High Point formalizes plan for ‘complete streets’

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Green Door Wheel Works, a bike shop owned by Steve Hollingsworth on West English Road
Green Door Wheel Works, a bike shop on West English Road

by Jordan Green

City staff and citizens are drawing up a policy to right-size streets, making them more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists in High Point.

Green Door Wheel Works, the bike shop owned by Steve Hollingsworth, sets on West English Road, a four-lane thoroughfare that cuts a path through High Point’s historically industrial core in the southwestern part of the city.

The street still hosts its share of manufacturing facilities, along with machine shops and car lots, but Hollingsworth’s business is a rare retail outpost in the corridor’s mix. As demand on streets like English Road — by trucks moving goods and materials and workers commuting to factory jobs — has diminished over the years, motorists’ speeds have increased accordingly.

“The biggest complaint I get is parking,” Hollingsworth said. “If I paved some area, all I would get is six spaces at most, and at a substantial cost. If more small businesses open on West English Road, maybe we could go to the city and say, ‘Hey, why don’t we take this down to two lanes and make on-street parking?’ Right now, it looks like blight. It wasn’t built for retail.

“Looking at our assets, High Point has a lot of pavement,” he continued. “Why don’t we paint bike lanes and parking spaces? It’s a superhighway that moves people through High Point, but it should be a net that captures all that’s best about humanity.”

A community advocate and entrepreneur, Hollingsworth received an invitation from Wendy Fuscoe, the  core city administrator, to serve on a committee to draw up a “complete streets” policy for the city. The city’s prosperity and livability committee, chaired by Councilman Jason Ewing, had asked staff to create a committee to design a policy for consideration by city council. Transportation Director Mark McDonald said the committee includes a cross-section of city staff including planners and engineers, with a complement of stakeholders, including a transportation engineer who designs streets for developers, a representative of the Triad Real Estate & Building Industries Coalition and community leader Dorothy Darr, along with Hollingsworth.

cyclist and pedestrian
A cyclist and pedestrian cross paths on West Kivett Drive.

The “complete streets” concept is not radical or particularly new. In 2009, the state Transportation Department adopted a complete streets policy, which replaces an auto-dominant paradigm of transportation planning with a multimodal model. As a result the state is required to consider and incorporate different modes of transportation when building new projects and making improvements to existing streets. In addition to making travel easier, the policy is geared towards encouraging the use of alternative transportation, promoting sustainability, increasing connectivity and improving safety.

A website dedicated to the complete-streets concept maintained by the state Department of Transportation identifies Charlotte as a leader in the movement. The Queen City has been applying the concept to street development since 2005 and adopted a set of guidelines consistent with the complete-streets philosophy in 2007. The state website also recognizes Winston-Salem, along with Asheville, Cary, and Hickory, for using narrow lanes, raised medians, landscaping and on-street parking as “traffic-calming measures” to make streets safer for people using non-motorized transportation.

Similarly, McDonald said the city of High Point has been trying to apply multimodal principles to street design for several years without a formal policy. The complete-streets policy, when adopted, will provide his department with consistency and better direction, he said.

“All the projects that we have completed with our 2004 bond referendum, including Hartley Drive, Barrow Road, Old Winston Road, Deep River Road and Lindsay Street — all those streets incorporated complete-streets concepts like sidewalks, pedestrian signals at all intersections and narrower lanes. We used 11-foot lanes instead of 12-foot lanes. It might not seem like much, but it makes a big difference: It creates more friction for traffic traveling on the street and encourages people to slow down, and it makes for a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians. It also reduces our costs to take a foot off the street, and it reduces the amount of right-of-way we have to purchase.”

McDonald added that the city reduced the number of lanes on three streets from what had been originally planned.

“Lindsay Street, Oakview Road and Old Winston Road were all intended to be larger streets than what we ended up building,” he said. “It made a better environment, did not adversely affect traffic and saved a lot of money. Also, when we had West Green Drive resurfaced we also restriped it. Instead of four lanes we striped it as three lanes and added a bike lane. It was our first experiment with bike lanes, and we’re looking at doing more of that.”

The complete-streets committee has met only once. McDonald said all the members are busy, and he’ll feel lucky if the committee is able to meet once a month. With that in mind, he anticipates a long process and it’s way too early to predict when they will be ready to recommend a policy for approval by city council. Ultimately, he said, the complete-streets policy will likely result in some changes to the city ordinance and new guidelines for staff to follow.

Hollingsworth said the fact that the prosperity and livability committee tasked staff with drawing up a complete-streets policy, along with a recent decision by city council to create a public plaza from an underutilized parking lot in front of the library, suggests the city is on the right track.

“It’s a huge chunk of pavement that’s being underutilized,” he said. “Now, it’s being re-used for the benefit of the whole community.”

Hollingsworth said he sees the city’s current auto-dominated street design as a legacy of a different time rather than the product of active malice.

“If you walk, you are very much made to feel unwelcome,” he said. “Most streets, if you ride a bike you are made to feel unwelcome. A good example is Westchester Avenue: You’ve got a Food Lion, and then across the street there’s working-class housing. There’s no crosswalk, so if you don’t have a car you can’t get to the shopping center that’s right across the street.

“At one point it made sense to have eight lanes and a turn lane,” Hollingsworth added. “You had semi-tractor trailers and factory workers coming to work. Now you have a shift in demographics. The job of a community advocate is to ask what we need at this point, not what have we always done.”

  • Steve McLeoad

    Most of the small retail shops on English, and similar streets in High Point, closed when the traffic and employees of the larger industrial facilities closed and moved outside of town. The idea that making the streets two lane will bring back the small shops is insane. The shops won’t return until the people do, and the people aren’t coming back until industry and manufacturing come back, which is hard to do in such an expensive place as High Point.

    Steve Hollingsworth leased a building with no parking spaces. Why? He can move a block in either direction and lease a plethora of buildings that do have plenty of parking spaces.

    All this talk about resizing streets and return to the traffic problems that required widening them to begin with is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and thinking that’ll keep it floating.

  • RR Kinney

    1. There are very few pedestrians in High Point. Those that are there are generally those who cannot afford alternate means of transportation. The idea that narrowing streets and slowing down traffic will cause people to stop driving and start walking is absurd.

    2. Mr. Hollingsworth opened a retail establishment in an industrial area. His building was never designed nor intended to be a retail outlet and thus was not built with a public parking area. He made a bad choice in terms of location.

    3. The parking lot in front of the library has been highly utilized since it was built – as parking for library patrons. In fact, most days it sees over 90% occupancy. The continue statement that it is “underutilized” is pure bunk and was started by a person who drove by the property on a Sunday when the facility was closed and therefore deeded the empty lot, “underutilized.” Get your facts straight.

    4. There is a cross walk along Burton Avenue, across Westchester Drive to the Food Lion. Again, get your facts straight. There is a stoplight there to boot. Anyone can walk across that road either there at Burton or a bit higher up on Ward. There is no impediment to crossing Westchester at either location.

    5. The few pedestrians that do exist in that area are not the type with the disposable income to sustain retail shops and stores. This continued fantasy that High Point can become a retail utopia is highly flawed – a city can only support so much retail and until more living wage jobs are created through industry and manufacturing, further attempts to sustain retail through street narrowings and library plazas will only prove the latest failures in a long string of similar dating back to the early 1970’s.

  • Randy T.

    Whenever I hear someone call the library parking lot “underutilized” it tells me they don’t actually use the library. That lot is so “utilized” that some days it is difficult to find a parking space mid-day. In fact it has been so “utilized” for so many years that it has had to be expanded twice. One this plaza thing is built it is going to be even worse for those of us attempting to find parking space there.

    As far as dieting High Point’s major thoroughfares — bad idea. Very bad. Most of those roads also carry the Hi-Tran buses which stop every couple of blocks. If these people have their way we’ll be back to the traffic gridlock that necessitated widening those roads to begin with.

  • Steve McLeoad

    As I read this article again, the absurdity of the statements made by persons interviewed for it become even more obvious. Consider:

    “It wasn’t built for retail” And yet he opened a retail shop there, still lacking signage as well.

    “If more small businesses open on English…” They won’t – they few that were there have closed due to lack of traffic. Choking the street down won’t revive those few poor residential areas left along English, nor bring back the industry that brought the people there to begin with.

    When a city turns it’s operational ideas over to persons who have no clue how business works; no clue as to residential and financial demographics, the ideas are going to be just as obtuse as the people who proffer them.

    And when Mr. Hollingsworth shuts his doors, he’ll blame the 4-lane street running by his front door, rather than his poor choice of location and business smarts. In all my years of running a business, I have never heard any businessman say he’d rather have less, rather than more, traffic running by his front door.

  • Observer

    Maybe if Mr Hollingsworth took the time to put some kind of a sign on his building someone would know he is there.
    Guess he’s waiting for a city paid “facade grant” to cover that little item all while he lives and parties in the “business” he runs.
    Lots of stupid old timers started businesses with nothing but borrowed money and hard and long hours and expected nothing in return but the fruits of a good idea or the end of one that wasn’t.
    Get a grip: nobody in the real world owes you a damned thing.

  • Mike Clark

    So do you people really like cars flying down city streets at 55+ miles an hour? I see it all the time on Johnson and Main. There are “very few pedestrians” in High Point because High Point is so damn pedestrian unfriendly. Go try to cross main or Johnson on foot sometime.

  • Jordan Green

    Observer, your takedown of Steve Hollingsworth might be more compelling if it wasn’t entirely premised on your imagined notion that he’s “waiting for a city paid ‘facade grant’ to cover the cost of signage.