By Dave Russell
The Asheville Design Center received an August 2018 invitation from the town of Sylva to take a look at R-5600, the N.C. 107/U.S. 23 construction project. The ADC, a nonprofit that brings community input and alternative ideas to public projects free of charge, last week released to The Sylva Herald a report on their findings and suggestions.
The ADC was encouraged by stakeholders, including the N.C. Department of Transportation, to explore alternatives that would satisfy the purpose and need of the project, while mitigating the impacts to properties within the N.C. 107 corridor, the report stated.
R-5600 is the DOT proposal for Sylva’s commercial corridor, N.C. 107, including the elimination of the center turn lane with sidewalks replaced and a 5-foot bike lane. Upgrades are slated for the N.C. 107/U.S. 23 Business intersection, and from U.S. 23 Business to Dillardtown Road and Municipal Drive, near the Sylva Fire Department. DOT’s preliminary estimate lists 55 businesses facing potential relocation or impact, though that number is fluid.
The ADC team focused on improvements to the DOT’s design, with an emphasis on improving accessibility and bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.
“It was definitely stuff that we had vetted with the DOT,” ADC Director Chris Joyell said. “I can’t say that they agree with everything that we put in there, but I believe that none of this is going to be news to them. It’s going to be issues that we explored at design workshops or in conversation.”
The ADC team didn’t find any new corridor alignment alternatives that would achieve similar results without adding business impacts and substantially increasing local funding requirements, the report stated.
The design team suggested narrowing lanes to 11 feet to provide an additional 2 feet for bike lane separation, a “painted buffer” from traffic, which could include delineator posts at trouble spots.
Narrower lanes have been shown to correlate with reduced travel speeds, the report states.
Cutting the width of the vehicle lanes to 11 feet was rejected by DOT, Joyell said.
“They came back with kind of a standard response for why they were not comfortable doing that,” he said. “Our team still decided it was important to include that in our report.”
While the DOT’s current plan calls for striping a 5-foot bike lane adjacent to vehicle travel lanes, the ADC stated that ideally, the design would feature a horizontal separation, such as delineator posts, and vertical separation from traffic.
The ADC applauds the idea of sidewalks on both sides of N.C. 107, and looked at combining the sidewalk and bike lane into a 10-foot wide multi-use path. Their studies found that it would not reduce the right-of-way.
The report offered some specific ideas for the intersection of N.C. 107 and Webster Road.
Refuge islands, delineated points for pedestrians to “find refuge” while crossing a road, could help shorten pedestrian crossing distances and reduce pedestrian exposure to traffic.
Still gathering information
Though the report has been issued, ADC still has an eye on that intersection.
An AARP program uses volunteers to gauge pedestrian safety, and Joyell has asked them to focus on the Webster Road/N.C. 107 intersection.
“We thought it would be beneficial for AARP volunteers to be able to evaluate the status quo for pedestrian walkability in that area and then evaluate the impacts of our recommendations,” he said.
He’s asking for input to improve walkability from the Department on Aging and around Smoky Mountain High School, he said.
The ADC report recommends street landscaping should be investigated beyond standard DOT plantings.
“If you get over a certain travel speed, trees become fatal impediments,” Joyell said. “There are a variety of trees other states have been using in medians at similar speed limits that have been working, such as crape myrtle. It just provides a little more of a visual buffer between lanes.”
Joyell does not know what kind of impact the ADC’s work might have on R-5600.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I’ll be interested in seeing that as well, seeing where they are in their process and their ability to incorporate any of those recommendations.”
With plans at 65 percent, there is still room for ADC’s ideas to be incorporated, he said.
“I hope they see the justifications we built into those recommendations, and I let them know that our team would be happy to follow up with them if they had any more technical questions,” he said.
The full report is available on The Sylva Herald website.