Rendering courtesy of Stimmel Associates
by Jordan Green
Local officials in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County are seeking federal funds to build a bicycle and pedestrian path along the renovated Business 40 through downtown.
A proposed pedestrian path along the reconstructed Business 40 through downtown Winston-Salem could put cyclists on an equal footing with automobiles.
Elected officials from Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and smaller municipalities agreed on June 18 to allocate almost $1.5 million in federal funds for the proposed multi-use path, which would connect Baptist Hospital to Liberty Street. The decision-making body, known as the transportation advisory committee for the Winston-Salem Metropolitan Planning Organization, includes Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, along with city council members Dan Besse and James Taylor, and Forsyth County Commissioners Walter Marshall and Dave Plyler. Besse said the motion to approve the funds passed with a strong majority, with support from the smaller municipalities in the county. Joines and Taylor were unable to attend the meeting, but both expressed support. Councilman Robert Clark voted as an alternate.
Besse said local officials suddenly learned about the availability of federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds and needed to act quickly to authorize staff to meet a July 15 deadline to apply for the funds. During the special called meeting on June 18, the transportation advisory committee also approved about $500,000 to buy a new bus for the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transit from the same grant. The federal funds are designated for any project that improves air quality by providing alternatives to automobile transportation.
Besse said with the state Department of Transportation renovating the bridges and roadways in the Business 40 corridor through downtown, the city has a unique opportunity to add infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.
“This particular path would go a long way towards providing that safe, comfortable cycling and pedestrian link right across the heart of the city,” he said. “It’s coming up now because we have a very short window of opportunity to take advantage of the reconstruction of Business 40 through the city center to get this facility added. If we don’t seize the opportunity now we have lost it for two generations.”
Lee French, chairman of the nonprofit Creative Corridors Coalition, made a similar point last week about the opportunity to make a dramatic visual statement with iconic arches and other betterments along the expressway, which cuts an artificial valley through the city just south of downtown.
“It was our turn finally to get a redo on this aging infrastructure that was constructed in the 1950s,” French said. “Given that, we asked ourselves the question: What would it take to do something special, something that would not only symbolize our aspirations, but would actually be a bona fide and tangible strategic development to support the capital investment that has been made?”
The city contracted with Stimmel Associates, a local architecture firm to assess the feasibility of a pedestrian path and draw up a preliminary design. RS&H acted a co-consultant on the project, with primary responsibility for the design of the path. A map of the proposed path by Stimmel Associates shows the alignment along Business 40 between Baptist Hospital in the west and Liberty Street in the east, with access to BB&T Park at Green Street, along with linkages to the West End, West Salem, Washington Park and Southside neighborhoods. The multiuse path would intersect with two pedestrian bridges at Green Street and the Strollway. The rendering proposes bike lanes on First Street, with a future bridge across the railroad tracks connecting to a future rail trail running through the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter. In addition to becoming a significant hub for research and knowledge industry in downtown, the quarter is also burgeoning as a creative district, with the advent of Bailey Park and a host of small businesses clustered around Krankies Coffee.
“I think judging from the kind of reaction I get from my constituents and the big turnout at the last public works committee where we were discussing this project, there is a great deal of interest particularly from cyclists in the area of Ardmore and the Baptist Hospital complex who want to ride downtown,” said Besse, who represents the Southwest Ward. Besse, who chairs city council’s public works committee, is an ardent proponent of alternative transportation and an avid runner.
The desire for enhanced cycling infrastructure in Winston-Salem is balanced against a political prerogative to rebuild aesthetically pleasing bridges — a priority particularly for Councilwoman Molly Leight, who represents Old Salem, West Salem, Washington Park and other neighborhoods in the South Ward that will be connected to downtown by the bridges. During a presentation on June 15, French expressed confidence that the city and Creative Corridors will be able to come up with adequate funds to pay for the bridge enhancements, including $3 million in bond funds earmarked for the Business 40 renovation. Should the federal government approve the transportation advisory committee’s request for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds, a separate pot of money would be available for the pedestrian path.
Besse said the proposed Business 40 multi-use path will be both functional and aesthetically appealing.
“Anybody that suggests that an elevated multi-use path along the side of the highway through central Winston-Salem isn’t aesthetically pleasing hasn’t gone out and stood on one of the bridges and looked at the skyline and the sunset,” he said. “There are some amazing views. That’s a win-win. It satisfies both the functionality and aesthetics tests.”
Christy Turner, who is managing the project for Stimmel Associates, acknowledged there are some challenges to building a multi-use path along a major highway. Among other constraints, the path must stay within the state Department of Transportation’s right of way.
“There’s a perception that it’s not an attractive place for a multi-use path,” Turner said. “Our reason is it’s more intended to be an alternative transportation facility than a recreational facility, which is how we often view multi-use paths.”
To protect cyclists and pedestrians from vehicles, Stimmel said the path will run at a different grade from the roadway — mostly above, but in one instance at the Broad Street bridge, below. In the one section where the path and the roadway are at the same grade, near the ballpark, crash fencing will be used to protect pedestrians from vehicles.
Turner said Stimmel Associates is still finalizing cost estimates for the pedestrian path, and will present final numbers to city council next month.
As US cities have focused development inward, transportation dollars are increasingly being spent on infrastructure for non-automobile uses. The new Tilikum Crossing, which bridges the Willamette River in Portland, Ore., is reserved for pedestrians, cyclists, public transit and emergency vehicles while excluding automobiles altogether. The bridge was designed by Donald McDonald, who also designed the new Green Street bridge and a pair of double arches to be built at the future intersection of Research Parkway and Highway 52 in Winston-Salem.
Turner said Winston-Salem wouldn’t be the first US city to wed a multi-use path to a downtown expressway, but it’s still a relatively novel concept.
“Australia has several examples, and in Europe there’s several successful examples,” she said. “It’s more of a multinational thing and we’re just picking up on it in the US.”