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Wednesday, 10 March 2010 16:12

Sylva pedestrian plan takes shape

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The Town of Sylva finalized an agreement with the N.C. Department of Transportation last week that clears the way for a continuous sidewalk to Dillsboro.

The town will pitch in $83,000 to build the missing link and maintain the sidewalk, and N.C. DOT will cover the remaining costs.

The sidewalk extension has been a goal for the town board since 2008 and pre-dated Sylva’s pedestrian planning process. But it’s a success story that motivates Town Commissioner Sarah Graham to create similar partnerships in the future.

“You’ll be able to walk from Dillsboro to Webster on the sidewalk, and it just shows how easy it is to partner on projects like this,” Graham said.

When the 4,000-foot extension is completed this summer, it will connect Sylva’s sidewalks to Dillsboro’s by filling in a gap along West Main Street between Mark Watson Park and Jackson Village. The pedestrian planning process initiated in November was intended to lay a blueprint for similar pedestrian improvement projects in the future and to provide a platform for partnering with Jackson County and the DOT.

“I think everyone understands that the money to buy a bunch of sidewalks is not there right now,” Graham said. “But we wanted to hear from the community whether they shared the town board’s ideas about making the town more friendly to pedestrians.”

The town used a $20,000 N.C. DOT grant to hire Donald Kostelec, a consultant from the Asheville office of The Louis Berger Group, to oversee the process and provide technical input. The steering committee –– which includes Graham, Emily Elders, the county’s greenways coordinator, and Ryan Sherby of the Southwestern Commission –– began meeting in early November to develop a vision for the plan.

Last month, residents from a range of Sylva communities gathered for focus groups and offered input that would ultimately shape the plan’s direction.

The focus groups confirmed that the pedestrian plan would zero in on solutions for three primary areas –– Skyland Drive, Mill Street in the downtown district and the N.C. 107 commercial corridor.

Graham said the meetings helped create a consensus about how to focus the planning effort by bringing together residents from distinct neighborhoods.

Both Mill Street and N.C. 107 are commercial corridors that are currently dangerous for pedestrians because of their high-volume traffic and noticeable lack of safe crosswalks.

Kostelec said his intent with the focus groups was to zero in on the physical challenges presented by the areas that need improvement.

“We wanted to get down to identifying on the map where exactly people walk then figure out where those patterns will move in the future,” Kostelec said.

The town used a pedestrian survey to get input from residents. The survey asks people where they walk, how often, and where they would like to be able to walk in the future.

Kostelec said each of the three areas pegged for improvement comes with its own set of challenges. Skyland Drive is an area in need of new sidewalks, which are costly. The goal is to connect Sylva’s downtown with the Harris Regional Hospital campus and Skyland’s commercial district.

“Doing that type of project in one chunk is not going to be possible for a town of Sylva’s size,” Kostelec said.

Kostelec said he is still working on pinning down the right of way restrictions on Skyland, an old state highway route, to see if there is room for a separated sidewalk between the road and train tracks.

N.C. 107 is a heavily trafficked part of town that is cursed by a narrow right of way. Kostelec said any plan to improve the sidewalks would involve getting easements from neighboring property owners.

Mill Street is an area that could see marked improvement at a relatively modest price point because it’s not a terribly long stretch to tackle. But because the road is maintained by the DOT, any work there is contingent on good cooperation between the town and the department, Graham said.

“The implementation will have a lot to do with cooperation from DOT, because Mill Street is a DOT road,” Graham said. “I’m hoping if we have a plan in hand and we’ve been through the process and we know what we want, that those negotiations will be a lot easier.”

The Pedestrian Plan will be showcased at an open house during the Greening Up the Mountains Festival on April 24. Sylva’s Pedestrian Plan Survey is available at www.townofsylva.org.

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