Spencer compromises on Salisbury Avenue restriping project in split vote

Published 12:06 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

SPENCER — Spencer approved a restriping project on Salisbury Avenue after compromising on a detail of the project.

The the original proposed restriping would have reduced the number of lanes to one in each direction along the road with a center turn lane and flanking bicycle lanes from 17th Street to Long Ferry Road.

The board rejected that proposed restriping project in a split 3-2 vote on Tuesday, but took another vote on returning the pattern to four-lanes at Jefferson Street instead.

Aldermen Sam Morgan, Andrew Howe and Rashid Muhammed voted against the original measure. Alderwoman Pat Sledge and Mayor Pro Tem Patti Secreast voted for the project. Alderman Steve Miller was absent. Mayor Jonathan Williams voiced his support for the project.

After some discussion on next steps on restriping after the first vote failed, Howe made a motion to take up the project with the reduced length of pattern change.

Howe said he voted no because he believes the road heading out of town has the character of a highway after passing the Food Lion location. Muhammed and Morgan stuck with their no votes on the issue but How reversed his, so the measure passed.

The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to resurface that section of road and the question was how road would be restriped. The changes should cost the town nothing. Works should begin late this year.

The meeting attracted a litany of public comments on the issue.

Most of the commenters had the same basic concerns: Reducing the number of lanes could create traffic jams that would affect the public and emergency vehicles, increase safety issues and pose an issue as more commercial development comes to the area.

“If it ain’t broke, lets not fix it,” one commenter said.

Some commenters noted the plan’s references to downtown Salisbury’s lane layout and pushed against the idea moving in that direction would be a good thing.

“I drive from Salisbury Avenue to Jake Alexander every day for work,” Lisa Monroe said. “I hate going through Salisbury. If you get behind a car going 20 miles an hour you’re stuck through Salisbury.”

Brown said some vehicle are too large for roadside parking through Salisbury and invade the travel lanes.

Not all the feedback was negative. Jim Gobbel spoke in favor of reworking the striping to add bike lanes for traffic calming benefits.

“I know coming from Salisbury on the three-lane roads they have up there, once people hit Spencer city limits, zoom, they’re gone,” Gobbel said. “Unsafe, they’re speeding.”

Gobbel said he and his wife walk on Salisbury Avenue often and can feel wind from passing cars.

“Traffic calming, this is what it’s all about. It’s about safety,” Gobbel said, adding the board has “done their homework” on the issue, commending the town’s planning staff.

Someone who submitted a comment agreed the change would be positive and believes the change would improve his safety as a runner and cyclist, saying sometimes drivers swerve and curse at him while he is exercising.

Town Planner Steve Blount said he started hearing concerns recently and said he appreciates people coming to the meeting to speak their minds about the issue. He made a point of addressing some of the issues in a presentation to the board.

He reviewed the changes that, in theory, would provide more community connection, improve local health, increase property values, attract more businesses and provide environmental benefits.

“Everybody wants certain nice things in their town,” Blount said. “They want nicer restaurants, they want places to shop, they want better jobs, they want nice neighborhoods, and you don’t just get those things by wishing.”

Blount said the restriping is supported by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s design program and reducing the number of lanes, adding bike lances and a dedicated turn lane would have a traffic-calming effect on Salisbury Avenue. He noted the wide, flat surface implies a high speed limit.

Blount pointed out cyclists have a right to use roadways and without bike lanes they force vehicles to slow down behind them.

Blount said the town tried to look at each concern raised and address it. He proposed adapting the bike lane to a right-hand turn lane with traffic cones when the N.C. Transportation Museum is hosting an event. Some commenters noted traffic tends to back up around Hendrix Barbecue in Spencer. Blount said town staff have requested the property owner make a change to the drive thru traffic flow that will reduce the need for cars to stop in the roadway.

“The problem is not created by bike lanes, it is not created by the number of traffic lanes, it’s created by the wonderful barbecue at Hendrix Barbecue and people wanting to line up to get in there and get it,” Blount said.

He said Salisbury Avenue and Long Street are not considered critical routes for emergency traffic by the NCDOT. He noted some business owners have voiced their support for the change as well, including Pinocchio’s Anthony Nero and N.C. Museum of Doys, Tolls and Miniatures co-founder Beth Nance.

He pointed to a Federal Highway Safety Commission studied that pointed to a significant decrease in the number of wrecks when a “road diet” is added to a roadway as well.

Spencer Police Chief Mike File said he polled officers on the issue and some were concerned on traffic backups, but vehicles should be moving slower.

“There was a positive and negative brought up on that,” File said.

He said there was also a concern about wrecks resulting from a lack of familiarity with the new traffic pattern. On the plus side File said the change would probably lead to a decrease in vehicles illegally passing school buses on Salisbury Avenue. He also said it would ease pedestrian crossing to and from the transportation museum, and the department’s traffic control during events.

File said there is no doubt there are many speeding drivers on the road.

Fire Chief Michael Lanning said there are unknowns for the project, and his main concerns revolve around traffic congestion, but traffic calming is a positive. He echoed he has concerns about the education period as people adjust to the new traffic pattern as well. He said the department’s preference will be to travel in the turn lane during emergency responses.

“We have problems with the way it is now. We’ll probably have problems if we change it,” Lanning said.

Town Alderman Sam Morgan pointed out there are sections in Salisbury without bike lanes and claimed the entire project’s only purpose is to restrict traffic to one lane in each direction. He he proposed town narrow the lanes, keep the four lanes and add bike lanes to Salisbury Avenue. He said the town should wait until there is more demand. He said the community is divided on the issue.

“What I don’t like is having this shoved down my throat,” he said.

Later in the meeting Morgan said he thinks there are alternatives, but he did not like the restriping plan.

Howe said was is conflicted, but he hopes the board will not let the issue get in the way of all the good things the town is doing.

“I have really struggled with this one,” Howe said.

Alderwoman Pat Sledge said she struggled with the issue as well, but said she thinks the change would improve safety along the road and has heard from residents who told her they would ride their bicycles if they could do so safely.

Mayor Jonathan Williams said the concerns are valid, but they are mostly speculation about the unknown and worst-case scenarios.

“It’s somewhat of a risk we take if we move forward with it, but in order to make progress we have to take risks,” Williams said.

He said traffic calming is the most important part of the issue for him.

“We’ve had businesses that have been ruined by drivers that have run into them, we’ve had multiple planters — that are town property — that have been hit, we’ve had a house that’s been damaged,” Williams said.

Williams said he believes the reward outweighed the risk.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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