Published 12:00 am Friday, August 24, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Residents with different ideas about how to make Statesville Boulevard safer could square off at a public workshop next week.
Some people want to turn the state-owned boulevard into a three-lane road, including a center turn lane and dedicated bike lanes on both sides, as suggested in the city’s comprehensive bicycle plan.
Others oppose the “road diet” and want Statesville Boulevard to remain four lanes without space for bikes.
Dan Mikkelson, city engineer, said all opinions are welcome at the workshop, set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Milford Hills United Methodist Church, 1630 Statesville Boulevard.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has agreed to participate in the workshop before repaving the boulevard from the Ketner Center at West Innes Street to the Salisbury Mall at Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Mikkelson said he wants input from anyone who lives in neighborhoods along the Statesville Boulevard corridor, works in the area or travels the road regularly.
“The city and state are not pushing one agenda over another,” Mikkelson said. “We are trying to get a public dialogue going with folks who are out there all the time and know the problems that occur.”
Opinions have started to form on both sides of the issue, and both sides of the road.
Statesville Boulevard should remain four lanes, said Mac Butner, who has lived in Meadowbrook since 1961.
“We need a passing lane both ways,” he said. “You just don’t give that up after all this time.”
But Jeff Jones, who lives on the other side of the boulevard in Milford Hills, said fewer vehicle lanes would make the road safer.
“Come down from the mall and look at that street, then imagine it with a turn lane and bike lanes and maybe even painted crosswalks in places,” Jones said. “If you are a driver and you look at that, you are going to say, whoa, I need to slow down here.”
Both men agree on one thing — the state needs to lower the speed limit to 35 mph, like it is in other residential areas of Salisbury.
Adding a turning lane will not slow down drivers who now reach speeds of 60 mph, Butner said. The best speed deterrents are police patrols and electronic speed displays on the side of the road, he said.
Adding bike lanes would endanger cyclists’ lives, he said.
“It was built to be a highway,” Butner said. “That’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
Cyclists can use sidewalks along Statesville Boulevard or ride on the nearby greenway, he suggested.
Adults biking on a sidewalk are five times more likely to be hit by a car than those biking on the road, said Mikkelson, who served for 10 years on the N.C. Bicycle Committee and regularly bikes to work.
When turning a corner or pulling into or out of a driveway, motorists are better able to see a cyclist on the road, he said.
In North Carolina, the bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. Bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the same regulations governing a motorist.
Jones rides his bike in his neighborhood and said he would ride on Statesville Boulevard if there were bike lanes. Catawba College students without cars would use the bike lanes as well, he said.
Jones, who was recently appointed to the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said his daughter was involved in a head-on collision years ago on Statesville Boulevard. She was not injured.
While he will advocate at the workshop for cyclists, Jones said his first priority is slowing traffic and changing the appearance of the road.
“Visually, the way it is set up now, it just encourages speed,” he said. “It’s like a race track.”
City and state officials will analyze whatever ideas “rise to the top” during Thursday’s workshop, Mikkelson said.
A steering committee made up of representatives from different interest groups will try to find consensus, then Mikkelson will make a recommendation to City Council on Sept. 4 about how best to restripe Statesville Boulevard.
But ultimately, N.C. DOT owns the road and has the final say.
Suggestions in the city’s comprehensive bike plan, which was created by cycling advocates, are just that — suggestions, Mikkelson said.
“Just because the plan recommends something doesn’t mean DOT will blindly accept it,” he said.
Options exist between leaving the road with four lanes and putting it on a road diet, Mikkelson said. Dedicated left-turn lanes in certain sections could help eliminate some rear-end collisions, he said.
“We want people with concerns to voice them so we don’t overlook something,”he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.