Yes, I’m a Letter-Writing Crank

The city of Winston-Salem–a city,frankly, not known for its forward thinking attitude about foot and bicycle transportation–has recently drafted and posted its Sidewalk and Pedestrian Facilities Plan, and is seeking citizen comment on the plan. Here’s my input:

Ms. Schwan:

I saw via “Smitty’s Notes” a few weeks ago that the city was seeking citizen input on the Draft Sidewalk and Pedestrian Facilities Plan, so here goes:

First off, I congratulate the city for beginning to take the issue of pedestrian, bicycle and other non-motor vehicular traffic seriously. With some forethought (and of course, funding to make it happen) Winston-Salem might actually be able to stave off a potentially stifling traffic situation before it becomes detrimental to our quality of life, and before it aversely impacts our region’s appeal to potential businesses and residents. One need only take a short trip to Charlotte or Atlanta to see the unpleasant results of addressing these sorts of issues only after they’ve become problems.

However, in looking at the portion of the plan as it pertains to the area of Winston-Salem in which I live, the Northwest Area, I can’t help but notice that the plan doesn’t even make mention of what is doubtless the single most egregious obstacle to pedestrian movement in the area: the Five Points intersection. A plan for pedestrian movement through the Northwest region of the city that doesn’t address the Five Points intersection is like a plan for U.S. military strategy that doesn’t include the word “Iraq.”

As I’m sure you’re aware, the Five Points intersection is located directly between the many popular retail and dining destinations at the Thruway shopping center and some of the area’s most densely populated residential areas—West Highlands, West End and Ardmore. As the crow flies, travel from these areas to the Thruway would be a moderate walk and an easy bike ride… yet, in actuality, attempting to cross the Five Points intersection is literally a life and death affair, reminiscent of that “Frogger” video game from the ‘80s. Not so much as a crosswalk exists to assist the would-be pedestrian.

The fact that there is a population of citizens who truly want this area to be walkable is confirmed by the numerous “desire paths” that we residents of the area have formed in the surrounding areas as we seek ways to move about this now-dangerous area of the city on foot and on bicycles. I’d be happy to give a representative from the Department of Transportation a walking tour of this area of town and point out some of these “guerilla” routes that have cropped up as folks try desperately to get around the vicinity via alternative forms of transportation.

I implore you to please reconsider the exclusion of this important area from the current Pedestrian Facilities Plan. (An obvious solution–though not necessarily in your department–would be to establish a greenway in place of, or alongside, the railroad tracks. This would form a route from West End all the way to the Thruway that would cross only one street, Miller, en route.)

I appreciate your attention to this matter, and for your overall work in making Winston-Salem a more pedestrian-friendly environment,
Ben Towle

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