I rrecently had the privilege of leading a small group of leaders in a walkability audit of one large block in downtown Greenville. Upstate Forever was conducting their Citizens Planning Academy, and walkability was just one tool they used to highlight planning issues for the participants.
As a former Greenville County Planning Commissioner, and as the volunteer executive director of Bike Walk Greenville, I was excited to lead the 45-minute walk. All participants were asked to read the AARP Walk Audit information in advance.
As we departed from the Greenville Water meeting room at the corner of West Washington Street and West Broad St/ Butler Avenue, I asked the group if they ever heard of a “slip lane.” They had not. Wikipedia defines this as follows:
“A slip lane is traffic lane provided at an intersection to allow vehicles to turn at the intersection without actually entering it and interfering with through traffic. It is therefore not controlled by any traffic signals at that intersection.”
The group observed traffic heading south on Butler Avenue that could easily turn right and head west on W. Washington St. with a yield rather than a stop. There is a new traffic signal at this intersection to allow pedestrians to safely cross, however there is little safety for those pedestrian using the marked cross-walk across the slip lane. I explained this is due to the long history of DOTs designing our communities to move motor vehicles as fast as possible with no regard for designing for the safety of people on foot. If slip lanes were eliminated on our city streets it would obviously be safer for pedestrians at the expense of motorists needing to stop at signals. What is our priority as a community?
We next walked on West Washington in front of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and observed a very wide sidewalk separated from the traffic by a planting strip with large street trees, parked cars and a bike lane, a “Complete Street” This could be a great sidewalk ideal for pedestrians if it were properly maintained. We found the classic issue of sidewalk heave from the tree roots making this sidewalk dangerous in several ways. The sidewalk was raised in several places presenting a tripping hazard, particularly at night. In addition, the sidewalk is essentially impassable for for people pushing strollers or in wheelchairs.
We also discussed that church goers routinely park in the bike lanes when there are services.
We then turned the corner onto Academy Street and found a sidewalk that nobody would want to use. Of minimal width it is adjacent to 45 mph motor vehicles with only a curb separating a pedestrian from death by a distracted or impaired driver. The sidewalk had several sloped driveways that made walking difficult, and it was impassible for those in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller due to the wide streetlights taking half the narrow sidewalk.
We also observed a cycle of the signal and pedestrian crossing of Academy and W. Washington and several participants stated that they would not feel comfortable about crossing at this intersection.
The walk then proceeded on Hampton Avenue that has little motor vehicle traffic and had speed bumps that slowed the motor vehicles to 15 mph, making the walk feel safe for pedestrians. We talked about the City’s traffic calming program and the challenges in some neighborhoods that have fast moving motor vehicles on high volume roads that SCDOT will not permit to have speed bumps. We also discussed the idea that is becoming popular in some US cities and in the UK, “20 is plenty,” where streets are designed and posted for 20 mph speed limits where people live and work.
We then turned onto Butler Avenue, which although it is a residential street, is a major artery connecting Buncombe to downtown and has 12,000 cars a day. Even though there is a planting strip buffer from the sidewalk to the curb, it is clearly not as a comfortable walk as Hampton Avenue because of the traffic volume.
When we finished our walk each participant provided feedback from what we observed, and the consensus was that if you only get around by driving a car because of where you live and where you work, you are oblivious to the needs of people on foot. They said that this exercise really opened their eyes about designing our cities for people and not just for cars.
We then discussed about how to affect the needed change, and of course that is the challenge.
For some issues it is appropriate to contact Greenville Cares that allows citizens to report a concern 864-232-2273 email@example.com
The City is the leader in our County in offering this clearinghouse. We are unaware of the County or other cities to offer this service.
Greenville Cares will address tripping hazards of heaved sidewalks; however we know the backlog for this work can be lengthy.
Bigger issues such as no buffer between 45 mph vehicles and people on foot like on Academy Street are much harder to solve, and only though extensive advocacy with City Council members will solutions be found.
I was aware of the AARP Walk Audit, but until Upstate Forever reached out to me, I never has the opportunity to understand how effective this process is to grow the awareness for the need of walkable city streets.
As such, we at Bike Walk Greenville have decided that should your group desire to arrange for a walk audit in your Greenville community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to engaging with more concerned citizens in conducting these walks when the coronavirus and social distancing is behind us.