It Just Might Work: Street dieting

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by Jordan Green

While ideas like using shipping containers to create provisional retail kiosks are evidently too radical for polite conversation, a proposed street-dieting — a tool that has been used to salutary effect in virtually every other American city — has plunged High Point into a controversy from which it may never recover.

The paid consultants who are studying the impact on traffic will inevitably come down on the side of dieting because they’re traffic engineers who are conscientious of the trends in their industry across the country. The city council — assuming it isn’t replaced by the voters in November — will inevitably find a reason to say no to street-dieting because they’re hostages to the notion that the way things are is the way things will always be, and what they have is the best of all worlds.

City council members, candidates and others who should know better like to argue the point that before the city focuses on walkability it needs some businesses to walk to. In fact, the strip of North Main Street that is a candidate for dieting is chock-a-block with businesses, from Hampton’s Restaurant at JH Adams Inn and Golden B Restaurant to Blue Bourbon Jacks bar, Simon Jewelers and the Grassy Knoll gift shop. Businesses further up the street that stand to benefit from the ripple effect of lane reduction nearby include Grace’s Flower Shop, Blue Zucchini restaurant and Blue Rock Pizza & Tap.

The strip is an almost perfect candidate for it: A service alley runs parallel to North Main Street along the east side from Lexington Avenue to Parkway Avenue with ample parking. The numerous driveways on North Main Street could be closed off, and visitors could park in back. North Main Street could be refurbished with wide sidewalks, trees, benches, bike racks and café dining.

Opponents of street-dieting in High Point appear to be afraid that if motorists are inconvenienced to slow down below 45 mph they’ll stop coming altogether. That’s nonsense. Dieting would actually encourage more people to come by car. Under the current conditions, turning left out of a parking lot is a harrowing invitation to get T-boned. Calming the traffic would actually bring more cars. But if the destination is worth it, what’s the rush? There’s an underlying current of civic low self-esteem beneath the objections to dieting.

We don’t just need it in High Point. We need dieting on several streets in Greensboro, including High Point Road and South Elm-Eugene Street, too. The streets are overbuilt, encouraging motorists to fly through. Meanwhile, the numerous people who live along the two corridors are voting with their feet by walking into the middle of the road instead of going down the long blocks to a proper crosswalk. Reducing them from five to three lanes, using on-street parking as a buffer to protect pedestrians and installing wide sidewalks would give the streets proper dignity.

There is already a rich fabric of residential communities, businesses and social-service agencies in place. Slowing down traffic would make them places worth noting rather than pass-through territory. Improving the appeal of properties with street frontage would increase their value. Again, it’s worth slowing down for a worthwhile destination.

High Point will probably take a pass on street-dieting, along with much of the rest of the advances of the 21st Century. Greensboro should keep progressing.