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Development done well? You decide.

When done well, commercial development results in vibrant communities that are safe, successful, and fun. Development can include affordable housing, mixed-use space for entrepreneurs, local food and products, culture, and nature. When development is really good, it’s easy and pleasant for people of all ages to walk and ride bikes. When done poorly, development can tear communities apart, favoring profitability over people. And there is a wide range of options in between.

Here in Winston-Salem, NC we’re seeing lots of new development. That’s good. Old buildings and vacant property should be revitalized, but we (citizens and our elected officials) need to ensure it’s done well.

We recently found out about a project near BB&T Ballpark, that would meet some of the criteria for a successful development mentioned above, but seems to miss the mark in some other ways.

The Easley Apartments promises 277 rental units, a pool, fitness center and club house, dog park, green space, and a parking deck.

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However, to do this, they want to close a portion of Brookstown Avenue and Green Street and this poses some major issues for transportation and connectivity, by car and for those biking or walking. 

We know that many people already use Brookstown Avenue and Green Street to ride in and out of downtown. The below image from the Strava Global Heatmap shows just how much people use these segments (lighter color = more trips).

Green Street (1)

It’s important to note, the Green Street bridge has been closed to auto traffic for years, and while it wasn’t exactly inviting, many people still used it for walking, running, and biking until it was demolished earlier this year. I, myself, have used it many times. Also, the Green Street bridge is getting rebuilt right now and it’s going to be a gorgeous. I am 100% sure it will be used even more than the old, dilapidated bridge before it.

It’s mind boggling why we would build this amazing bridge to connect neighborhoods to downtown then abruptly end the route at First Street.

Many citizens and local businesses have raised these concerns, and thankfully that has resulted in the developer delaying a presentation to City Council so they could evaluate revisions to their plan. They have agreed to “replace and widen the existing sidewalks bordering the site and provide a ten-foot multimodal facility which will provide a continued bike route through the site” however this is not shown in any of the drawings so it’s unclear where and how this path would be executed. Without a clear path through the development, riders would be forced to cross three lanes of traffic on First Street, turn onto Second Street, and then cross three more lanes of traffic to make a left on Green Street. Or, they could traverse Broad Street, however it’s not a very bike-friendly road way.

One more item to note… Brookstown Avenue was identified as part of the “Waughtown Route” included in the recently approved Winston-Salem Bicycle Master Plan (page 103). To close part of Brookstown Avenue now, in favor of development, reneges our commitment to become a more bikeable community.

In a growing city, full of people who want to live active lifestyles, we have to make walking and biking a priority, not an afterthought. Don’t get me wrong… developers and this development is not all bad. The Easley Apartments could be done very well, accommodating (maybe even promoting) biking and walking. We have to make sure it goes in a positive direction.

Please join me in contacting City Council Members and City Manager – Lee Garrity, to voice concerns for the trajectory of this project and share your ideas for how it could be improved. You can find your council member and their contact info here: http://www.cityofws.org/Departments/City-Council 

P.S.  If Winston-Salem had a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) in place, this proposal could have been reviewed by the BPAC earlier in the process to identify and address these types of issues. If you see the value in this kind of committee please attend the Public Works Meeting on October 15 to show your support.

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