By Nathan Ham
As Boone continues to expand and grow, the variety of transportation methods for students and residents will continue to expand as well. Part of that has been a big focus of Harmony Lanes, an advocacy group in Boone that has been working hard to try and get a multi-modal protected lane for walking, running, cycling, skateboarding and other transportation methods like that included with the potential North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Highway 105 Superstreet Project.
Dave Freireich, who is a member of the group, spoke to the High Country Press about where their ideas currently stand within the project.
“It’s all just proposals until the town council says yes we’re going to let the superstreet project happen, then we will push harder on how we think the project can include this multi-modal path that would help the town 20, 30 and 40 years out,” Freireich said.
The Boone Town Council is expected to vote on the DOT project at one of their upcoming meetings on May 7 or May 9. If the project should proceed, being able to provide safe transportation opportunities for vehicles and pedestrians will be extremely important.
“As more and more students come to school here, there are traffic problems and parking problems that make it hard for them to drive to class in cars. AppalCart is overwhelmed on some of their routes, so we think with a safe path down 105, people might jump on their bikes or ride their skateboards or scooters or whatever,” said Freireich.
Freireich also hopes that adding this multi-modal lane would be a good start to the future of highway expansion in Boone that would include safer alternatives for those that choose to not travel by automobile.
“We are hoping that the town might pick this up as the first path of its type in Boone and in the future when they are widening other major roads, we can say let’s add in another segment to link to the one we have built a few years ago on 105 so that we will end up with a connected network of safe, multi-modal paths around Boone, which we really need,” he said. “Another one of our pitches is that the town can save a ton of money by doing this now when the DOT is already having to pay for all of the engineering and planning, acquiring right-of-way, laying down asphalt, laying down concrete, they’re already having to do all of this stuff now and it doesn’t add much for us to throw in this engineered path. Now is a really great time for us to jump in and think about 40 or 50 years out. In 40 years, ASU’s enrollment is going to be two to four times what it is now based on historical trends and that’s really going to change Boone, a lot of people might not like that change but it’s going to happen, so we’re trying to think ahead.”
The DOT has been able to provide information and guidance to the Harmony Lanes group on what type of proposals could be considered for the project.
“I have been really impressed with the openness of Mike Pettyjohn and Ramie Shaw. They’re just trying to do this project to increase the safety of people living in Boone and we’re trying to jump in there also and say we appreciate what you’re doing and while you’re doing that, what about adding this. They’ve been real receptive when we’ve been including them and asking them what have we missed and what the complications would be on DOT to add this thing in,” said Freireich.
Recently, the town of Lenoir completed a protected travel lane for pedestrians near Lenoir Middle School. This gives middle schoolers a chance to walk to school or ride their bikes to schools rather than relying on their parents or school buses for transportation.
Overall, Freireich says he has gotten mostly positive feedback for the project adding in a protected travel lane.
“People have been really receptive to this idea. One of the biggest issues is the concern on the impact of businesses. They are going to be impacted as this project goes on, but we’ve seen a lot of studies that show after multi-modal lanes are put in, businesses see 10 to 50 percent or even higher increases in their sales. The reason is when you make it a street that is attractive to stop on, people go shop there,” he said. “Property values and retail sales go up after these projects. It’s painful during the construction phase, but we feel like the DOT is pretty serious about increasing safety on that road so it’s going to happen sometime.”
There have been many academic studies completed on the benefits of highways adding in protected bike lanes. One study showed an increase in property values by 148 percent in Indianapolis. Another nationwide study shows that once a protected bike lane is constructed, bicycle traffic increases 75 percent in just the first year. Yet another study showed the safety benefits of these protected bike lanes with a 90 percent decrease in injuries per mile on the highway when a protected bike lane is constructed.
Additional studies of the positive impact of protected bike lanes can be found here.
Learn more about Harmony Lanes in their Facebook group.