Some voice support for bike lanes, medians on South Long Street

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 28, 2014

SALISBURY — Residents who live off South Long Street, and many who use the road regularly, spoke out Thursday at the third in a series of public meetings with a road design team at First Calvary Baptist Church.
The meetings are part of a study looking at ways to slow traffic and add more uses to nearby roads as part of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s “Complete Streets” effort.
The $120,000 study came after two pedestrians were killed while trying to cross East Innes Street.
After confusion and differences of opinion at previous meetings, this session saw more consensus in favor of reducing the number of traffic lanes on South Long Street from four to two, as well as adding medians, bicycle lanes and some on-street parking closer to East Innes Street.
No changes were discussed for East Innes Street.
Glenn Walters and Drake Fowler, of study firm Design Workshop based in Asheville, said the firm had been asked to return to focus just on ideas for South Long Street — specifically, the stretch between East Innes and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
About 40 people attended the meeting, in addition to Walters and other officials who are part of the study process.
Walters discussed the movement toward making streets more friendly for pedestrians and bikers, saying he hoped residents would join them in “looking to the future instead of looking to the past.”
Rather than recap previous meetings, “We’re just going to start with a blank sheet of paper,” Walters said.
After making the case that the four, 13-foot-wide car lanes on South Long are larger than needed for the traffic flow, the team went on to show artist’s renderings of what the street could look like with landscaped medians, painted crosswalks and on-street parking.
“The traffic study says that for the next 30 years, we can get rid of a lane and narrow the lanes down to 12 feet … and it won’t cause any delays,” Walters said.
Opinions seemed mixed at first, based on audience reaction when Walters asked them if they could agree with that fact.
But, by the end of the meeting, there was more vocal support for two, slightly narrowed car lanes, painted bicycle lanes and landscaped medians.
The medians would be broken to allow additional turn lanes at intersections.

Big Questions
Then, William Peoples – a member of the local Complete Streets steering committee – asked why the city of Salisbury was only now considering crosswalks in high-traffic areas.
“This falls on the city, because the city should have done something about marking the crosswalks off,” Peoples said.
He, and other audience members, also questioned who would pay to maintain the landscaped medians. There was clear opposition to any asphalt-only medians.
Still, Peoples said, plans for medians would be “putting the cart before the horse” if there’s no state funding.
Fowler said that, typically, when a median is installed, the Dept. of Transportation and the city would agree as to who would maintain it.
Crosswalks had possibly the highest level of support in the room, especially near the Lincoln Park Pool.
Walters said there was a good deal of support for that, as well as possibly a flashing light to warn of pedestrians.
However, one thing many have said they wanted – a stoplight at the intersection of South Long and Monroe – appears to be off the table.
Walters said the Dept. of Transportation’s traffic studies don’t show enough cars to warrant a traffic light.
Karl Sale, another steering committee member, lives on East Fisher Street. He said medians made sense, but may have to come later on due to the costs involved.
Some residents asked why so much attention was being paid to the stretch of South Long Street nearest to town, when there is a lack of sidewalks and other improvements on the portion of road that leads under the Interstate 85 overpass toward Old Concord Road.
“I just can’t see you beautifying this and leaving that down there as is,” said one woman in the audience, who left before she could be identified. “There’s nothing there, and there’s foot traffic there.”
There was murmured support in the audience after she spoke.
“Hopefully, that will happen after this (study),” Walters said. He said the current study was funded only to look at these areas.
There was widespread support for bicycle lanes from residents, as well as from people who live outside the area who cycle through the area.
One cyclist, who left before the meeting concluded, asked attendees to consider the question, “Would the inconvenience caused by bike lanes be worth a life?”
Sandra Russell, a resident of the area, asked whether the road improvements would lead to a tax increase.
Fowler said it was difficult to know, but added that the purpose of the study was to create a plan for improvements.
Then, Fowler said, when the time comes for the Dept. of Transportation to repave South Long Street, the improvements could be put into place and may save money.
There seemed to be less support for on-street parking further away from East Innes Street.
Janeria McCullough said people like her, who live the area between Clay Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, have driveways and don’t need on-street parking.
Those living nearer to Fisher Street said they would be in favor of parking along South Long.
Although there was support for bike lanes, Peoples asked whether they would be extended across onto North Long Street heading toward East Spencer.
Fowler said there is a possibility arrows could be painted on the existing roadway to mark off a space for cyclists.
There is no space for bike lanes on East Innes, Walters said, due to the size of the lanes there.

Time for Change
Long Street resident Anne Lyles was one of several who said changes to make her road safer were long overdue.
“Living here 24/7, every day of the week for 23 years, you really become aware of it,” Lyles said. “When you’re just here from time to time, you don’t know these things.”
At a similar meeting in January, locals had voiced strong opposition to some of the same suggestions presented Monday.
But two other meetings last fall had seen growing support for efforts to slow the flow of traffic and make it easier for pedestrians to cross East Innes and Long Streets.
At the end of the meeting, Salisbury City Council member Karen Alexander stood to thank the audience for attending.
Alexander said that the City Council makes decisions based on the plans formed from such studies, and that when it comes to funding, “we’re in the running with all the other communities.”
After she spoke, Peoples stood and addressed Alexander. He asked when City Council would consider sidewalks and other improvements to area streets that, he said, were long overdue.
“We do have a plan,” Alexander replied, but added that the city’s budget for such improvements is limited.
“We have to balance what we want with what we can afford, and we can’t afford to do everything at once,” Alexander said.
All in attendance agreed that something needed to be done to slow down cars on South Long Street and make the streets safer in general.
“We’ll finally get it together if everyone understands what we want,” said Suzanne Blunk, who lives on East Fisher Street. “We want to be able to cross the streets safely.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.