Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 3, 2013
SALISBURY — A design team studying how to make East Innes Street safer for pedestrians took a stroll Wednesday morning to see what it’s really like to walk along the busy thoroughfare.
As the consultants headed east on Innes from downtown, they immediately began noting problems for walkers: no pedestrian traffic signals, too many driveways, a five-lane street with few medians, little shade.
Although sidewalks run along both sides of East Innes, the street can still feel hazardous to pedestrians, especially the south side with so many entries and exits to businesses, said Drake Fowler, a landscape architect with Design Workshop in Asheville.
“The wider the street and the more curb cuts, the less you feel as a pedestrian that you’re on a sidewalk that’s really for you,” Fowler said.
Fowler and other consultants from Raleigh and Asheville are working on Complete Streets, a $120,000 study of both East Innes and Long streets. They walked the streets Wednesday with city staffers and several interested residents.
East Innes and Long were designed to move traffic, which consultant George Alexiou said they do well. But a few changes could make the corridors more inviting and safer for additional uses, including walking, biking and sidewalk dining, he said.
Lowering the speed limit, upgrading signal heads to include pedestrian signals and trigger buttons and adding crosswalks are some of the solutions other communities have used for similar thoroughfares.
Connecting the parking lots of adjoining businesses and encouraging customers to use entrances and exits on side streets also would help, consultants said.
In general, wide, unobstructed streets encourage motorists to drive fast and not pay attention to other users, they said.
“The narrower the lanes, the more pedestrian activity, the more landscaping and medians, the more it will slow traffic down,” Alexiou said.
The study was prompted by deaths in recent years of several pedestrians crossing five-lane East Innes, which has a long stretch without a traffic signal. Much discussion on Wednesday centered on the intersection of Innes and Shaver streets, at the Wilco Hess where some people cross the street without a light.
Consultants discussed additional signals, crosswalks, more medians, wider sidewalks, more shade trees and bringing a “gateway” feel to East Innes closer to Interstate 85.
They emphasized a commitment to helping businesses on East Innes as well and said slowing traffic and increasing walkability often boosts retail and restaurant sales on busy thoroughfares.
“We want this corridor to help businesses, not just make a great place to walk and then have a whole bunch of empty businesses,” Fowler said. When the consultants gave South Long Street a stroll, the problem was obvious: a five-lane road more than 70 feet wide with no median and no crosswalks. Crossing Long Street can be intimidating for a quick-moving pedestrian, much less someone who is disabled or elderly, they said.
Consultants were especially concerned when they reached the Monroe Street corner, where Lincoln Park Pool stands. Children have no safe place to cross to get to the pool, they said.
Carrying just 9,000 vehicles per day, Long Street “in no way warrants a five-lane cross section,” Fowler said. “This road says to drivers, ‘Go ahead, go 45. You’re totally in control.’ “
Eighty percent of the funding for the Complete Streets study is coming from the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization and 10 percent from N.C. Department of Transportation. The city is picking up the remaining 10 percent, or $12,000.
Wednesday’s walking tour was part of a three-day design workshop that is open to the public. Consultants are meeting in the Gateway Building at 204 E. Innes St. and will make recommendations at noon Friday to a steering committee that will report to City Council.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.