Laying out the crosswalk

Bryan Shuler of the N.C. Department of Transportation on Monday marks a future crosswalk area across Grindstaff Cove Road as local and state officials look on. Business growth is prompting new safety additions in Sylva.

By Dave Russell


The north side of Sylva’s downtown continues to evolve as streetlights go up, a new crosswalk is planned, permanent “no parking” signs appear on a bridge – and a road could change traffic flow to become one way.

“Wrong Way” and “Do Not Enter” signs might also pop up on Railroad Avenue in Sylva if a proposal to make it one way does pan out.

“Railroad Avenue has been a two-way street my entire life,” Sylva Director of Public Works Jake Scott said. “We will definitely post adequate signage to let people know.”

The town-owned road goes between Grindstaff Cove Road and Allen Street, paralleling the railroad tracks and Mill Street. Town officials are looking at making it one way going east, from Grindstaff Cove Road to Allen Street.

N.C. Department of Transportation has agreed to help out with a traffic count of the avenue.

“Based on those traffic counts, we’re going to have to decide if we are going to make that one way or not,” Scott said. “It will be a town board decision, ultimately.”

Nantahala Brewing, which opened July 1 at the intersection of Grindstaff Cove Road and Railroad Avenue, has urged patrons to park along Railroad Avenue in the lot between Bridge Park and Dr. Clifford Mault’s office.

“A question we have been getting quite frequently is: Where does one park?” a July 10 post said on the Nantahala Brewing Facebook page. “We’ve got public parking 75 yards away from our location with over 150 spaces. Please do not park and be respectful of the Fusion parking and the Dr. Clifford Mault parking.”

An accompanying map shows parking on both sides of Bridge Park, but Scott said the idea of making the road one way predates the brewery.

“We had discussed making Railroad Avenue one way, just because it’s a very narrow road and its intersection with Grindstaff Cove Road is extremely awkward without the introduction of increased foot traffic,” he said. “We think this will simplify a confusing intersection.”

Parents of Mountain Discovery Charter School children meet a bus in the parking lot on the west side of Bridge Park, creating the road’s major traffic, Scott said.

“When there is an influx of traffic like that, having everybody moving the same way will make it a little safer for everybody,” he said.

Visitors have been parking on the sides of the Grindstaff Cove Road bridge over Scotts Creek.

“The NCDOT is going to put down some markings and post it ‘no parking,’” Scott said. “Everybody thinks it is because it will overload the bridge – the jury is still out on that – but if you have cars parked on the bridge, then you disrupt pedestrian continuity, because there are sidewalks on that bridge. You’re forcing people to walk in traffic.”

Nantahala’s plans showed installation of a crosswalk on Grindstaff when they applied for permits, Scott said.

Scott met with NCDOT officials Monday to decide the best location for the crosswalk and how it fits with existing curb cuts, he said.

The new crosswalk would be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, he said.

“It will be signalized and synchronized with the traffic light on Mill,” he said.

“When there is waiting pedestrian traffic they’ll push a button and get their walk signal when the light turns red and there is no traffic coming through.”

The town is working with Duke Energy to have improved street lighting to get the new crosswalk lit up as brightly as possible, he said.

The new light will not be a decorative light, such as those on Mill and West Main streets. It will be a light on a pole above the crosswalk.

Four new streetlights are going up on Mill Street.

The new crosswalk would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 to 10 feet wide, according to Chris Lee, District 2 Engineer with Division 14 of NCDOT.

“If you’re standing in Railroad Avenue looking at the brewery, the new crosswalk will be on your right,” he said.

Paint markings already on the road give an idea where it is going to go, but the configuration could change, he said.

The stop bar on Grindstaff Cove Road – that white stripe indicating where cars should stop for a red light – will have to move back 4 to 6 feet.

“We don’t want to push that stop bar back any farther than we have to,” he said. “We don’t want to have to change the signal timing, and if it goes back too far, you could have to do that, based on more travel distance you have to go through to get through the light. We’ve got to keep the traffic moving as well.”

Engineers try to make crosswalks as perpendicular to the road as possible, because it’s the shortest distance across, he said.

Nantahala Brewing will be paying a private contractor to build the crosswalk, part of their agreement with the town and county, Lee said.

“They actually have to construct a ramp on each side of the crosswalk that is ADA compliant, meaning if someone were in a wheelchair they could use that crossing,” he said.

“It will have what we call a truncated dome, that kind of raised bumpy device that you see on modern crosswalks. That’s for the visually impaired to touch it with a cane or something,” he said.

NCDOT is helping with logistics and making sure it meets their requirements, Lee said.

About cars parking on the bridge over Scotts Creek, Lee said the bridge structurally can handle the weight, but pedestrian traffic is the issue.

“We’re going to put up some ‘no parking’ signs on that bridge,” Lee said. “At least it will be enforceable then and tickets can be written.”

Nantahala Brewing welcomes the crosswalk.

“We are just in support of whatever is going to make everything safe for the community,” said Jeff Anderson, Nantahala Brewing chief operating officer. “It’s best that everyone trying to commute by foot is going to have the safest options.”