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.
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.”