Planning Board endorses Sidewalk Prioritization Plan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

The Salisbury Planning Board voted Tuesday to endorse a plan that will help determine where the city builds new sidewalks and could be used to prioritize future sidewalk maintenance.

The proposed Salisbury Sidewalk Prioritization Plan is the result of more than two years of work. City leaders ordered a study in 2004 after some developers complained of being forced to build “sidewalks to nowhere,” or segments that did not connect to existing sidewalks.

The city’s Vision 2020 strategic growth plan also incorporates sidewalk improvements as part of an overall transportation plan.

In 2004, a committee recommended performing an inventory of existing sidewalks and coming up with a plan to prioritize new and “infill” sidewalks, or those that would connect existing segments.

A new committee this year determined that coming up with an inventory of existing sidewalks would be a “long haul” effort, so that is not part of the plan presented Tuesday, Senior Planner Preston Mitchell said.

The draft plan provides a system to divide the city’s entire street network into segments and assign a score to each segment based on a number of factors, including its proximity to schools, parks and other “trip generators,” whether it lies in a commercial or historic district, and whether it is on a major thoroughfare or close to a missing sidewalk segment.

Segment boundaries are marked by intersections with two-or four-way stops, traffic signals, or railroad crossings, or a half mile to the nearest intersection or other stopping point if none of those occurs earlier.

A higher score makes a segment a higher priority for new or infill sidewalk construction. Points are subtracted if the segment lies in a low-density residential or rural zoning district.

“What we’ll ultimately do is go ahead and calculate every street segment within the county,” Mitchell said.

As an example, Mitchell applied the formula to a number of segments along Old Concord Road between Julian Road and East Innes Street. The first segment, from Julian to Stone Ridge Drive, lies in a rural zoning district and is not within a quarter-mile of a commercial center or trip generators. It scored a negative 4, making it a “very low” priority for new sidewalks, Mitchell said.

The next segment, between Stone Ridge and Jake Alexander, scored a 32 because of its proximity to a commercial district and Hood Theological Seminary, its presence on a major thoroughfare. A segment between Horah and Bank streets, which lies in a historic overlay, scored even higher.

“As you get deeper into the city, your scores are going to start coming up a little bit,” Mitchell said. He said similar plans have worked well in other municipalities.

Planning Board member Dr. Mark Beymer complimented the plan but raised a concern. He questioned why close proximity to a college would gain a segment more points than proximity to an elementary school, where he said safety might be more of an issue.

Mitchell explained that plan authors assigned the values based on the belief that most elementary school students, even those who live within a quarter of a mile, don’t walk to school, while pedestrians are more prevalent around high schools and especially college campuses.

Chairman Brian Miller, who served on the committee that developed the plan, said the scoring system is “a good first suggestion” that remains subject to change.

“We may find after using it a couple of months it needs to go in another direction,” he said. “This is a process that will be refined over time.”

Mitchell said the plan will be reviewed annually and updated every five years.

He said the city planners will now seek input from the city’s Street Division about the possibility of using the plan to prioritize sidewalk maintenance. It will then go to City Council for approval.

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins