Walk Bike Leland: The Pedestrian Plan
The Town of Leland’s Pedestrian Plan aims to make the community safer and healthier.
Last year more than 90 percent of the people who took a Town of Leland survey blamed a lack of sidewalks for the discouragement of walking. Enter the Town of Leland Pedestrian Plan.
With the advent of the plan, walking, as well as biking, could be celebrated at a whole new level in days ahead.
In 2015 the Town of Leland was awarded a matching grant from the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant Initiative. Towns across the state such as Leland receive this grant to develop comprehensive pedestrian plans and bicycle plans. A wide scope of people make up the team launching the plan, including public officials, NCDOT representatives, engineering and design consultants, as well as citizens.
“Leland is a community that invites people of all ages and abilities to walk for enjoyment, exercise and daily transportation by providing a safe, convenient and attractive pedestrian environment,” states town’s vision statement for the Pedestrian Plan.
Attending the same school of thought as Leland’s Gateway Beautification Project, an effort that introduced the town sign at the Village Road exit among other enhancements, the Pedestrian Plan is a new, separate plan geared at physical improvements to yield accomplishment of a handful of goals related to safety, transportation and wellness.
“It’s a quality of life thing,” says Operation Services Director Niel Brooks.
Some of the major tangibles the plan boasts are crosswalks, sidewalks and multi-use paths. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, but conversely, the improvements will be very noticeable,” says Robert Waring, planning manager for the Town of Leland.
A couple of the high-priority causes, such as side paths for Old Fayetteville Road and Baldwin Drive, will be the first projects to get underway, according to Brooks and Waring.
Now awaiting approval and feedback from NCDOT, the Leland Pedestrian Plan is slated to be finalized in 2016. With long-term and short-term objectives, some projected to materialize in 2021, the plan cites five areas of benefits to the town: safety, mobility, economics, health and stewardship.
Safety by the numbers
North Carolina is ranked 41st and 44th in the nation respectively for walking and biking safety, according to research conducted by the North Carolina Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Summit. The organization also reports that on average 162 pedestrians and 19 bicyclists were killed each year (between 2007 and 2011) in motor vehicle collisions. A total of 12,286 pedestrian crashes and 4,700 bicycle crashes with motor vehicles were reported during the research period.
An online survey conducted by the pedestrian planning team fielded responses from 130 participants, 85.2 percent of whom agreed that safer walking conditions should be the most important outcome of the plan.
“It’s all about prioritization right now,” Brooks says.
According to statistics published in the Pedestrian Plan, countermeasures, such as installing pedestrian underpasses and overpasses, reduce crashes by 90 percent. Additionally, installing sidewalks and paved shoulders of at least 4 feet reduces crashes by 88 and 71 percent respectively.
In the online survey from the Leland plan, 57.7 percent of users rated Leland’s walking conditions as “poor,” while 1.6 percent rated them “excellent.” Improving walking conditions was rated “very important” by 75.4 percent of users.
Waring and Brooks, both stressing the essential need for a safe side path along the Old Fayetteville overpass at N.C. Highway 74, say they learned more about citizens’ perceptions of pedestrian safety needs through a survey conducted at the recent Founder’s Day festivities.
“Whenever you have a public input process, you almost always get something the town hasn’t thought of yet,” Brooks says. “You find the things that are top priorities and work on them.”
As the Town of Leland was incorporated in 1989, Brooks reinforces that the town is in its younger stages of development. He says many of the pedestrian issues that need addressing are better received when a wide sampling of people build up awareness. “Experience is the key in everything; it’s a boots on the ground kind of thing,” he says.
Waring describes improvements such as crosswalks on Highway 17 through the Westgate and Waterford area, an official “superstreet,” by DOT standards, as a hot concern as well.
The costs of safer walking
Many of the projects listed in the Pedestrian Plan are seemingly “open and shut” cases, but in some areas the comprehensive, living document will bend and shift with needs and funding.
Safety concerns at the Highway 74-76/Highway 17 interchange, as well as the Gateway entrance-exit area, are certainly imperative, according to Waring. He says enhancements such as bike lanes and crosswalks are important but challenging as far as coordinating funding and logistics.
The grant for the pedestrian plan is a 30 percent matching grant based on an estimated $50,000 in costs to draft a comprehensive plan.
Alta Planning and Design has been appointed as a prequalified consultant for the plan, with five on-call engineers and other resources driving its development. Maps detailing current conditions and recommendations with an online presence are a mainstay of the effort.
Benefits to the economy
There is perhaps a risk-reward potential for the area in implementing the upgrades of the Pedestrian Plan. When it comes to recreation, the possibility of greenways or multi-use paths connecting places such as Mallory Creek and Brunswick Forest as well as the Westgate Nature Park area to other parts of Leland is a big deal.
“Our biggest focus right now is getting that greenway developed,” Brooks says of the Parks and Recreation contribution.
He envisions greater access to the great outdoors. He says many people don’t recognize the natural wonders of the region without biking and walking accessibility. Waring describes how sidewalks and multi-use paths would provide crucial transport to commercial areas, driving customers to those areas in new ways.
Walking and biking paths also have been proven to contribute to the tourism economy in addition to decreasing healthcare costs. According to an impact study by the WalkBikeNC Plan, adding 300 miles of greenway for biking and walking would yield $174 million for the North Carolina economy as well as cut healthcare costs by $76 million annually.
“I have no doubt whatsoever we would see economic benefits,” Waring says.
In addition to economic positives, walking paths also bring interaction with neighbors. “I think that anytime you can get physical connections in the community, that’s going to strengthen the community,” says Dr. Sanjay Batish, a member of the pedestrian plan steering committee.
Increasing community wellness
According to a 2012 study by NCDOT, North Carolina paid $3.67 billion in medical bills due to inactivity while $4.71 billion was lost in productivity.
All signs point to better health when it comes to increased walking and biking. A NCDOT survey found 60 percent of North Carolinians would increase physical activity with greater access to sidewalks and trails.
Batish emphasizes the weighty influence of good walking accommodations. According to NCDOT, an “active transportation system” is proven to reduce lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
“It’s absolutely critical,” Batish says.
In a Charlotte study, results indicated those who walked to take the light rail to work, weighed 6.5 pounds less on average. U.S. Census data collected from 2009 to 2013 showed no percentage of Leland residents were walking to work, while towns such as Wilmington and Jacksonville reached 2.9 and 10 percent respectively. Whether elaborate trails loved by cyclists or basic sidewalks used by commuters, data suggested adding to pedestrian infrastructure would increase pedestrian transportation in towns of all sizes.
With 65 percent of North Carolinians obese, and the state ranking as the number 5 worst in the nation for childhood obesity, Batish reinforces the need for suitable walking conditions.
“It’s a basic human necessity,” Batish he says. “It’s vital for a community.”
Batish explains how the steering committee has taken notice of “goat” paths, or worn areas along roadsides, to help determine the high priority areas for side paths.
“Ultimately, the pedestrian plan parallels some of our road designs,” Brooks says.
Assuming the given of differing perceptions, he stresses the value of interfacing with the public. “Oftentimes to get your real users you have to go out in the field,” he says. “The point of a pedestrian plan is to get people from point A to point B.”
Maps highlighting multiple points of interest have become a key tool for the town to use in determining pedestrian projects and negotiating grants for future endeavors. With collaboration from NCDOT and design engineers, the town has acquired what Waring describes as an “industry standard” system of pedestrian planning.
“It keeps us aware of the big picture,” Waring says.
With the combination of research and consulting, the legislative process is supported. “We try to provide town council with all the information they need to make good decisions,” Brooks says.
Stewardship of natural resources stood as another key prong in implementing pedestrian and biking upgrades. National research cited by NCDOT reports that as of 2003, more than a fourth of all greenhouse gases come from motor vehicles, with two-thirds of that caused by personal cars.
The pedestrian plan reports a challenge from the state, which holds that if citizens replaced 2 miles of driving with walking or biking each day for a year, 730 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions would be prevented.
For more information about Leland’s Pedestrian Plan, visit www.wmpo.org/plans/bike-ped-plans or call the town at (910) 371-0148.