LAURINBURG — The city of Laurinburg and the steering committee for a project aimed at increasing the walkability of busy streets and intersections will welcome at an open house tonight comments, concerns and ideas from city residents on how to make well-traveled footpaths more pedestrian-friendly.
Public input will be used as a part of the city’s Comprehensive Pedestrian Plan, initiated in July 2013 when the city was awarded a $22,400 North Carolina Department of Transportation Bicycle and Planning Grant. A match for the grant was provided by North Carolina’s Transformation Grant Project, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control, eliminating the need for the city to provide any funding.
With an increase in safe pedestrian walkways, the plan states, the city could help its multitude of residents without access to transportation as well as encourage those who would normally drive to walk more, thus decreasing the high rate of preventable ailments that can be reduced by exercise, such as diabetes and heart disease.
According to city planner Brandi Deese, the plan is about 30 percent complete, with the first three chapters drafted. The plan, she said, is meant to serve the city for several years.
“Before we start getting into meat of the plan we want to get input,” Deese said. “… Input will play a role in how the plan is developed.”
The biggest project considered, according Deese, is a pedestrian bridge that was estimated about a year ago to cost $900,000. The path would add a caged walkway to the West Boulevard bridge, allowing safer travel to Walmart and nearby businesses as well as the county’s social services building.
The plan notes that while sidewalks are plentiful in areas close to downtown, little exist in the city’s commercial district, which sees thousands of cars each day and is located far from where most residents live. Walking areas near schools are also scarce, the plan states.
The plan calls for a focus on pedestrian walkways in areas east of U.S. 401 and north of the U.S. 74 bypass, identified in the plan as low income. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the plan states, 14.7 percent of Laurinburg households — many on South Main Street and Jones and Caledonia roads — do not have access to a vehicle. Among renters, that number rises to 25 percent.
The city’s poverty rate of 33.9, more than double the statewide average, “underscores the importance of providing facilities that allow for the safe travel of pedestrians,” the plan states.
South Main Street and Jones and Caledonia roads were also identified in the plan as being high-risk for having low socioeconomic status and for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The plan states that making roadways safer for pedestrians will encourage more people to walk to a destination, leading to increased activity and a lower instance of illness.
Along Main Street, the plan notes, worn patches of grass indicate that a high number of residents are already walking to destinations, but a lack of sidewalks makes their travel unsafe — and that busy intersections such as U.S. 15/401 and West Boulevard, where pedestrians would otherwise travel, have no crosswalks and are geometrically suited for motorists.
Deese said input will also be sought on how projects identified by the plan should be funded by the city, from increasing taxes to seeking private donors or applying for grants.
The meeting is set for 5-6:30 p.m. in the city council’s conference room at 303 W. Church St. Residents can also voice their opinions through an online survey, available at surveymoney.org/s/Laurinburg.
For information, visit walklaurinburg.org.
Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 12. Follow her on Twitter @aoinscotco.