Winston-Salem has problems. People who want to ride bikes around town face a bunch of challenges, as mentioned in our last blog. However, we may just be making some headway on addressing these issues…
On Tuesday, August 13 the community engaged in local government and the City responded.
Over thirty citizens packed the committee room at City Hall for the Public Works meeting. Most were there to support a number of initiatives, proposed by the Recreation & Parks Commission, aimed at improving safety and institutionalizing the requirements for a bike-friendly community (i.e. engineering, oversight, education, programing, and more).
This meeting was special, not only because of the amazing public turn out (thank you!), but because 4 out of 5 agenda items were related to bicycling and this forced the Committee to consider the many facets of biking in WS today.
Safe Routes to School Non-infrastructure Grant (this program teaches skills and helps get more kids walking and riding to school)
Adoption of New Bicycle Master Plan (this plan has been in the works for over a year now and it’s close to being formally adopted)
Recreation & Parks Commission Initiatives (mentioned above)
Shared Micromobility Service Selection (e-scooters are coming back, along with new dockless bike share)
I attended the meeting and was delighted to hear the comments and questions from City Council members Scippio (East), Larson (South), Besse (Southwest), Taylor (Southeast), and Macintosh (Northwest). They were inquisitive about current conditions for biking and asked City Staff about ways to implement the new Bicycle Master Plan so it doesn’t just sit on the shelf. Various Council Members shared stories about bicycling themselves, both as a child and in current times (CM Besse noted using the racks on city buses) and they expressed what seemed to be sincere desire to make our city a better place to bike, and live! Council member MacIntosh even commented that Council has an important role to play as advocates for the cultural and systemic changes required for us to improve. We cannot simply rely of City staff or citizen engagement, Council can help fight the fight, so to speak.
Aside from the Committee, the public had great things to say! After the Recreation & Parks Commission presented their item, I spoke to the Committee and reinforced support for the recommendations. I specifically highlighted the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) as a no brainer. Every other large city in NC and some smaller towns already have a BPAC in place. We could establish a BPAC in WS quickly, at no cost, and it would really help get the ball rolling for much needed dialogue and accountability as we work to implement the new Bicycle Master Plan. After me, there was one other citizen signed up to speak, who expressed the need to make our community safer and easier to navigate without a car.
WATCH VIDEO OF THE MEETING
What followed was democracy in action!
Thanks to the open mindedness, and leadership of Public Works Committee Chair – Dan Besse – 8 more citizens rose to speak. They shared so many great perspectives. From specific examples of problem areas and personal experiences, to broader concepts around environmental sustainability, innovative roadway design, as well as the proven (and much desired) economic vitality and equity that result from being a walkable and bikable community.
It was impressive, to say the least. I thank all of those who attended this meeting and extra thanks to those who stepped up to the mic. I believe your words matter and our voices were heard.
My favorite part, aside from hearing from all of the amazing citizens who showed up to engage, was the commitment from the Committee to do something. It would have been easy to move on from the Recreation and Parks Commission proposal without taking any action but I think the folks who showed up made an impact…. they forced the Committee to consider what they could do today to put progress in motion.
The Committee asked City staff to bring back information on establishing a BPAC here in Winston-Salem. The target date for that presentation is November but I think it could be presented sooner. If a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) was established it would be a VERY important step for our City.
WS CAN will share updates on this in the weeks to come. We’ll probably need another strong showing of citizen support to make it a reality, but once in place, the BPAC could transform how our City thinks about transportation and help us embrace biking.
I want to thank the Council Members, who were present at the meeting, for their words of support. I hope to see a sustained commitment to working with the public and driving innovation within various City departments, in order to bring about a new-and-improved, 21st century city where it is safe and easy to walk and bike!
Thank you to all those who attended the meeting or sent emails to Council, and thanks to the Recreation & Parks Commission for using their platform to raise this important conversation!
I hope more riders and advocates will get involved in the work underway in Winston-Salem. There is no shortage of challenges but together, we can raise awareness for issues, promote solutions, and rally for action and lasting change.