By: Tom Joyce Staff Reporter
September 18, 2013
After weeks of digesting pros and cons surrounding a proposal to meet Mount Airy’s long-range needs regarding pedestrian travel, city officials will decide this week if it has legs.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on the comprehensive pedestrian plan during a meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Building. It was developed by the Kimley-Horn and Associates consulting firm at a cost of $31,500, funded mostly by a state grant.
Since its release on Aug. 12, both criticism and praise has greeted the 66-page plan, the centerpiece of which is the installation of high-visibility crosswalks, special signals and other pedestrian-friendly amenities at key intersections around town. That includes comments during a public hearing process spanning two commissioner meetings, on Aug. 15 and Sept. 5.
During the first, citizens blasted the proposal as a waste of taxpayers’ money and the idea of spending millions of dollars on its recommendations for the intersections and construction of new sidewalks or shared pathways for bikers and walkers. They urged the commissioners not to approve the plan.
But an opposite tone surrounded the last, more heavily attended hearing nearly two weeks ago, during which city residents generally applauded the idea of more sidewalks and other pedestrian-oriented facilities in Mount Airy. While some agreed the consultant’s proposal was not perfect, they supported the idea of enhancing the city pedestrian infrastructure and having some type of document in place to aid that process in the future.
One bone of contention has been the busy U.S. 52-U.S. 601 intersection, where critics say a safe pedestrian crossing is unrealistic. However, supporters believe steps should be taken to allow people to walk from locations such as Northern Hospital of Surry County to restaurants on the other side of U.S. 52.
At least two of the five commissioners could be delivering a favorable vote on the pedestrian plan Thursday night, based on their comments at the last meeting.
Although the board had adopted procedures in May designed to curtail commissioner comments on issues during meetings when public hearings are held — delaying these to when votes occur — commissioners Steve Yokeley and Shirley Brinkley had much to say about the proposal. They each addressed that topic at the end of the last meeting when city officials offered general observations.
“It is not a perfect plan,” Yokeley said, echoing earlier statements by citizens.
“But like it or not, people walk and bike — either out of necessity or for exercise. We need a good system of sidewalks and greenways.”
Yokeley also reminded that the city government, if it adopts the proposal, will not be required to fund any of the infrastructure recommendations.
“It is a plan, not a construction document,” he said. “Some things need to be done, others might never be done.”
Brinkley said she sees the necessity of having a vision, or blueprint, regarding pedestrian travel. Mentioning that she grew up in Raleigh, Brinkley added, “If it wasn’t for sidewalks, I might not be here.”
Yokeley and Brinkley also addressed the issue of grants for facility improvements, which the adoption of the pedestrian plan would enable Mount Airy to receive.
One public hearing speaker, J.C. Short, had attacked the idea of grants, given the financial strains on government these days.
“Most small cities are going under,” Short said, pointing out that while grants don’t come from city funds, they still impact local taxpayers indirectly.
“These grants…are not free,” he said. “You put the bill on everybody sitting in this room.”
Yokeley said, however, that grants are available to localities across the board and “somebody’s going to take them,” suggesting that Mount Airy should benefit if possible.
Brinkley said she was an opponent of grants before becoming a commissioner, but has changed her view since. She said the commissioners also are taxpayers who seek to benefit Mount Airy by applying for grants, which are funded by citizens statewide.
Among other agenda items for the city board’s meeting Thursday night are:
• A recognition of Surry Medical Ministries, which provides health care for the poor and is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
• An annual report by the city tax collector.
• Recognition of two Mount Airy Police Department members for achieving Advanced Law Enforcement certification.
• A public forum during which citizens may speak on any municipal government topic.
• A closed session to discuss a legal matter.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.