Proposed Winston-Salem bond ignores residents’ request for sidewalks

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One resident cited Cherry Street in a comment card submitted to staff, writing, "Many older citizens use wheelchairs in the street — safety concern."

Winston-Salem residents identified street resurfacing and sidewalks as top priorities for a proposed $122 million bond. City council members are setting aside $13.6 million for street resurfacing, but a capital-needs list includes no funds specifically set aside for sidewalks.

A panel of Winston-Salem City Council took the first step towards putting a $122 million bond on the November election ballot on Monday.

The proposed bond includes $43.7 million in public debt for transportation, $31.0 million for parks and recreation, $21.1 million for public safety facilities, $14.5 million for economic development and $11.7 million for housing.

“Today’s the first step in the legal process to call a bond referendum on Nov. 6, 2018,” Winston-Salem Chief Financial Officer Lisa Saunders told council members. Three members of the finance committee — council members Robert Clark, DD Adams and Jeff MacIntosh — voted unanimously to recommend that the proposed bonds be publicly advertised and submitted to the Local Government Commission. The full council will vote on the measure at its next scheduled meeting on May 21. Saunders said the city is required to hold a public hearing on Aug., 6 before placing the bond on the November ballot.

Staff estimates that if the city finances all $122 million in the projects the city property tax rate “could increase up to 4 cents, starting in July 2019.” That would translate into homeowners paying an additional $60 per year on a home valued at $150,000.

Council members approved the recommendation with little discussion on Monday.

“It’s important that you continue to enhance your infrastructure,” Adams said. “If not, it just goes to a bad point. And now your citizens are mad because they’re paying taxes, and they can’t see where we’re shoring up our infrastructure.”

MacIntosh said that through emails and public input meetings, “I’ve gotten nothing but positives, except for the comments of, ‘Why isn’t my road fixed?’”

Yet the list of proposed projects departs significantly from the priorities expressed by residents during nine community meetings attended by 249 people in March and April. Out of 220 comments collected on notecards or through social media, staff reported 71 — more than half — focused on transportation. New sidewalks and street resurfacing tied for the highest priority in residents’ comments, each receiving 12 mentions.

“Given the high level of support sidewalk and pedestrian projects received, it is important to note that there is currently no funding in the bond specifically for new sidewalks or sidewalk maintenance,” the staff report acknowledges.

The project list developed by city council sets aside $13.6 million out of the proposed $43.7 million transportation bond for street resurfacing, along with $6.2 million to replace obsolete concrete street bases with asphalt. But the document provides no funding specifically for sidewalks, with the exception of a $1.4 million line item for “bicycle and pedestrian improvements.” The document explains, “Projects could include repairing current bicycle and pedestrian facilities as needed, constructing roadway safety improvements, and expanding sidewalks and bike lanes.”

The list of projects demonstrates a preference for new-urbanism-style design, with a focus on connectivity through multi-use paths and greenways as opposed to old-fashioned sidewalks along the shoulder of roadways. The list includes $2.3 million for a multi-use path along Business 40, $1.5 million for Phase II of the Little Creek Greenway and $1.0 million for the Salem Creek Greenway Pedestrian Sidepath, along with $3.8 million for other Business 40 improvements, including a noise wall on the Peters Creek Parkway Bridge. The list also includes $800,000 for unspecified greenway development.

“Most of the money going to pedestrian-oriented processes came about as a result of particular requests from different council members,” Councilman Dan Besse said. “Because what we saw [since the last bond referendum] in 2014 was that a lot of the money for sidewalks didn’t always get to priority projects. The thinking among staff was that there would be matching state funds. That slowed a lot of things down.”

Other special projects in the proposed transportation bond include $3.7 million for Polo Road improvements, $3.6 million to two-way conversion of Liberty and Main streets; $2.8 million for two-way conversion of First and Second streets; $2.0 million for streetscape improvements on East Fifth Street between Highway 52 and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and $1.0 million for downtown streetscape improvements.

Residents mentioned a need for sidewalks on numerous streets across the city, including Spaulding Drive, Northampton Drive, Coliseum Drive, Friar Tuck Road and Will Scarlett Road. Petree Road near Mt. Tabor High School was mentioned twice.

“We need sidewalk bad [on the] 4600 blk. N. Cherry between Indiana Ave. & Germanton Rd.,” one resident wrote. “Short residential stretch. Many older citizens use wheelchairs in the street — safety concern.”

“Sidewalks are needed throughout the city,” another resident wrote. “I am shocked that sidewalks don’t exist near obvious facilities like elementary schools, shopping centers and recreation centers. Safety for WS residents and visitors should be one of the primary concerns for city planners.”

Still another wrote with obvious sarcasm: “I love seeing the poor and disabled walkin [sic] on busy streets and being hit by cars because there are no sidewalks.”

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