For months I have watched a small portion of the Downtown Greenway take shape, and since it has opened, I decided to take a walk down the portion of the Greenway that runs along Fisher Avenue from Greene Street to Eugene Street.
I don’t know what I expected, but considering how long it had taken the city to build this portion of the Greenway, I think I was expecting marching bands, maybe a moving sidewalk or outdoor cafes full of beautiful people drinking exotic drinks, but what I found was a wide sidewalk where a regular sidewalk had been.
The truth is that the Downtown Greenway has great marketing but falls short on delivery.
How could anyone be opposed to something called “Greenway”? It’s the only sidewalk in Greensboro with a full-time employee devoted to marketing, and the marketing has been amazingly successful.
But marketing aside, the Greenway is a wider-than-usual sidewalk.
The project began in 2001, and now, 16 years later, less than a mile of the four-mile wider-than-usual sidewalk project is complete.
But don’t let the lack of progress fool you, because the Greenway project is still costing a bundle.
The latest estimates are that the total cost of this four-mile wider-than-usual sidewalk around the downtown will be $36 million – or $9 million a mile – to widen the sidewalk. Except because this is a government project the sidewalk isn’t actually widened. The old sidewalk is removed and a brand new wider sidewalk is installed in its place. Or at least that is what I watched them do along Fisher Avenue.
But still, $9 million a mile seems a bit high, unless maybe the wider-than-usual sidewalk is heated in winter and cooled in the summer. That would make it worth $9 million a mile and also greatly increase its popularity. It would make sledding on the wide sidewalk impossible, but you can’t have everything.
But $9 million a mile is more than 20 times the cost of the sidewalks the rest of the folks in Greensboro are receiving.
The city has contracts to put in about 18.3 miles of sidewalks in the rest of the city, plus some other improvements, at a cost of $13.6 million – or about $750,000 a mile. The ballpark figure used for sidewalk construction is $400,000 a mile.
So theoretically, the city could have built a sidewalk along the existing sidewalk, doubling the size, for about $400,000 a mile versus the $9 million a mile for the all-new wider sidewalks.
In some areas all-new sidewalks will have to be installed, but still the cost at $9 million a mile is a figure that only a government bureaucrat could love.
If you were getting four miles of new sidewalk in your neighborhood and you don’t live downtown, the cost would be about $1.6 million, instead of the $36 million for the four miles of wider sidewalk downtown.
During the election, some people complained that the City Council spent too much money on the downtown area at the expense of the rest of the city. It appears that with the cost of the wider-than-usual sidewalks downtown, that is pretty accurate.
Another way to look at it is if the $36 million were spent on sidewalks in the rest of the city, it would be enough to build about 90 miles of sidewalks instead of the four miles of the Greenway.
If you walk down the south side of Fisher Avenue now you are on a brand new wide sidewalk. On the north side you are on the old regular sidewalk where some of the blocks of concrete are a different shade of tan because they are newer or older. Some are not perfectly flat, but it gets you where you are going just as quickly.
Knowing how the city works, about two days to a week after the Greenway is finished, the city will start tearing up portions for water, sewer, infrastructure, street repaving, code enforcement issues, problems complying with the handicapped laws or something.
Considering how much work the city does tearing up streets and sidewalks, it’s possible that other than during the grand opening, people may never be able to walk the full four miles without detouring around construction.
Speaking of marketing, the Greenway marketing department claims credit for all of the new development near the Greenway, ignoring the fact that most of the property was developed when the construction on the nearby portion of the Greenway had not even started. It is entirely possible or even likely that some of the businesses that the Greenway is claiming credit for bringing to the downtown will be out of business before the Greenway is completed.
One of the other aspects of the Greenway that is fascinating is that the city is holding public meetings on the design of a portion of the Greenway this week. This is a project that has been underway for 16 years, and if the city is being honest it isn’t designed yet.
I hate to go out on a limb here, but my prediction is that the Greenway will be completed at the same time Greene Street will be two-way its entire length instead of two-way on the north and south and one-way in the middle.
Back when Keith Holliday was serving his last term as mayor in 2007, he told me that one of the goals he wanted to accomplish before finishing his term was to have Greene Street become a two-way street.
That was four mayors ago, and now Mayor Nancy Vaughan is about to start what she says is her last term as mayor. It may be too bold but I would like to suggest that in her last term as mayor, Vaughan attempt to complete the Greenway and have Greene Street become a two-way street from beginning to end.