Residents ask Charlotte City Council for a safer Parkwood Ave

Everyone deserves safe streets.

That was the message echoed by four residents of Charlotte’s Belmont and Villa Heights neighborhoods, as well as Sustain Charlotte’s Bicycle Program Director who addressed City Council during last night’s Citizens’ Forum.

Villa Heights resident Mark Lynch read the language of a petition, signed by more than 580 residents, that calls on City Council to make Parkwood Ave and The Plaza safer through a road diet. Click here to view the petition and learn about the many safety, economic, social, and environmental benefits that a road diet would provide to the entire city.

Lynch lived in Villa Heights for two years without a car.  He expressed the daily struggles of many neighborhood residents in a similar situation. “Things I’d never given a second thought to before, now WEIGHED on me every time I had to leave my home for any reason: How freezing will the weather be today? How many drivers will yell at me from their window? What cracked-and-broken sidewalks will I have to ride on today because the road next to it has been designed to move cars as fast as possible? Will today be the day that I’m hit by one of those fast cars…?

A road diet on Parkwood Ave and The Plaza would provide safety and connectivity!

A road diet on Parkwood Ave and The Plaza would provide safety and connectivity!

Sustain Charlotte’s Bicycle Program Director Jordan Moore told Council Members that he has been riding his bike for transportation for 10 years, and sees a daily need for safer streets. He also pointed out that not only neighborhood residents, but the entire city wins when traffic is calmed: “When we make our streets safer for bicycling and walking we create connections in our community: connections to civic engagement, connections to economic and educational opportunities. When we provide safe, protected routes for pedestrians and bicyclists, we create networks for a healthier, more vibrant future for our city.”

Sustain Charlotte's Jordan Moore addressed Council.

Sustain Charlotte’s Jordan Moore addressed Council.

Bob Jarzemsky and his wife moved to Belmont because they wanted to live close to Uptown, the greenway, and the LYNX Blue Line Extension. He spoke of his frustration with “our first experience trying to cross the street to take our infant daughter to Progress Park in Villa Heights. As a healthy adult I’ve never given much thought to accessibility but pushing a stroller really sheds light onto its importance. The ramp on our side of the street didn’t line up with either the pedestrian refuge within the median or the ramp on the opposite side – we literally had to zig zag our way across the street. Moreover, the refuge wasn’t even wide enough to fit the stroller without someone hanging out into traffic. And it didn’t have a cut out to allow for wheel chair, bike, or stroller passage – so we had to use precious seconds to pop a wheelie onto the median. Since then we’ve relied on our car to go to the park, which is a shame since it’s only a couple blocks away and we supposedly live in an urban walkable area.

Stephen Valder, a resident of Belmont for eight years, addressed how Parkwood Ave divides the community and perpetuates a lack of social equity: “It divides and isolated the neighborhoods of Optimist Park, Belmont, Villa Heights, and Plaza Midwood. A roadway that enhances varied use by citizens will improve all of these communities and help strengthen their unity. Especially this road needs to be safe and accessible for the most vulnerable. The young, old, poor and disabled…I hope to utilize the light rail, I don’t have that choice if I can’t safely get there. Some do not have [a] choice. Please protect them.”

Lorna Allen reminded Council that we need to make investments in the future of our city now. With her infant daughter Cashmere in her arms, she spoke of wanting her child to be able to walk across the street safely when she’s older. She asked Council to transform Parkwood Ave into a safe and calm street that unites the neighborhood rather than dividing it.

Belmont resident Lorna Allen and baby Cashmere asked City Council for a safer Parkwood Ave.

Belmont resident Lorna Allen and baby Cashmere asked City Council for a safer Parkwood Ave.

Assistant City Manager Debra Campbell spoke briefly with residents following the comment period to discuss how the City will engage the neighborhood leaders in further dialogue about this situation.

Sustain Charlotte has worked with neighborhood residents over the past few months to develop a strategy for improving Parkwood Ave. Neighborhood residents have strongly rallied behind the cause, circulating the petition both online and in local businesses.

Charlotte Department of Transportation developed and adopted its innovative Urban Street Design Guidelines in 2007, which ensure that pedestrians and bicyclists are safely accommodated when new streets are build. But Charlotte still must overcome a long legacy of auto-oriented street design, which resulted in a huge number of streets built in past decades that don’t safely accommodate pedestrians or bicyclists.

The proposed road diet is a cost-efficient project that would fully leverage the city’s major investment in the Blue Line Extension and greenways by providing safe accessibility to pedestrians and bicyclists. This project would put Charlotte on the map as a transportation innovator. It would connect a fragmented community. It would reduce the probability of another horrific accident like the one that killed 73 year-old Al Gorman as he rode his bicycle home from the laundromat on a Sunday morning. It would mean that baby Cashmere and her mom could walk to a neighborhood park instead of having to drive.

For all of these reasons and more, let’s do this!

Click here to view WCNC’s news footage covering this story.

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