It should come as no surprise that most of Greensboro’s cycling is concentrated in downtown and the Spring Garden Street corridor that runs westward to UNCG and beyond. The city has installed more than 100 short-term bike racks, mostly around downtown. But UNCG has truly embraced the trend, installing 866 bicycle parking facilities and four bike-repair stations, according to the Greensboro bi-ped plan.
“They’ve got very few parking spaces, compared to the number of staff and students,” Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator Daniel Amstutz told me. “They’re really trying to push alternative transportation.”
The city’s marquee alternative transportation project is the Downtown Greenway, which when complete will circle downtown and form a hub for a future greenway network. Only 0.7 miles of the planned four-mile greenway is currently complete, including the southwest corner and a short segment on the north side.
Although the greenways are considered a vital part of the city’s pedestrian transportation network, the system so far has limited connectivity and tilts to the affluent northwest side of town. The Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway, named after a rail line that once connected Greensboro to a granite mine in Mount Airy, runs from Summerfield down to Markland Drive in Greensboro, hugging Battleground Avenue. The Lake Daniel Greenway carves a northwesterly arc from Cone Hospital to Wesley Long Hospital adjacent to old-line neighborhoods like Westerwood, Lake Daniel and Latham Park. And the Bicentennial Greenway cuts skirts the suburbs from Guilford Courthouse National Military Park to West Market Street near Piedmont Triad International Airport.
The completion of the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway and the western leg of the Downtown Greenway will require the conversion of a rail spur line. One major hurdle fell away in November 2014 when Chandler Concrete, the last rail user, sold its property and terminated its service with the railroad company, according to the bi-ped plan. The eventual connection of the two greenways dovetails with developer and restaurateur Marty Kotis’ ongoing development of the area he’s dubbed “Midtown.”
The Southeast Greenway is one of the few sections of network that reaches into predominantly African-American areas of the city. Branching off the southwestern corner of the Downtown Greenway, it follows Freeman Mill Road to Sussman Street, where a crosswalk across Randleman Road connects it to the Smith Homes public housing community. The bi-ped plan characterizes the trail as supporting the city’s “goal to improve and enhance greenway connections in underserved areas.”
Although the bi-ped plan states that the greenway was completed in 2013, the asphalt looks worn with uneven edging. During a visit just before dusk on Sunday, I couldn’t find a single person on the greenway. I also found myself alone during a late-afternoon run on the same greenway a couple months ago.
On a forbidding stretch of the Southeast Greenway between Gate City Boulevard and Whitman Street, there were few features of visual interest, with the exception of a flock of geese facing down a fleet of industrial earthmovers at the construction site of a new Boys and Girls Club by the Warnersville neighborhood.
As for bike lanes, in the absence of bond funds set aside for the initiative, new investment has to piggyback on larger road projects. Amstutz said that the widening of Horse Pen Creek Road at the city’s northwest fringe will include a bike lane. And the city is considering adding a cycletrack separated from motorized traffic on a downtown section of Church Street that runs past the Central Library.
“Bike lanes are going to be a part of Lindsay Street, Yanceyville Street, and a lot of roads on the east side,” Amstutz said. “In general, there’s less congestion on the east side. English Street is another one. We want to fill in the gaps on Florida Street and Meadowview Road.”
As the Downtown Greenway is completed and more cyclists come into the center city, Amstutz said he anticipates additional demand for cycling infrastructure on downtown streets.
The city’s interest in improving connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians leads to a focus on “missing links.” For example, Amstutz said city staff has talked about adding bike lanes on Aycock Street between Walker Avenue and Benjamin Parkway to provide a link between UNCG and the Lake Daniel Greenway, but the ramps off Friendly Avenue and West Market Street pose a challenge.
Amstutz said the city plans to improve the crosswalk at Aycock Street and Walker Avenue, a chokepoint for UNCG students walking to class in the morning that is identified in the bi-ped plan as the city’s most dangerous intersection for pedestrians.
Plans to address Westover Terrace and Campus Drive, identified as the third most dangerous intersection for pedestrians, are less definite. The Westover Terrace crossing connects Grimsley High School to the Lake Daniel neighborhood.
Amstutz said staff has talked about dieting Westover Terrace from Benjamin Parkway to Wendover Avenue by reducing car lanes and adding bike lanes, and adding a median and protective refuge for pedestrians.
The project is still at the conceptual stage because of reservations by city traffic engineers, Amstutz said, adding, “It’s kind of on the upper bounds of their comfort level.” When a section of roadway carries about 20,000 vehicles a day, as Westover Terrace does, the level of traffic is generally considered too high to make it a good candidate for dieting.
“I’m not an engineer, but my opinion or understanding is that it’s more of a convenience factor” Amstutz said. “It’s more of a traffic-flow factor about getting people through the intersection. It’s hard to say it would be a safety [concern]. When you reduce the lanes you’re forcing people to go slower because the lanes are also narrower. Safety should be improve d when it comes to taking a roadway with a lot of traffic and trying to shrink it.”
There’s no hard data on the number of people who are walking and cycling in either city. The Greensboro bi-ped plan suggests “walking for recreation is not uncommon,” adding the practice appears to be on a continual decline as a means of transportation.
Whether for recreation, health or necessity, for some it’s essential.
I encountered Michael P. Funderburk, a 31-year-old landscaper, walking home from church on Gate City Boulevard at dusk on Sunday. He said he took up walking at his girlfriend’s suggestion.
“In this day and age people my age should get out and walk instead of watching TV and playing videogames,” he told me. “It’s been encouraged by our government for decades to improve health and wellbeing.”
He had some trouble with the heat earlier this summer, so now he generally schedules his walks for the evening.
“Take a bottle of water,” he advised. “Every 15 minutes sit down and take a break. Don’t drink no soda. Gatorade’s okay, but soda actually makes you more thirsty. I have heart problems, so I easily get overheated.”
In Winston-Salem, Matthew Burczyk said he expects that downtown redevelopment and increased density will drive more biking and walking trips. But outlying neighborhoods will pose a greater challenge.
“You can put in walking trails, but when a school and a store is far away, people are going to continue to drive there,” Burczyk said.
While an overlapping network of sidewalks, bike lanes and greenways is a stated goal of the city, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian planning document acknowledges that “it will be many years before the Winston-Salem urban area has a complete network” of the three types of facilities.
“It took 60 to 70 years to get where we are now from World War II,” Burczyk said. “It’s going to take multiple years to get walkable and bike-able communities. It’s going to take time to retrofit the old streets and put in sidewalk.”
Walking and biking, by the numbers
Percentage of streets in the Winston-Salem metro planning area that lack sidewalks: 65
Number of years it will take to bring Greensboro sidewalks rated as “poor” up to standard, at the city’s current rate of spending: 82
Number of pedestrian crashes in Winston-Salem between 2002 and 2011: 700+
Number of bicycle crashes in Winston-Salem between 2002 and 2011: 300+
Number of bicycle crashes in Greensboro between 2007 and 2012: 288
Number of pedestrian crashes involving a motorist in Greensboro between 2007 and 2012: 848
Number of pedestrian crashes at Greensboro’s most dangerous intersection, South Aycock Street and Walker Avenue, between 2007 and 2012: 7
Number of pedestrian crashes at Greensboro’s third most dangerous intersection, Campus Drive and Westover Terrace, between 2007 and 2012: 4
Amount of money earmarked for street resurfacing in Winston-Salem (in millions of dollars): 15.3
Amount of money the city of Greensboro would have to spend on street resurfacing to meet immediate needs (in millions of dollars): 97.7