Greenville City Council candidates George Fletcher and Dorothy Dowe answer our questions

The November 5, 2019 election for the Greenville City Council at large seat is being contested between Republican incumbent George Fletcher and Democrat challenger Dorothy Dowe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a 501c3 non-profit Bike Walk Greenville does not endorse candidates. We ask them questions related to our advocacy and provide their answers to educate voters.

Question 1: City Council has supported Trails and Greenways with a hospitality tax funded budget of $1 MM a year.  The list of projects that would use these funds is long, including the Traxler St connection into Cleveland Park at Richland Way, the Laurel Creek Trail to Hayward Mall, a route using the Railroad ROW from the SRT to Lois St, and a potential Falls Park Bypass Trail. Please tell us of your position regarding future budgets for Trails

George Fletcher response: The budget calls for $1 million a year for a total of $5 million.  With this year’s $1 million, we are doing a protected bike lane study at three locations on city streets.  We are doing the engineering on the Laurel Creek Trail and Cleveland Connector. We are also re-striping Dunbar street for bike lanes and removing the rubberized surface and repaving sections of the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

The plan for FY 21 is for construction of the Laurel Creek Trail.  The most difficult part of the project is procuring and paying for the right of ways.  The cost for the trail will exceed the $1 million, so the project will be included in the Capital Improvement Plan.

You have listed five projects, all of which are worth doing.  I think the Traxler Street Connection into Cleveland Park at Richland Way alone is almost $2 million. It is also dependent on the county completing the SRT along Laurens Road.

I support future funding of trails, but it is also a matter of having the people to do the projects.  The budgeted money will procure the right of ways, do the engineering and get an accurate estimate of cost.  The project can then be included in the Capital Improvement Plan.  I believe all five projects will be eventually built and hopefully during my next term.

Dorothy Dowe response: The City of Greenville has built a tremendous attraction for residents and tourists centered
around the downtown area and access to the Swamp Rabbit Trail. I support future budgets for
the trail that promote safe bike routes and address the needs and plans as identified in the City
of Greenville Bicycle Master Plan.

Question 2: The new 10 ft wide multi use path on Verdae Blvd became reality through the leadership and financial commitment of Hollingsworth Funds.  City Council recently funded a multi-use path on the new PNG connector, and we understand the City is applying for a Grant for a multi-use path on S Hudson to connect W Washington to Unity Park.  Please tell us your position on this new idea for safer active transportation and if you would support a dedicated funding allocation.

George Fletcher response: The Hollingsworth Trust is doing great things for Greenville, BUT the multi-use path on Verdae Boulevard, as well as the medians and streetscaping, were paid for by the City as part of the Parallel Connector  (By the way, I proposed the name PNG Connector and still think it is better and far more appropriate than Parallel Connector.)  The City paid $3.2 million, Verdae paid $700K and SC DOT $700K for a total of $4.6 million.

The project for a multi-use path between Washington and Unity Park is in the Unity Park budget.  We applied for an ARC Grant, but did not get it.  The project is not dependent on the grant.  We obviously support multi-use paths and have included them in recent capital projects.   I would not support a dedicated funding allocation for multi-use paths without having a list of projects that would need funding.  See my comments at the end of the questions.

Dorothy Dowe response: I support measures to provide safer active transportation and am encouraged that the City is
pursuing Grant money to provide a multi-use path in the area described. Given the challenges
and expense of automobile parking in the future Unity Park area, connectivity to this area for
bike/pedestrian access should be a priority and Grant funding for this should be pursued.

Question 3: The recently adopted Downtown Master Plan has the following short-term mobility action items. 

  • Improve pedestrian crossings and sidewalks along major streets and connecting to Heritage Green
  • Expand the dedicated bike and pedestrian trail network throughout downtown
  • Incorporate a multi-use path system in south downtown and county square to tie into the broader framework

Plan Consultant Ron Robinson of Urban Design Associates told a large group of business leaders on August 14 that “The safety of the Swamp Rabbit Trail does not translate to the city streets,” and that “we need to be converting vehicular asphalt to people asphalt.” All inspiring words for advocates, but the implementation of the downtown plan will take considerable amount of funding that will be in competition with other city initiatives.  As a council member how high of a priority are these short-term mobility needs? What level of funding is appropriate?

George Fletcher response: One of the City’s new positions in this year’s budget was a Mobility Coordinator in Parks and Recreation dedicated to biking and pedestrian issues.  His name is Calin Owens and his hiring indicates that “mobility needs” are a priority.

The first step in implementation of the Downtown Master Plan is to codify a Form Based Code for each of the five areas.  This is a Zoning Tool that allows us to establish characteristics of each area, including such things as heights and design of the buildings, green space and connectivity.  Funding would come as projects are developed.

Dorothy Dowe response: For future expansion and development in the Downtown area, I support the initiatives that
improve pedestrian access to Heritage Green. Heritage Green is a key area that should be
“activated” through improved, pedestrian friendly access. For the east Downtown and proposed
County Square development projects, pedestrian pathways and safe, protected bike lanes
should be integral to design to ensure we are developing this property with a long-term view,
and maximizing our ability to reduce vehicular traffic in these areas.

Question 4: Traffic calming is a big issue for our City, and solutions remain costly and controversial.  We have suggested a city wide “20 is plenty” campaign for all residential streets. Skeptics say that even with education and PR we don’t have enough enforcement of speed limits.  How would you as a City Council Member better address traffic calming? What steps would you take to better enforce existing traffic laws that seem to be uniformly ignored (e.g., excessive speed, distracted driving, stop sign/red light violations)? 

George Fletcher response: In surveys all over the country, traffic congestion and management is the #1 citizen concern.  That is irrespective of the magnitude of the problem.  The citizen concern is identical in Davidson, NC and Atlanta, GA.  I understand the problem, but the Civil Engineer in me keeps wanting to come out. Let me try to objectively address the issues.

  • I have told Frank Mansbach that I don’t think the “20 is Plenty” will accomplish what we all want. Aside from having to change all the signs, I don’t think people will change their habits.  Speed bumps help but are a problem for emergency vehicles.
  • I totally agree with increased enforcement. The last major enforcement push (in response to citizen complaints) was on East Park, where 78% of the arrests were people in the neighborhood.  Nevertheless, we had speed traps on Augusta in the last month and netted 237 tickets in one week.  You will see increased enforcement on McDaniel.  I would personally like to see electronic surveillance and enforcement, but at the present time it is against state law.
  • Our Capital Improvement Plan is full of traffic safety projects, intersection improvements, bridge improvements and sidewalk ADA. It is not like we are ignoring the issue.
  • We are looking at some newer solutions. We are testing traffic circles, and early results have been very positive.  They slow the traffic without creating major backups and still allow emergency vehicles to get through.
  • I do believe that Smart City technologies will have a major positive impact on traffic congestion and management. This includes adaptive stoplights, which can read the traffic and adjust accordingly.  You are seeing the first phases of centralized control of signals on Laurens Road right now and people love it.  Newer vehicles are flashing speed limits on the dashboard and will buzz when you exceed them by 5 MPH.  I believe that vehicle to vehicle communications and new sensors will significantly reduce accidents.  Nationally, we still kill over 40,000 people/year in the future.  I believe this number will drop dramatically as these technologies become more available.

Dorothy Dowe response: I support soliciting neighborhood input on measures to reduce speed limits, beginning with the proposed “slow your roll” which could reduce residential speed limits by 5 mph. Neighborhood
input through the City sponsored neighborhood associations is critical prior to implementing
such a proposed change. I also support pursuing the addition of more “Your Speed” flashing
light signs in areas of consistent speeding traffic. The city currently owns only 8 of these signs
and more are needed, as these are an effective way to give immediate feedback to drivers to
slow down. I also support a long-term strategy of incorporating traffic circles when feasible and
supported by the neighborhood for traffic calming within the city.

Question 5: SCDOT currently owns 53 percent of the road network in our state and has jurisdiction over most roads within Greenville city limits. The City has little influence to make SCDOT roads more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.  We understand that initial SCDOT program for cities to become owners has been oversubscribed. What as a City Council Member can you do to change this current situation? What are the specific changes that you will support if and when state roads are absorbed by the city?

George Fletcher response: In 2017, DOT was supposed to provide the Cities a list of roads that could be taken over, as well as funds for maintenance in the foreseeable future.  It is now almost 2 years late.  The problem is the money attached to the road.  There was not enough to fund more than a few roads in Greenville.  I believe they are trying to get some of the estimated $1 billion surplus this year for additional funding.

In general, the City can take over any road that we want.  I believe we will take over E. Park, for example, but did not want to do it until the list is issued.  There are other roads like McDaniel that we can introduce some traffic calming with DOT approval.  We are currently looking at the possibility of a traffic circle at McDaniel and Woodland Way.

In 2014, there was a county-wide penny sales tax referendum for roads that would have paid for substantial maintenance of both local and state roads.  The proposal was voted down 60% to 40% in the county, although it came within 100 votes of passing in the city. We have been trying to get the legislature to allow cities to pass their own sales tax for roads, but that has not happened.

The answer to your last question for me, and I think other members of City Council, is to follow the engineering department recommendations.  I think they do a great job.  They try to base recommendations on what are the most significant problems, and not necessarily on which neighborhood is the loudest.

Dorothy Dowe response: It is to the advantage of the city to take ownership of the SCDOT roads when the proper funding is provided by the State to support this transfer of ownership. In the absence of that, as a
council member I intend to actively pursue the engagement of state level leaders both in the
legislative bodies and at the SCDOT to improve the upkeep of these roads and to address traffic
calming needs along these roads in partnership with the City and within in the framework of the
City’s traffic calming efforts.

Additional Comments from George Fletcher:

  • The City has a Trails and Greenways Plan that was written in 2007 and a Bicycle Master Plan that was written in 2011. I think both need to be updated.  I have talked to both Frank Mansbach and Doug Harper about this.  I think the bicycle master plan should review all projects from the standpoint of the economic impacts of the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  I think there should be a plan for connecting all neighborhoods and all cities to downtown through a series of mobility hubs that would include public (buses) and private transportation (cars, golf carts, bicycles, etc.)
  • Bicycle paths need to have a place in the City’s bonding priorities. We will soon be retiring some bonds from Falls Park and Parking Garages.  The list for new bonding includes Unity Park.West End Parking Garage.Downtown Conference Center. Potential Corporate Headquarters and Sewer Funding
  • The Swamp Rabbit Trail was a public private partnership with Prisma. The aforementioned Bicycle Master Plan could help identify priorities, which in turn would help attract private investors.  Bicycle and Multi-use paths should be public private partnerships.
  • At various smart city conferences, I have seen a broader definition of bicycles, including scooters, three wheeled covered bikes and bikes with electric motors to assist with climbing hills. We probably need to look at how these newer technologies will fit within our urban network as well.

For more information on the candidates please visit their websites:

http://dorothydowe.com/

https://www.votegeorgefletcher.com/