By Jesse Wood
The Boone Town Council held a community input session for the public to learn about the preliminary plans of the Howard Street improvement project from town staff and representatives of Glave Holmes Architecture and Davenport Engineering, Inc., which are working with the Town of Boone on this project.
Earlier this year, the Town of Boone released a feasibility study that recommended turning the entire stretch of West Howard Street into a westbound, one-way street and Appalachian Street into a southbound, one-way street.
Glave Holmes Architecture also designed preliminary plans for Howard Street around the “shared-space” concept that is popular in Europe and accommodates all modes of transportation – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists – on equal footing.
“There is a potential for this to be a really wonderful place enhanced as much as it can be for a street like this,” Andrew Moore of Glave Holmes Architecture said. “Howard Street is not a dead street. It’s very active.”
Frank Amenya, director of traffic engineering with Davenport, noted that by far walking is the most frequent transportation mode along Howard Street and that is why a pedestrian-friendly plan is emphasized.
“Pedestrians are the king of the road,” Amenya said of Howard Street.
Some community members and merchants on Howard Street aren’t crazy about the idea of a one-way street. Fulton Lovin, owner of Pads for Grads, for instance, wondered what kind of traffic backlog is going to take place during morning and afternoon rush hour as students and faculty enter and exit the Raley Parking Lot on the campus of ASU.
Town Manager John Ward and the representatives from the architecture and engineering firms stressed that these were preliminary plans and are not set in stone.
When asked about the analysis of the 805 cars that will enter and exit Raley Parking Lot during rush hour, Town Manager John Ward stated that he was “very aware” of this concern.
Ward also discussed that there have also been discussions about keeping Howard Street one way so there is a “release valve” during rush hour traffic.
Currently, those vehicles exiting the campus parking lot can leave via Rivers Street or exit Appalachian Street and Depot Street, which connect to King Street, via Howard Street.
Ward also mentioned that he has been in discussion with officials at Appalachian State University to possibly relocate the traffic patterns for campus traffic closer to the Plemmons Student Union and the ASU parking deck.
Noting that the university is the largest property owner on one side of Howard Street, Ward said that the town and university have to be “working in lockstep” in order for this project to be successful in the end.
One person stood up and said she was excited about the shared-space concept and said that none of community members were speaking on behalf of the pedestrians and bikers.
Aside from the one-way, shared-space concept that was presented, a number of business owners downtown complained about the drooping and bulky power lines that are an eyesore in downtown Boone.
Ward noted that he didn’t foresee the town burying power lines because of the increased costs, which he said could add up to $4 million to the cost of this plan. The plan as presented is a “scaled-back” version of what was initially proposed several years back because of high costs and the inability to obtain right of ways from some of the property owners along Howard Street.
Ward mentioned that if the town struggled to obtain the right of ways, he anticipated that the town will also run into obstacles trying to publicly fund something as expensive as burying power lines.
John Mena, owner of Hair Cut 101, was one of the community members that talked about the power lines. While commending the Town of Boone for taking initiative to try to revamp Howard Street, Mena said that if the town was going to go through all of this effort, it might as well address the power lines, too.
“Just doing that would clean up Howard Street tremendously,” Mena said. “Keeping those power lines is hideous. I would rather see our tax dollars benefit us in the long run.”
Town Manager John Ward told the community members to keep coming to meetings or writing emails to the council and staff on what they would like to see Howard Street look like in the future.
Currently, there is no timeframe regarding this project.
This year’s proposed budget includes $1 million to fund this project.