District 5 City Councilmember Tony Wilkins put the photo below on his Facebook page with the comment, “Please, someone smarter than me and knows a little bit about the history of Greensboro – tell me how we ever came up with this cluster of a traffic pattern.”
The aerial photo is of the confluence of Lawndale Drive, Battleground Avenue, Westover Terrace between Green Valley Road and West Cornwallis Drive.
Wilkins had 59 comments, including comments from former Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight and At-large City Councilmember Mike Barber.
No comments were complimentary of the traffic pattern. You really can’t call what goes on there an intersection – it’s too complicated for that. Whatever it’s called, it’s confusing, particularly to people who are experiencing it for the first time.
The whole mess is further complicated by the now abandoned Atlantic and Yadkin railroad tracks that run east of Battleground on the northern portion and then Battleground crosses the tracks and the railroad tracks are west of Battleground on the southern portion. Three roads coming together at acute angles with railroad tracks running down the middle is evidently a recipe for a weird road pattern. It’s hard to tell unless you look at a map, but Westover coming from the south and Lawndale from the north both run roughly parallel to Battleground and then feed into it. So to continue south on Lawndale or north on Westover you end up on Battleground.
Then there is Cornwallis, where there are about three car lengths between its intersection with Lawndale and its intersection with Battleground.
Drivers in Greensboro have been complaining about this traffic pattern for over 50 years. I know because I remember listening to my parents talk about it, when I was a little kid bouncing around in the back of a bright blue 1950 Pontiac and there was a Big Bear grocery store on the corner of Cornwallis and Lawndale where the Walgreens is now.
There are a lot of jokes about this street pattern. One I’ve heard a few times is that a student at North Carolina State University copied the road pattern and turned it in for a class project on road design; the story is that he received an F on the assignment.
Another is that it is the only place in North Carolina where a tractor-trailer has ever had an accident with itself.
Having read the comments, I decided to consult an expert and called the Greensboro Department of Transportation Director Adam Fischer. He said he’d heard about Wilkins’ post but hadn’t seen it. Fischer said that every city has its weird intersections where streets come together at strange angles and this was one of Greensboro’s. He also said that there were no immediate plans to do anything to realign the streets. Fischer said that the railroad has not turned the right-of-way over to the city, and when it did that would give the city more options and likely trigger some action.
Once the railroad gives up the tracks, the city plans to bring the the A&Y Greenway, which now ends behind the Target Shopping Center, through this area to connect it to the Downtown Greenway. According to Fischer, when that planning is being done it will be the logical time for the city to look at its options to improve the traffic flow through the area. He said that it wouldn’t make sense to make any significant changes at this point, before the railroad releases the right-of-way. When asked if there was a timeline on when that might happen, Fischer said, “No.” He said the city periodically checked with the railroad, but hadn’t received any confirmation on when the railroad would take action. The rail line has been abandoned, but the railroad still controls the right-of-way.
So, according to Fischer, when the city obtains the right-of-way and is finalizing plans for connecting the A&Y Greenway to the Downtown Greenway, his department will consider what else can be done.
However, Fischer added that, although the traffic pattern is confusing, traffic moves through the area pretty well and there aren’t a lot of accidents considering the number of cars that go through the area every day.
Fischer added that a few years ago the city did take a hard look at improving the traffic pattern and came up with a whole bunch of different options, including using bridges and tunnels, but those aren’t likely to be options the city uses because of the expense.
Barber, in his post, suggested closing the Lawndale frontage and putting roundabouts at Green Valley and Cornwallis, but he noted that negotiating with the railroad is a slow process.
Barber stated, “Kotis Properties has a terrific Midtown Plan.” Midtown, which Kotis is in the process of developing, is along Battleground south of Green Valley Road, but when it’s developed will bring even more traffic to the area.
Wilkins said he posted the question on Facebook because a constituent who lives in District 5, but works at a shop in the Lawndale Crossing Shopping Center, asked him if the city couldn’t do something about the streets. The area is in District 3, represented by Councilmember Justin Outling.
It appears the short answer to Wilkins’ question is that the city had three roads coming together at weird angles with a railroad track running down the middle and this was the best plan the city could come up with at the time, and since then nobody has figured out a way to make the area easier to navigate.
One aspect that will likely improve when the A&Y Greenway is built is that the area will have to become more pedestrian friendly. Every great once in a while I’ll see someone trying to cross from the Lawndale Crossing Shopping Center over to Westover and I wonder if they realize just how dangerous their trip is going to be.
If the city is going to do anything, it won’t be until after the railroad releases the right-of-way, and nobody knows when that might be. Anyone who has ever dealt with the railroads about their right-of-ways knows that they operate on their own schedule and it doesn’t appear man or beast can alter it very much.
For right now, it appears this is just a traffic pattern that people can continue to complain about.