Longstanding trepidation about pedestrian safety along the busy artery has grown in recent years to include concern for bicyclists. Although there were no accidents in town involving bicyclists or pedestrians from 2007 through 2013 according to data from state Department of Transportation, the town’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP) wants to identify areas where safety and looks can be improved. The PSAP is the offspring of Maggie Valley’s much-maligned master plan.
Of “paramount” importance, the plan says, is getting traffic to slow down — something residents and business owners have long desired.
“It’s about establishing a culture,” said Maggie Valley Town Planner Andrew Bowen.
He wants to create an environment where the 3,000 cars that travel Soco Road each day can peacefully coexist with walkers and bikers.
Currently, from U.S. 276 to Fie Top Road, Soco Road is 64 feet wide, curb to curb, with travel lanes as wide as those on Interstate 40. Drivers equate size with safety and often exceed posted speed limits.
The plan supposes it takes 16 to 18 seconds for someone on foot to cross Soco Road, during which time a vehicle being driven at 45 miles per hour will travel more than 1,000 feet, leaving little margin for error.
Proposed streetscaping features and rejiggered traffic flow could make things much safer and much more visually interesting.
Bowen called these enhancements “nodes of interest” that convey a sense of place and make one feel as though they’ve “arrived” at a destination, in turn triggering an accompanying subconscious notion that encourages slowing down.
These nodes include sidewalk benches with pergolas or other overhead shading and illuminated pedestrian beacons and signage, but the most significant changes could occur on the roadway itself.
A complete restriping of Soco Road would add 4-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road and shrink all four travel lanes as well as the center turning lane. That center turning lane would then, in places, become floral beds, butterfly waypoints, or the all-important “pedestrian refuge islands.”
These islands would be just that — a small landing spot shielded by landscaped beds where pedestrians could pause while crossing the street, in effect halving the time it takes to cross safely.
Two-thirds of crosswalks in Maggie Valley do not offer such protection, including the one between popular retail strip development Market Square and Guayabitos Mexican Restaurant, which is the town’s most heavily used.
Barbara Tyson, owner of Aunt Bee’s Blessing Shop in Market Square, says the improvements are definitely needed. She doesn’t see any negatives for the business community.
“Safety is of the utmost import,” she said.
Scott Nielsen owns the Cabbage Rose jewelry and gift shop right next to Guayabitos, and was optimistic about the proposals.
“I’m a business owner and want to know what they’re planning to do in the valley,” Nielsen said. “Anything that will promote tourism and slow people down, I’m for that.”
Walking tour/public input session
Join Maggie Valley Town Manager Nathan Clark and Maggie Valley Town Planner Andrew Bowen on a short walking tour of Soco Road, where they’ll explain the possibilities, answer questions and record your input on a questionnaire.
The tour begins at Maggie Valley Town Hall and is followed by a short PowerPoint presentation.
• When: 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3.
• Where: 3987 Soco Road, Maggie Valley
• Info: 828.926.0866