I don’t think we are supposed to call what is being planned for the downtown area streetscaping, because the idea is to do much more than that. But streetscaping is what this has always been called in the past so maybe this should be super streetscaping. What is being considered is far different than anything that has been done in Greensboro.
At a visioning meeting held by the City of Greensboro and MIG, the consultants for the project, on Tuesday, March 27, some of the ideas that MIG is considering were presented.
One factor that makes downtown Greensboro ripe for innovative ideas is that many of the streets are so wide and have so little traffic that the current roadway provides a lot of room to do much more than plant a few spindly trees in boxes and put up new lighting.
Two ideas that seemed promising were to build medians between the roadway and a bike lane and sidewalk. The cyclists would be protected from the cars, not by a white line but by a median strip with trees, bushes, grass, flowers and the like, and the pedestrians on the sidewalk would not only have the planted median but also the area of the bike lane. It makes far more sense than the traditional median down the middle of the road, which protects the cars from other cars but does nothing for the pedestrians and cyclists.
One of the main focuses of the entire process will be to slow traffic traveling in the downtown area. The hugely wide streets with little traffic encourage drivers to travel at far above the 20 mph posted speed. Really, why not? Wide roads and no traffic makes it extremely difficult to poke along at 20 mph.
Narrowing the roadways and making them pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly instead of entirely car-centric seems like a good way to improve the downtown. Most people are a little uncomfortable when walking beside a wide street with cars zooming past inches away.
Which brings up another concept that I believe it will take an adjustment period for folks in Greensboro, and I can already see the letters to the editor about what a crazy idea it is.
The idea is to take a smaller, low traffic area and turn it into a shared street – where there are no curbs and no delineation between the vehicle traffic lanes, the bike lanes and the sidewalk. It is designed to look more like a sidewalk than a street.
Cars are not prohibited from traveling through the area, but are forced by the environment to do so slowly. The idea is that most drivers would avoid the area because of the reduced speed of traffic, but it wouldn’t be blocked off entirely for those who wanted to use it.
Presumably there would be some hefty speed bumps that would require vehicles to slow before entering the area. The presenter said the idea was that it wouldn’t look like a street, which would make most drivers cautious since it wouldn’t look like cars were supposed to be there.
Something like that might work in front of First National Bank Field on Bellemeade Street, which is now blocked off to traffic during baseball games. This type of approach would allow the street to be open to some traffic, but drivers who wanted to travel at above walking speed would detour around it, as they are now required to do by a barricade and a police car.
Most people who attended Tuesday’s meeting said they were in favor of more bicycle and pedestrian friendly areas downtown, more outdoor dining and more areas designed to encourage something other than just driving by. MIG has some innovative ideas, and with $25 million in bond money to spend on the downtown, it could make a huge difference.
The streets they will be concentrating on are Church, Davie, Elm, North Greene and North Eugene, Washington, Market, Lewis, Bellemeade, Lindsay and Battleground.
Several speakers said that as a part of all of this, Greene Street should be made two-way its entire length instead of two-way at the northern and southern ends and one-way in the middle. One speaker said that newcomers to the city found that confusing. He could have added that even old timers in the city find it confusing.
Most of Friendly Avenue appeared to be left out of the plans. A city traffic engineer said that both Friendly and Market carry a lot of traffic through the downtown, so the plan was not to change them much.
East Market Street in the block east of Davie Street is enormously wide for no apparent reason, so there is room there to make some improvements.
Downtown Greensboro does have tremendous excess capacity on its streets, and these streetscape look like they are going to make much better use of that space than is currently being made.
If you would like to take the on-line survey to tell the planners what you think should be done with the $25 million in bond money, the website is http:bit.ly/greensborostreets.