of those two-lane curvy country roads where you suddenly come to an old bridge with one lane. If there's an oncoming vehicle, somebody has to wait.

I was asked about this several years ago

I know about this odd section of South Market because years ago — 2016 to be precise — someone asked me how this one-lane/two-way stretch came to be.

At the time, I typed up the question and filed it and then forgot about it.

I came across it recently while perusing a file on my computer desktop called “Old Answer Man Questions.” Meaning the questions are old. Not the Answer Man.

Since this was, after all, eight years ago, I checked and, sadly, the questioner died in 2018.

Road was like this back in 1984

I figured Charles Mahaffey might know the history of this one-lane/two-way oddity. Or the city might know.

Mahaffey Family Dental is at the northwest corner of South Market Avenue and West Battlefield Road — 509 W. Battlefield Road.

Mahaffey, 77, is retired. His son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter operate the business now.

Mahaffey tells me he bought the property in 1984. It was a house; he remodeled it into the dental office it is today.

The 150-yard section of street was the same back in 1984 as it is today, he says. It was one-lane/two-way. No signage.

“At one time, I was inquisitive about it, too,” he says. “But I never could find an answer.”

But unlike a two-lane highway narrowing into a one-lane bridge, there is room here to, in essence, “step aside.” A vacant parcel is on the east side of this short section of street. What this means is that a driver can pull over — onto the grass of the vacant land — to let the other driver proceed in the opposite direction.

City Public Works Department has answer

The vacant parcel is owned by Greenlawn Funeral Home South, at 441 W. Battlefield Road. The funeral home itself is on Battlefield Road.

And that's where the answer lies.

City spokeswoman Kristen Milam sent my question to the Public Works Department and they did some research.

Back in 1977, the area became a platted residential subdivision that would be called Windsor Heights.

But Windsor Heights was never built on the east side of South Market Avenue. It was on the west side.

If and when the vacant land is developed on the east side, Milam tells me, there is 25 feet dedicated to the street. That additional 25 feet would become the second lane and the one-lane/two-way section would cease to exist.

Milam wrote me via email: “Our thought is that in 1977 everyone involved expected the Greenlawn property would be developed sooner than later — and that never happened.”

Only one rule when it comes to right-of-way

In his working days, Mahaffey would arrive at work via Battlefield Road. But at the end of a long day of staring into mouths, he would take South Market north — rather than face the futility of trying to make a left onto Battlefield Road.

So, he has driven the one-lane/two-way section many times.

It's never been a problem, he tells me. As far as he knows, no one has ever complained to the city or to anyone else.

“It's exactly as you described it; it's like a one-lane bridge out in the middle of the Ozarks. People just say, ‘Well, it's always been like that. So we just let the other guy go.”

The only rule, he adds, is that trash trucks always have first right-of-way.

This is Pokin Around column No. 189.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Hauxeda. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@hauxeda.com. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin