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Speakers support higher taxes for bike lanes, bus service

SALISBURY — Speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing on the city budget overwhelmingly supported bike lanes on Newsome Road and a new bus route to the medical offices on Julian Road.
A large crowd turned out Tuesday to weigh in on the city’s proposed budget, which includes a higher tax rate and increases in the garbage fee, water-sewer rate and Fibrant TV rate. If the budget passes as recommended by City Manager Doug Paris, the city’s tax rate would go up on July 1 from 63.74 cents per $100 of valuation to 66.64 cents, an increase of 2.9 cents.
Three people spoke against the proposed budget, and one person said she supports the widening of Newsome Road but does not necessarily endorse bike lanes. City Council took no action.
Many people who said they ride a bike for transportation or to improve their health spoke in favor of bike lanes. Widening Newsome Road, including adding the city’s first bike lanes, would cost the city $279,000. The state would pay $1.1 million.
Mike-o Martelli encouraged council members to add bike lanes not just on Newsome Road but across the city, as well as sidewalks.
“Encouraging people to bike is very important,” he said. “It sends a message to the community that you people as council members, as elected officials, really care about us the citizens, our health and our safety.”
Several people offered proof from other cities of the economic benefits of becoming more bike-friendly, from cutting obesity rates to luring more tourists to adding jobs in the bicycle industry.
Eric Phillips, owner of Skinny Wheels Bike Shop in downtown Salisbury, said bike lanes can increase property values in surrounding neighborhoods and encouraged City Council to designate 1 percent of the city’s transportation budget to making the city more bike-friendly.
Mary James and her son Robin rode their bikes to the council meeting and said they sometimes feel in danger because the city lacks bike lanes.
“We end up most of the time hugging the curbs around the city,” James said. “It seems such a shame in such a small city like this, where many of us could take advantage of getting around on bikes.”
Tyler Cross said he rides his bike to and from work every day on several roads including Newsome, which he called the most treacherous part of his commute.
“That is by far the most dangerous road I ride,” Cross said.
GeoRene Jones said she has started riding for her health and has been nearly run of the road repeatedly. She also advocated for bus service to Julian Road.
“I am a taxpayer, I have a limited income,” Jones said. “But I am happy to pay additional taxes if necessary to support the consideration of my fellow persons who haven’t even the limited resources I have.”
Three residents who live near Newsome Road talked about their concern for pedestrians, many pushing babies in strollers, as they try to navigate the busy road and avoid increasing truck traffic.
The state would pay 80 percent of the cost of widening the road.
“It’s a great deal that I don’t think we can turn down,” Gary Powers said.
With the increasing costs of gas and car maintenance, the city will see more and more cyclists and pedestrians and should prepare its infrastructure to keep them safe, Jim Bundy said.
So many Novant Health Rowan Medical Center employees showed up to support bus service to Julian Road that Mayor Paul Woodson joked, “Who’s running the hospital?”
Without public transportation to the Julian outpatient facilities and health clinics, many poor people are not receiving proper medical care and screenings, said Novant staff and Krista Woolly, executive director for the Community Care Clinic. Novant began building medical offices on Julian 10 years ago.
The only mammography equipment in Rowan County used to help detect breast cancer, other than the mobile mammography unit, is located in the Breast Center at Julian Road. Last year, staff there completed 8,924 mammograms and found 68 cancers, said Shawn Peters, director of radiology.
“In 2014, we have diagnosed 48 and we are only halfway through the year,” Peters said. “How many are we missing because people do not have transportation to get this important test?”
The two biggest barriers to women getting an annual mammogram are insurance and transportation, Peters said. Novant has grants and charity care to cover women who are uninsured, he said.
The city can help fight cancer by extending public transportation to Julian Road, which would eliminate women’s second barrier to mammograms, he said.
Jill McNeely, Novant breast patient navigator, told City Council about a patient who paid someone $10 each way for a trip to Julian Road for her mammogram. When McNeely called the woman to tell her she needed a biopsy, the patient said she did not have $20 for a ride and would have to wait a month until her next social security check.
McNeely picked up the woman herself.
Rowan Medical has $95,000 in grants to pay for procedures for women under 300 percent of the poverty level, McNeely said.
“The key is getting them to the Breast Center,” she said.
People who live in poverty often rely on two methods of transportation, walking and taking the bus, Woolly said. Neither is an option for Julian Road, she said.
DeeDee Wright said she does not support the proposed budget but said perhaps with the tax increase, the West End community will get the sidewalks residents have been asking for for years. She opposed the $1 increase in the garbage fee to pay for an automated single-arm trash truck and new rollout trash carts, saying city workers do not take care of the cans residents already have.
William Peoples opposed bike lanes on Newsome Road, saying riding a bike is a want, not a need. Before building bike lanes, the city first needs to finish other projects, including bus service to Julian Road and the Salisbury Community Park and lights and sidewalks on Old Concord Road under the Interstate 85 bridge.
He favored building sidewalks to Kelsey Scott Park and adding street lights in the West End. More street lights are included in the budget at $40,000.
A resident who said she lives in Rowan Terrace said she was “extremely outraged” over the 2.9 percent water-sewer rate hike and 2.9 cent tax rate increase.
Paula Bohland, interim executive director for Downtown Salisbury Inc., spoke in favor of continuing the downtown facade grants, which are in the proposed budget at $20,000. This year’s $20,000 West Innes Street grants, however, are not included.
State Alexander of Livingstone College asked for sidewalks and more street lights on Old Wilkesboro Road, saying students who walk along the road are in danger of being hit by cars, and some have been robbed at gunpoint due to poor lighting.
In response to the public hearing, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said she and Woodson have been working since January on alternate funding for sidewalks and street lights on Old Concord Road. Woodson said the city cannot shift money from a state-approved transportation project like bike lanes and move it to another project.
He said council members will consider all comments made during the hearing when they hold their budget workshop at 10 a.m. Monday and Tuesday at 1 Water St.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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