The High Point City Council’s decision to vote down a proposal to reduce the number of lanes on North Main Street — a key component of urban planner Andres Duany’s master plan to revitalize the city —couldn’t have surprised anyone.
The way it was accomplished — a 6-1 vote after suspending the rules to add it to the agenda at a special meeting on Oct. 23 — also probably wasn’t much of a surprise. After all, the council took a similar vote in May to reassign former City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe from working as a facilitator of the Duany initiative.
Mayor Jim Davis, one of the six council members who voted to kill the initiative, cited a number of factors for the decision.
“The biggest thing for me is that they didn’t study the impact of traffic on the side streets,” he said. “We had a very inconclusive study. The items that the public had raised were never studied. I think most of the council members felt the same way.”
The traffic study by Kimley-Horn & Associates is not complete, but the consultants made a preliminary presentation to council on Oct. 21. The council earlier voted down a proposal by the consultants to expand the study to look at the impact of reducing lanes on North Main Street on nearby streets such as Hillcrest Drive, Johnson Street and Hamilton Street, along with managing traffic during furniture market.
Mayor Jim Davis said the anticipated economic-development return on investment was not enough to justify the expense, which begins at $1 million for the basic option of merely re-striping the street, that council members were not comfortable with increased traffic times that would result from dieting.
Councilman Jay Wagner, who cast the lone vote against scrapping the project, took on critics of street dieting in a comment posted on the Triad City Beat site last week.
“While traffic will be slower (by design), the road will handle the same capacity as it does now, and the city will receive the benefits of increased traffic safety, walkability and bikeability,” he wrote. “Recent economic study of the corridor shows that dieting will provide a 2.5-1 return on our investment. Cost to diet around $1 million. The fears expressed in HP are the same as in other cities, and they never ring true. No city has a majority of citizens initially in favor of a road diet, until they see and experience the results.”
The alternative to doing nothing, Wager continued, is “to keep everything the same and watch our property values continue to drop, and young, talented entrepreneurs who want to live in an urban setting look elsewhere to live and start businesses.”
The preliminary report made by Kimley-Horne found that road dieting would improve safety, walkability, bikeability and transit, while diminishing traffic operations, while improving the street overall.
Wagner said the decision itself didn’t bother him so much, considering that council will have the option to reverse course after new members are seated in December. But he said the way the vote came about reflects a lack of transparency by his colleagues.
“At the council meeting on Monday at the end of the meeting everyone on the council majority voted to hold the meeting open until 9 a.m. on Thursday,” Wagner said. “No reason was stated for doing that. We then had the meeting with the traffic engineers on Tuesday. It was a presentation; we didn’t get the actual study, which was presented by Kimley-Horne.”
In an email exchange between the two council members, Davis told Wagner he didn’t know the purpose of the council’s meeting on Thursday, Oct. 23.
“What exactly was the reason for keeping the meeting open until Thursday?” Wagner asked on Monday. “What exactly do we plan to address at that time?”
Davis responded on Tuesday: “It was advice given, we are meeting outside City Hall today for presentation & then Thursday, no other reason that I’m aware of.”
Wagner followed up: “Advice from who?”
Wagner said he didn’t receive a response.
Then, on Thursday, Wagner said the council voted 4 to 3 to suspend the rules to allow the vote on road dieting. Voting in favor of suspending the rules, Wagner said, were Davis, Councilwoman Becky Smothers, Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall and Councilman Jason Ewing, while Wagner, Councilman Britt Moore and Councilman Jeff Golden voted against. Councilman Foster Douglas was absent.
Wagner said Moore and Golden told him they had been unaware of plans to bring up the issue for a vote on Thursday.
“I consider the way they did it to be an abuse of power,” Wagner said. “They’re not communicating with the public and other members of the council.”
Davis defended the way council handled the vote, noting that the consultants held a public forum on the initiative.
“We’ve been discussing this and have been involved in this since I’ve been on the council,” Davis said. “I think if the study had been more in depth I think Thursday we might have continued that meeting. Once you see this road diet study, there wasn’t a lot to look at it.”