by Brian Clarey

The sidewalk ends at a northern terminus at the southeast corner of Yanceyville Street and Lees Chapel Road, in a dead stop at an unspectacular tangle of wild saplings and hay straw.

Here where Pisgah Church Road turns into Lees Chapel, Yanceyville runs north past the cluster of lakes — Brandt, Higgins, Jeannette and Townsend — that define the Greensboro’s boundary and the tony neighborhoods that surround them. There are no sidewalks on Yanceyville north of this intersection.

To the south, Yanceyville Street passes low-income housing, new development, old mill neighborhoods and the ancient industrial district on its way downtown.

It’s a boundary of sorts, here where the sidewalk ends: the place where east Greensboro meets north Greensboro.

It’s a well-traveled intersection, with an average of 12,300 cars or so passing through each day at the last count date in 2008. The department of transportation does not keep count of the pedestrians who use this corner.

Often a vagrant occupies the southwest corner, flying a sign with his tale of woe for the many passing motorists. There’s a convenience store at the northwest corner that trucks mostly in beer, ice and bait. And, at the southeast corner, where the sidewalk ends, a bus-stop sign stands in the late-morning sun.

On Greensboro’s Yanceyville Street between Lees Chapel Road and Wendover Avenue, pedestrians often must make do with a dirt path in lieu of sidewalks.

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It is here, at 10:21 a.m., that I find D’Velle Bass, waiting for the No. 15 inbound bus that will get to downtown Greensboro just in time for his lunch shift at Koshary.

I tell him what I’m doing out there under the bright sun in the middle of the morning, and why I’m doing it. He smiles and nods his approval.

“It’s dangerous out here,” he says.

He’s not talking about street crime or B&E. The real danger here is to pedestrians. Just six months ago, two days before Christmas 2014 at 1 p.m., Jeffrey Phillips was hit by a Saturn while sprinting north across five lanes of Lees Chapel to the convenience store. There is no crosswalk on the west side of Yanceyville, and no sidewalks at all to the north.

For guys like Bass, this is where the sidewalk begins: this inauspicious strip that runs south from the bus stop on the east side of the street perhaps 150 yards before ending abruptly like a bad joke at the Foxworth Condominiums, a Greensboro Housing Authority development.

I’ve lived on this stretch of Yanceyville Street for more than 10 years — a fair sight longer that the Foxworth condos, constructed, with a sidewalk, in 2009 — and in that time very few days have gone by that I haven’t driven some or all of Yanceyville as it runs from the bus stop to Wendover Avenue.

I noticed almost immediately upon moving into my new neighborhood the pronounced lack of sidewalks that seem to stop and start almost — but not quite — at random along the four-mile stretch.

Since 2010, eight pedestrians have been hit by passing cars while walking along the curb or trying to cross the street — certainly not the most tragic circumstance in Greensboro, but one that could be easily remedied.

At several points on any walk on this section of Yanceyville Street, landscaping forces pedestrians into the street.

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There are very few sidewalks or crosswalks, and no shoulder to speak of along the entire run. But lots of pedestrians walk these miles, at all hours of the day and night. I’ve come close to hitting pedestrians and cyclists dozens of times over the years. I’ve barely avoided collisions an equal number of times when cars swerve out of their lanes to avoid the walkers and bikers who, technically, have the right of way.

The genesis of this particular walking path goes back a more than a hundred years., when residents of the mill villages off Yanceyville hoofed it to their textile jobs at Revolution and Proximity. It persists today through low-income housing developments and frequent bus stops along the route. The No. 15 bus is dedicated solely to this stretch of Yanceyville Street and a bit of Summit Avenue behind it, with a dozen stops and shelters along the way. Connecting at the Galyon Depot downtown, it gives the thousands of car-less residents of this area access to the larger city and, through connections at the depot, the world.

It’s bothered me tremendously that this stretch of Yanceyville does without sidewalks while so many of Greensboro’s less-traveled neighborhoods do not. Over the years, I’ve seen perfectly good sidewalks on Cornwallis Street replaced and brand new ones dropped onto Lawndale Road while my neighbors walk in the street.

Like most sidewalk gaps in the city, they exist because they weren’t deemed necessary when the land was developed. It wasn’t until 2002 that Greensboro adopted a Walkability Policy that required sidewalks with new development and for these gaps to be systematically addressed. In 2012, the city put in10.5 miles of new sidewalk across the city. They’re slated for this stretch of Yanceyville Street in 2016, according to the city website. I will believe that when I see it.

Over the years I’ve talked about the sidewalks on Yanceyville Street to cops and council members, city staff and people on the bus. I’ve written editorials, tried to make it a campaign issue, rambled on and on about it in bars. All I’ve gotten is words on paper, or campaign promises that disappear like smoke.

To be fair, there is a function on the city website to petition for new sidewalk construction, but that would require collecting signatures from 51 percent of the residents affected. That, friends, is just not gonna happen. But I thought it might help if I actually got out there and spent some shoe leather on the terrain, speaking with whomever I came across and documenting the situation on the ground. The idea is that perhaps Someone Who Can Do Something will take an interest. But I’d settle for drivers to slow down on this length of road and stop hitting my neighbors with their cars.

Heading south on Yanceyville from Lees Chapel, the sidewalk on the east side ends cruelly in a runoff creek and a wall of impenetrable shrub. I am forced to run — run — across four lanes to pick up the sidewalk where it begins anew on the west side, the sunny side of the street, which on this hot morning is not as pleasant as it sounds.

Here the first of the old mill homes begin to pop up between a six-acre lot for sale and the Craft Recreation Center, where after a tenth of a mile the sidewalk ends again.

About 30 yards ahead of me trudges a black woman with a red backpack. When she gets to the end of the concrete, I see her veer slightly to the right.

A sidewalk begins across the street at approximately the same point it runs out on the west side, but it runs just 150 yards or so, in front of Chantille Place, a newer condo development with units starting at about $75,000. There’s no crosswalk here, or even cross streets to slow down traffic, which makes a mockery of the posted 35 mile-per-hour speed limit. It also may be the most ineffective sidewalk in the city: It connects to nothing.

Like the woman who came immediately before me, I veer slightly right onto a worn dirt path in the grass, a piece so well traveled by pedestrians that someone has tacked a poster for a missing cat on the phone pole.

The T-shaped intersection at Rankin Road has a light and a walk sign, but no crosswalk on the street and no sidewalk leading to the button.

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It feels oddly invasive to walk along this piece that I’ve driven almost every day since 2003, like I’m marching through people’s front yards, which I suppose is exactly what I’m doing.

The lots reach back deep on this side of the street, some with several buildings on the property and others with mailboxes and landscaping that force pedestrians onto the thin shoulder, even closer to the hot wind of passing cars.

I pass a young black woman riding a bicycle against traffic and I instinctively worry for her. Across the street, a black man waits in front of the Yanceyville Street Station Apartments for the mail truck, which just now happens by. With no shoulder to pull off on, the mail truck stops dead in the outside lane; cars heading north veer past with impertinence.

The dirt path I’m on drops down to the railroad tracks, where a long, idling freight waits for an opportune moment to cross. The rut rises to a three-way intersection at Rankin Road where a traffic light and walk sign — but no designated pedestrian crossing — gives at least nominal credence to walkability, with a bus stop for the 15 at the southeast corner. The button activating the sign is at the end of the dirt path, barely obscured by ivy.

I decide it’s unwise to make the crossing here on my journey south, as the landscaping and fences on the homes on that side force all pedestrian activity onto the street. I prefer to trudge across all of these front lawns for a half-mile or so, when the dirt path picks up in front of the Dogwood Creek Apartments.

It was here in March 2013 that 22-year-old Cetaria Chaylee Wilkerson was the victim of a hit and run while walking on the shoulder against traffic, resulting in minor injuries.

The intersection at Yanceyville and Cone Boulevard is a major crossing in the city. The Greensboro Department of Transportation doesn’t keep stats for this intersection, but the one at Church and Cone just a quarter-mile west saw almost 40,000 cars a day in 2008.

The dirt path runs here from the Dogwood Creek apartments past a daycare center and decrepit strip mall that houses a Sav-A-Lot grocery, a Laundromat, a rent-to-own furniture store and a dollar store, with a Kangaroo gas station that anchors the northwest corner. Across the street on either side are low-income apartment complexes — Palmer Plaza to the east and Revolution Crossing apartments to the south — with a bus shelter at the southeast corner to service them all.

The only piece of sidewalk here runs about 20 yards, just enough to cover someone pacing in front of the bus shelter. Other than a couple crosswalks, the pedestrians here are on their own.

Garry Deberry was hit by a turning car at this intersection in June 2013, attempting to cross from the bus stop to the apartments. He almost made it. In September of that same year, a car pulling out of the shopping center knocked a wheel off Tess Hazenberg’s wheelchair.

This run of low, winding hills leading to the mill district is where I usually see the most street life: people waiting for the bus, kids on bicycles, young mothers pushing strollers. This is where I hold my breath, keep my foot touching the brake and both hands tight on the wheel.

The sidewalk picks up again at Revolution Crossing apartments with a bus shelter for the No. 6 and ends a few yards later. From here I can see the rusted water tower of Proximity Mill rising above the tree line, with graffiti on it that I cannot quite make out from this distance.

I pass the bridge named for Billy “Crash” Craddock, a son of the city whose claim to fame is taking the oddly suggestive country song “Rub It In” to the top of the Billboard charts. Where the sidewalk begins anew at the Fairview Baptist Church on 12th Street, I can see the smokestack of Revolution Mill, recast now into a massive mixed-use facility that should transform this section of the road.

Roll hard with my MOMS.

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Jonathan Hiltonen got hit on his skateboard right here in February 2014, traveling south, by a truck doing the same. In November 2012, pedestrian Brittany Harris took one from a late-model Nissan at 7:20 a.m., the driver of which was blinded by the morning sun.

I cross Cornwallis without the benefit of a crosswalk, past the creek and railroad spur connecting the new millworks to the old one, hiding behind the weeds and wild trees.

At Textile Drive, where pedestrian Richard Spivey got hit by a car in July 2014, I am close enough to read the graffiti on the water tower. Next to a stylized tag, it says, “Roll hard with my MOMS.”

A legion of healthcare offices offering plastic surgery, dentistry, dermatology and internal medicine buttress Moses Cone Hospital to the west. On the other side of the street, 75 yards of disconnected sidewalk front an office building where Biscuitville keeps its company headquarters.

I find Matthew Kesler at the bus shelter near Meadow Street just outside the BioLife Plasma Center, where he has just made a deposit.

He’s using some of the cash to take the No. 15 bus downtown to the Depot and then hop a No. 1 to Costco on Wendover Avenue.

“I’m looking for work,” he says.

He saw something on CNN the other day about the company, and he says he’d consider leaving his job as a cook at an elder-care facility to hire on there. It should take him about 90 minutes to complete the trip.

He has a car, but he tries not to use it. Today he didn’t have a choice: His ride, he says, is out of commission until he can afford to have it repaired.

“On Saturday and Sunday, the buses run every hour,” he says. “If I go anywhere on Saturday or Sunday, I try to drive.”

Matthew Kesler has a car but tries not to use it, except on weekends when buses are infrequent.

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He’s from Philadelphia, and has been using public transportation his whole life.

“In Philly,” he says, “if I miss a bus I can see the next one coming down the street.”

He is less satisfied with the Greensboro Transit Authority schedule.

“This is bulls***,” he says. “This is rural, man, the lowest on the totem pole. This is my dad’s hometown — that’s why I’m here.”

It’s been eight years now, he says.

Eventually he boards his bus, which takes him underneath Wendover Avenue, into Fisher Park and the Aycock Historical District beyond, where the sidewalks have been in place since before there were cars.

Postscript

I took my leave of Kesler and booked across the four lanes to the east side of the road, where a sidewalk picked up heading east towards Summit Avenue. As I approached the eastern police substation I saw a passing taxicab and suppressed an instinct to flag it down.

We don’t take cabs like that here.

I boarded a No. 15 bus outside the social services building; it eased back onto Yanceyville and moved north, reversing my morning journey. It was afternoon now, and I was thinking about some lunch when I pulled my cord for the stop at Rankin Road, about a half mile from my house.

As I approached the back door, a man on the bus that I had never seen before stopped me before I got off.

“Hey,” he said. “You gonna get us some sidewalks?”

I tried not to act surprised.

“That’s the plan,” I said, slapping my notebook against my thigh.

Word travels fast on the street, I suppose.

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