Two separate transportation-related proposals for Mount Airy are now dead, though the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners didn’t even vote on them as anticipated Thursday afternoon.
Instead, board members opted not to introduce a motion supporting either measure — one affecting a N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposal to alter the traffic pattern on North Main Street and the other a planned government-subsidized shuttle service.
Since none of the four commissioners who were present Thursday moved to bring the matter to the floor, that meant no vote was taken and the measures were allowed to die. And while board members also declined not to comment on either of the two plans, citizens who vehemently attacked each seemed to do all the talking for them during a public-forum session in which those topics were addressed.
YVEDDI Van Service
Of the two transportation issues on tap Thursday, the one involving a “circulator” service proposed by Yadkin Valley Economic Development District Inc. (YVEDDI), appeared to draw the heaviest fire.
It came from persons associated with Mount Airy’s two lone cab companies, who said the rival transportation service offering rides for $1 to the general public would cause them to close. That’s because YVEDDI’s program to shuttle people to shopping centers and other key destinations in town would be subsidized by a state DOT grant, for which the commissioners had been asked to provide an endorsement Thursday.
“That’s going to cut the cab companies out,” said Jim Lovelace, owner of Granite City Cabs, which along with Cut Rate Cabs — the other local taxi service — employs a total of 17 people.
Mentioning how those private businesses must meet their overhead and operating expenses without government assistance, Lovelace said, “they can’t run trips for a dollar. If (YVEDDI) can be subsidized, why can’t taxi companies be, too?”
In addition, cab company representatives said they doubted the YVEDDI shuttle service would be available to the public at all times of the day and night as are taxis.
“I don’t think YVEDDI is going to get out at two o’clock in the morning and take someone to the store,” Lovelace said.
“The cab companies around here do a whole lot more than people give them credit for,” he added.
Mary Lankford, a taxi driver for Cut Rate Cabs since the 1990s, echoed that in her remarks during Thursday’s meeting.
Lankford told the crowd gathered in the council meeting room that she often transports people to and from medical offices, and will wait for them if the appointments run late. She questioned if the YVEDDI service would be as flexible and operate during off-hours.
If YVEDDI wants to get into the city transportation market in a big way, “they need to step up to the plate,” Lankford said, and provide 24-hour runs — “not quit at five o’clock.”
After the comments, when the time came for a vote, the commissioners’ decision to not introduce a motion was greeted by applause from the audience.
Jeff Cockerham, YVEDDI transportation director, had said at a previous meeting that the DOT likely would not contract to provide the circulator service here if the city government didn’t provide an endorsement.
Cockerham, who also was present Thursday, declined comment on the outcome on his way out of the building.
North Main Proposal
The DOT plan to alter the traffic pattern on North Main Street from four to two lanes, and add bike lanes on either side along with a center turn lane, met a similar fate after it was attacked by citizens.
A traffic engineer with the state department had unveiled the “road diet” proposal two weeks ago, in conjunction with plans later this summer for resurfacing the section of North Main/Renfro streets stretching from Lebanon Street to Independence Boulevard. Dean Ledbetter, the DOT representative, said this is an opportune time to make such a change and apply the new striping that would be required.
He said the altered configuration, which also could eventually have extended south along Renfro to South Main Street all the way to the Ararat River bridge, was aimed at slowing down traffic and preventing accidents. This has been an issue, particularly with pedestrian safety for crossings at First Baptist Church and Reeves Community Center.
However, such a change has prompted concerns among local residents which was evidenced at Thursday’s meeting.
“I feel like there was probably a reason for those four lanes originally,” citizen Debbie Reich said of the thinking behind the street’s construction decades ago.
Although Ledbetter said the traffic volume no longer supports a four-lane street, Reich said she believes the extra lanes are needed now as much as ever.
Referring to a complaint that the plan would slow and clog traffic to a snail’s pace, Reich also questioned what would happen if a fire truck or ambulance had to respond to an emergency along the street and encountered a traffic jam.
Paul Eich, another citizen, classified the DOT proposal as “idiocy.”
“It is a mistake to fiddle with that,” he said of the street’s existing format. “Don’t destroy that road.”
Joanne Cheatham, a resident of a historic residential section of North Main Street which runs roughly parallel to the portion eyed for the change and is two lanes going one way, questioned how it would be affected. Citing concern for children living there, Cheatham said she fears a situation in which “people will finally get a chance to gun it” when they reach her neighborhood.
Carol Burke, a concerned citizen who owns property on West Lebanon Street, suggested that the DOT instead use its resources to beautify U.S. 52. This would make that major highway more presentable for people entering the city, rather than implementing an in-town street change bringing “confusion.”
Ledbetter, the DOT engineer, also spoke during Thursday’s meeting and said he believed the public had embraced misconceptions about what his agency was trying to accomplish.
For one, he said it wasn’t seeking to force the change on Mount Airy, but simply trying to address concerns about safety at the church and community center. Ledbetter further mentioned that the accident rate for the roadway in question would be cut in half with the new configuration, which includes “pedestrian refuge islands” in the center turn lane.
Ledbetter further said the plan had been supported by municipal staff members.
City Manager Barbara Jones clarified that later during Thursday’s meeting.
“What the staff said is we felt it was a concept worth looking at,” Jones said of the street proposal. But at the same time, the staff did not want anything done that would be detrimental, she indicated.
After the commissioners let the matter die with no motion introduced, Ledbetter declined comment on that result, saying it was “the board’s decision.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.