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Accommodating cyclists among concerns for Downtown Main Street Plan

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — As the city continues to gather public input for a multi-phased Downtown Main Street Plan, some locals say the current version doesn’t include enough opportunities for bicyclists.

City staff members are currently gathering public input on a multi-phased streetscape plan for 10 blocks along Salisbury’s Main Street. The first part of the plan, which is set to take place sometime before the end of this year, involves re-striping. The second phase includes a vision for sidewalks and parking improvements.

The area in the plan — formulated from guidance from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Downtown Salisbury Inc., city staff and local residents — spans from the Monroe Street intersection with South Main Street to the railroad tracks on North Main Street. The purpose of the plan is to make infrastructure improvements for parking, lighting, curbs and gutters and storm system sewers.

The plan includes left turn lanes throughout the entire corridor, with designated areas for bus stops and unloading zones. As one travels farther north in the corridor, parking will transition from diagonal on both sides to a split of diagonal parking on one side and parallel parking on the other.

Bike lanes, however, are only currently being proposed for the area north of the main downtown square, from Kerr Street to Cemetery Street. There, the area allows for about 7 feet of room for bike lanes.

Mary Rosser, director of The Pedal Factory Community Bike Center and member of the city’s Greenway Committee, told the Post that protected bike lanes would benefit the city and add to its vibrancy. Rosser said she rides her bicycle to the downtown area from Statesville Boulevard every day, but the dangers posed to pedestrians in the main square force her to take alternative routes. Additionally, weekly bike rides hosted by the Pedal Factory don’t allow riders to fully appreciate the downtown area as they always take alternative routes around the main square.

Implementing more bicycle-safe accommodations attracts more people to visit and live downtown, Rosser said, adding the idea that there isn’t enough parking stems from a hesitance to walk further.

“You’ve got to make it look like a place where people want to hang out,” Rosser said. “And you don’t do that by crowding it with cars. I think that the city has given us ample public parking.”

Additionally, more bike racks in places that make sense should be included in the plan, Rosser said.

The plan includes parallel parking on both sides in the area between Monroe Street to Horah Street, with left turn lanes in both directions. Trees, lights and furnishings would exist within the first 5 feet from the curb, with 15 additional feet of sidewalk.

Then, when moving to the area between Bank and Fisher streets, parallel parking would be on one side and diagonal parking on the other, with 5 fewer feet from the curb in that area.

Diagonal parking would be included for both sides from Fisher Street to Innes Street, which allows for a higher volume of parking as there is more activity in this area. The area would include 15-feet sidewalk and loading zones.

Dylan Horne, a bicycle mechanic at The Pedal Factory and member of the Greenway Committee, said the plan could include more alternatives since it’s still early in the process. Horne said the streets should be designed for all to use, including those who don’t own or travel in a vehicle, though doing so requires a shift to urbanization and walkable communities.

“We need to broaden our perspective to make it more equitable to all residents,” Horne said. “The long-term vision of a Main Street is where people go to celebrate their community. This is an opportunity to bring it back to more of a community street instead of a main road.”

Though city staff members are currently receiving feedback for the entire multi-phased plan, the first phase only includes restriping and repaving. The North Carolina Department of Transportation will make a visit sometime between March and November to restripe the streets. Horne said NCDOT’s visit is an opportunity for the city to capitalize on the opportunity to make changes to the current streets.

Hannah Jacobson, the city’s community planning director, told the Post that NCDOT will cover most of the costs, which include fees related to repaving and painting travel lanes. However, the city will have to cover the cost of the parking paint used in addition to any bicycle symbols implemented.

Jacobson added that though “sharrows” were not included in the preliminary plan, they will be added in later versions. Sharrows are pavement markings that improve cycling on narrow roads by indicating to drivers that they should be prepared to share the road with cyclists. And though bike lanes aren’t extended throughout the heart of downtown in the plan, the intention is to direct bikers to parallel streets that get them through downtown.

She added that the second phase of the plan only eliminates one parking space overall. Some stretches of the downtown area will gain more spots following the restriping and second phase, such as the stretch from West Horah Street to West Monroe Street, which will eventually have 13 parking spots.

Pedestrian safety concerns will be addressed with the implementation of “bump-outs,” which will improve visibility for both pedestrians and drivers, as well as reduced traffic speed with the shift to a three-lane Main Street, Jacobson said.

“It’s challenging to maximize parking and bike lanes all the way through due to the size of the streets,” she said. “We can’t fit everything you want to fit into the plan.”

Horne suggested, however, reallocating street space by eliminating a middle turn lane and using that space to implement bike lanes. None of the streets currently have turning lanes, he added, and implementing them would require changes to traffic signals.

Horne has b0th a master’s degree and a doctorate in civil engineering.

Once the city has a finalized master plan, it can apply for grants to fund the second phase of the project. Jacobson said staff are holding onto the hope that President-Elect Joe Biden’s administration will formulate an aggressive infrastructure plan, but they will also apply for a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development Transportation Grant.

The city will continue to receive public input before recommending suggestions to its engineering design firm for the project, McAdams, which is based in Charlotte. The firm will then produce another set of plans before city staff present the plans to city council members. Jacobson said a date to bring the plans to city council members again has not been set because city staff want to receive ample feedback before moving forward.

Additionally, staff have conducted more targeted outreach to local property owners and business owners via one-on-one sessions. Last week, city staff talked to about 25 of them, Jacobson said.

In the meantime, city staff are summarizing all of the public input received so far and will create a frequently asked questions document to help answer the community’s common questions.

“People go to downtowns as alternatives to indoor malls or big box stores, not only for the uniqueness of merchandise found in stores, but for the experience,” Jacobson said. “A streetscape that carves space out for pedestrians means that they might stroll through downtown, spend more time downtown and spend more money downtown. In that regard, this is more than a transportation project — it’s an economic development project.”

More public input meetings are scheduled, with the next meeting taking place via Zoom on Thursday when the Neighborhood Leaders Alliance meets at 4 p.m. Locals can tune in virtually by visiting us02web.zoom.us/j/84157323179.

Another virtual opportunity for public input is scheduled for Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. Locals can visit us02web.zoom.us/j/85452162365.

Additionally, two outdoor, in-person public engagement meetings are scheduled for Jan. 22 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Koco Java on North Main Street and Jan. 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. near Sidewalk Deli on South Main Street. Those outdoor events depend upon weather conditions.

The proposed plan can be viewed by visiting salisburync.gov/Government/Community-Planning-Services/Community-Plans/Downtown-Main-Street-Plan.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

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