The voters of Greensboro passed $126 million in bonds last November. According to the City Council, $25 million is going to be spent to beautify the downtown, which is a lot of money for beauty.
Before the city spends a small fortune on planting trees, putting in fancy new street lights, fake brick pavement and whatever else they intend to do, the city should spend some bond money to redesign the traffic pattern downtown.
The traffic pattern seems to have been designed back when downtown Greensboro was both the retail and business hub of Greensboro. Today it is neither, but we still have a traffic pattern based on that use – or at least I hope that is the problem because otherwise we have a traffic pattern designed to be as difficult and annoying as possible.
A better traffic pattern could also encourage downtown development off Elm Street.
City Manager Jim Westmoreland told the City Council this week that two new parking garages were in the planning stages for the downtown. He said the result would be about $200 million in private investment and the number of city parking deck spaces downtown would double, an indication that these are going to be major parking structures.
If that many parking spaces are going to be built downtown, that is also going to result in a significant change in traffic downtown, as will the Tanger Center for the Performing Arts. Carroll at Bellemeade, currently under construction by the Carroll Companies (which owns this newspaper) on North Eugene and Bellemeade streets, is replacing an old rundown apartment building and buildings mostly used for storage with a hotel and about 300 apartments. The hotel and apartments are going to generate considerably more traffic than the storage buildings and dilapidated apartments. Also, according to press reports, there is an Aloft Hotel planned for the corner of Bellemeade and Eugene.
If the city is going to beautify streets, shouldn’t it first take into consideration the changing traffic patterns or will the city continue to simply add or remove an occasional turn lane and hope everything works out for the best?
For some strange reason the traffic pattern in downtown Greensboro has been sacrosanct. When Keith Holliday was in his last term as mayor in 2006, he told me that one of his goals before he left office was to get Greene Street turned into a two-way street. Holliday failed in that venture. For years, when Zack Matheny was on the City Council, he said he was right on the verge of getting Greene Street two-way, but it is now 2017 and Greene Street is still two-way on the northern end, two-way on the southern end and one-way in the middle. If you want to confuse people coming downtown it would be difficult to devise a better way to do it.
Greene Street alone is proof that the downtown traffic pattern is outdated, but there are plenty of other examples. What has happened over the years is that changes have been made gradually and with no strategic plan. Someone needs to come in and look at the entire downtown area, study the current traffic flows, consider what is being built and what is being planned and develop a comprehensive plan. It wouldn’t be cheap to implement, but the city has $25 million to spend with no plan on how to spend it.
Once a reasonable traffic pattern has been designed for the downtown, then it would make sense for the city to spend some time sprucing up the streets and sidewalks, but to do so before is like putting new tires on a car that won’t start.
Even if the city doesn’t decide to take action to make the downtown traffic pattern more sensible, it should discuss how the $25 million in bond money is going to be spent.
The City Council didn’t discuss how to spend the downtown bond money before the bonds were passed by the voters and didn’t discuss it in any depth at the annual City Council retreat on Tuesday, Feb. 14. At some point the City Council should give staff direction on what it expects to accomplish with $25 million. It’s a lot of money but no so much that it can’t be piddled away with little projects that don’t have much impact.
Take a look at the downtown Greenway for a project that has stalled. After 15 years, less than a mile of the Greenway is completed and the completed portions don’t even connect. The City Council constantly promotes the Greenway, but not to the point of getting it completed.
If the City Council doesn’t take action on how the $25 million in bonds will be spent, in 2026 the city staff could be coming back to the City Council to explain that the bonds have to be sold or the city will lose the authority to borrow the money. It’s not farfetched. It’s where the city found itself last year with the bonds passed in 2006.