The official Carrboro website states that it is known for “walkability for residents.”
Carrboro has a wonderful network of sidewalks in downtown, in North Carrboro and – recently – on Smith Level Road, but one key link is lacking: South Greensboro St.
South Greensboro is a main pedestrian route into downtown, an essential connection between the north and south halves of town. It serves hundreds of residents, business and transit lines. However, for pedestrians, walking the narrow dirt path, pressed up against cars speeding downhill, is to risk one’s life.
To date, over 190 town residents have expressed their support for a sidewalk on a petition. One resident on Smith Level Road said she “wouldn’t walk to her children because of lack of a sidewalk on South Greensboro.” Another said “It is clearly a major safety hazard to walk the short distance from their house to downtown Carrboro. The road has no shoulder, no bike lane and no sidewalk ... yet the town has allowed new higher-density developments to have driveways for multiple homes that empty onto this two-lane road.”
The danger extends to the drivers of vehicles as well, as drivers must be hyper-vigilant and watch for pedestrians in the road. Head-on car crashes seem just as likely as pedestrian incidents on this road.
A sidewalk makes sense for three reasons: safety, accessibility and economic benefits.
First, safety: walking should not be dangerous in a pedestrian-oriented town. Without a sidewalk and a curb, there is little to stop a distracted driver from slipping off the road and into a vulnerable pedestrian. Given the wide sidewalks in many residential neighborhoods, it is reasonable to at least have curb where the road is narrow (21 feet) and the speed limit is 35 (and cars frequently exceed this by 10 or 15 mph).
Second, the sidewalk is needed for accessibility; this stretch of road is essential for residents to access town services. This is especially the case for those without the resources or ability to drive. For example, a visually impaired long-time Carrboro resident living on South Greensboro Street cannot walk to town on the current path – not only is it uneven and unmarked, but it is too narrow for a person to walk alongside to guide him.
For economic development, a sidewalk would allow people who do not own cars and are unable to safely walk to services or their places of employment in town, and thus add to the customer base of local businesses. Workers in office buildings at the bottom of the hill, or from homes on Smith Level Road could walk to Carrboro for lunch, rather than driving elsewhere where parking is more accessible. A sidewalk would also increase property values along South Greensboro Street, the Smith Level area, and other surrounding neighborhoods such as Rock Brook. This will complement to the emerging development on the east side of the street, including Park Slope and the new Rogers-Triem development.
By committing to a sidewalk, Carrboro will be safer and have increased accessibility and diversity. A sidewalk will reduce emissions and parking strain. Without a sidewalk on South Greensboro Street, Carrboro is not walkable for the entire south half of the population. After decades of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, the time is here to increase walkability closest to home. This project is in the “spirit of Carrboro.”
This column was written by Mike and Jessica Christian, Kurt Gray and Kristin Lindquist.