Waynesville on target with sidewalk construction

Waynesville is a leader when it comes walkable communities, according to a consultant hired to develop a long-range pedestrian plan for the town.

“I would like to say this is a unique situation,” Terry Snow with Wilbur Smith Associates told the town board during a meeting last month. “We came into a town that already had a pedestrian plan in place. You are already doing this and doing a great job.”

The town systematically analyzes its sidewalk system for where missing links are needed. It builds new sections each year, gradually building out the network. The town has a short greenway and a master plan to extend it. It even requires commercial developers to build sidewalks as part of new construction, whether it’s Super Wal-Mart or a hair salon.

Mayor Gavin Brown said the town board has placed an emphasis on creating a pedestrian-friendly community.

“We believe it is an important part of the social fabric of our community,” Brown said. “We firmly believe in the concept of ‘build it and they will walk.’”

After a year-long process, Snow presented the finished product of a long-range pedestrian plan to the town board. It outlines immediate sidewalk priorities, plus those five, 10 and 15 years from now.

“I think it is wonderful to have these kind of points out in the future that we need to meet,” said Alderwoman Libba Feichter. “This board is committed to enhancing our walkable community, and I believe this community is committed to that.”

The pedestrian plan was funded with a grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation. Public input was sought at meetings and in surveys.

“There was overwhelming support for having an interconnected system,” Snow said of the public input. People wanted more sidewalks, more greenways and less speeding.

The consultant made just one recommendation: way-finding signage. These customized signs are often mounted on eye-level posts pointing the way to shops, parks and the like.

Not all developers are fans of the town’s sidewalk requirement. Some question why they should build a sidewalk in front of their building when the property to either side doesn’t have one.

“It’s the age-old problem of putting in a sidewalk to nowhere,” Snow said. “But it is harder to build a continuous sidewalk project. It is a lot easier to fill in the gaps.”

The reason is funding, which can be scarce while building sidewalks are expensive.

There has been talk of giving developers the option of paying into a sidewalk kitty, which the town could apply to somewhere else in town if a particular development genuinely doesn’t warrant a sidewalk.

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