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Cornelius News

Davidson has a leg up on Cornelius when it comes to walkability


By Dave Yochum. While much of the world is lowering speed limits to make communities more walkable, making Cornelius more pedestrian friendly sometimes looks like an uphill climb. The speed limits were just raised on Bailey Road near the serious curves, much to the consternation of nearby business owners and people advocating for a kinder, gentler town.

  • Speed limits on some residential parts of Jetton Road are higher than parts of Highway 21, not to mention the fact they change from 25 mph to 35 mph to 45 mph. This, on a road with walkers, joggers, cyclists and even golf carts.
  • On Catawba, speed limits do the same thing, 25, 35 and 45 miles an hour, all on the same road. Indeed, NC Sen. Jeff Tarte famously said anyone seen walking on West Catawba was presumably lost.
  • In Davidson, a pedestrian-friendly, human scale directive from the town government helped recruit the likes of MSC Industrial, a big employer. The speed limit downtown is 20 mph and climbs to 25 north and south of the center of town. When you hit Cornelius, the Main Street streetscape changes from pedestrian friendly to anything goes.

Joy McCall Dean, a life-long resident of the Church Street neighborhood just to the west of Main Street in Cornelius, said she is “afraid to walk on Main Street.” The sidewalks are old and narrow, she said at a Town Board meeting. In some places, they’re virtually level with the adjoining pavement.

The 35 mph speed limit in Cornelius “doesn’t make any sense,” she said. It would take about 45 seconds longer to traverse Main Street in Cornelius at 25 mph instead of 35 mph.

But lowering it is a big thing to some people. In fact, there was a man, resident Jim Cooke, sporting a sandwich board protesting any kind of speed reduction. Considerably younger than the members of the Town Board, he explained that to them, given their shorter life expectancy, they might very well favor lower speeds, but to him, a lifetime of driving more slowly on Main Street amounts to a considerable waste of time.

“Forty-six seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but compounded over the years, it is,” Cooke said, carefully pointing out that some of the town commissioners will be, well, six feet under when he’s still driving Main Street.

Neil Simon could not have written a better comedy.

“We really want all areas of our town to be as walkable as possible, but especially [in] concentrated mixed-use areas where residents can interact with each other, local businesses, food and entertainment providers, schools and churches, and other community organizations without driving in automobiles,” said Dave Gilroy, 49, a long-time member—and, the youngest member—of the Town Board. “This kind of environment naturally supports a sense of place and connection, town character, stronger interpersonal relationships, health and fitness, and quality of life. The benefits are innumerable clearly–it’s a no-brainer.”

Town Commissioner Bruce Trimbur, an advocate of a more people-friendly scale, said slowing down speeds would create a “wonderful future community. If you have people flying by at 45 mph, it’s not going to happen.”

There is a historic shift taking place across America as many cities slowly move from the model of drivable suburban development—which has shaped America since the the 1940s—to a form of development called Walkable Urban. According to University City Partners, walkable urban centers are attractive to millennials, the next generation of homebuyers.

John Cock, a Davidson resident, rides his bike to work as often as he can at Alta Planning in downtown Davidson. Alta is doing a bicycling study for the Town of Cornelius.

“Millennials are helping transform how we look at things,” says Cock. “The millennials are going to be starting to buy houses…when you look at the millennial demographic nationally they want to have transportation choices, they want transit options, like biking, walking.”

He said pedestrian-friendly communities have a leg up on the competition from other municipalities when it comes to economic-development. “It is about economic development if people want to come to visit places, and invest in business and in places that have these amenities,” Cock said.

The Economist magazine in a September article said cities around the world are shifting their attention from “keeping cars moving to making it easier to walk, cycle and play on their streets.”

Cock said it was unfortunate that Jetton Road was recently rebuilt with four lanes and no accommodations for cyclists. Likewise, West Catawba was widened from Torrence Chapel to Jetton with no accommodations for biking.

“Speed limits are being slashed,” according to The Economist. “More than 700 cities in 50 countries now have bike-share schemes; the number has grown by about half in the past three years.”

Cock said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets it. Chicago has invested on the order of $18 million in people-friendly bike lanes and greenways.

At the opening of Chicago’s new bike lane in the downtown Loop, Emanuel said he expected to recruit Seattle and Portland’s bikers and economic growth and “all the opportunities of the future that come with this.”