Plans by the N.C. Department of Transportation to resurface — and make narrower — a well-travelled route through Mount Airy include the installation of the first bicycle lanes on a city street.
The bike lanes are to be added on a section of North Main Street from Grace Street to Greenhill Road, including one along each curb in both directions of travel.
City Engineer Mitch Williams, who has been working with the DOT on the project, said that while bicycles are accommodated on Mount Airy’s nearly seven-mile greenway system, no designated bike lanes now exist on any public roadway.
“As far as I know, that’s the first,” Williams said Friday of the lanes targeted for North Main Street, which will resemble those along East Atkins Street at the entrance to Dobson off U.S. 601.
In addition to allowing safer travel for cyclists in at least one section of town, the resurfacing effort is aimed at meeting other objectives, the city engineer told the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners during a meeting earlier this month.
Travel conditions along North Main from West Lebanon Street to Greenhill, which is part of the state highway system, have become noticeably rougher in recent years.
Williams recently was notified by a local DOT maintenance official that the agency was preparing to resurface that section.
Since North Main Street becomes “very wide” north of Grace Street, as described in a city government memo, the DOT seeks to save funds by narrowing the roadway and pushing traffic toward the centerline. This will provide a stronger section of pavement while also increasing the longevity of the road.
In addition, the narrower lanes will tend to slow vehicles down and theoretically make conditions safer overall.
“They want to try to control the traffic a little better and get the traffic to shift to the middle of the road,” the city engineer told the commissioners.
Having the bike lanes on each side is part of the goal of drawing vehicles toward the center of the street.
Church parking concerns
The city commissioners had been asked by the DOT to voice any objections they might have to the traffic-change proposal, which the group subsequently voted 5-0 to accept on March 1.
But a concern was raised among them about how the presence of the bike lanes would affect parking at Grace Moravian Church, located on the corner of North Main and Grace streets. Along with spaces right outside the church, some people attending services park along North Main Street in the path of the planned bike-lane route.
Commissioners said they wanted to make sure those folks would not be subjected to parking violations for the small percentage of time the bike route is encroached upon, which discussion at the meeting indicated wouldn’t be a problem.
Williams, himself a cyclist, said practitioners of that pastime are accustomed to a variety of conditions on local roadways. When encountering vehicles parked in bike lanes outside the church, they simply would go around them in a safe manner as they do other obstacles, he said.
Plans have called for the paving contractor for the North Main Street project to start work this month, but it is not known when crews will reach the area designated for the bike lanes.
The section from Grace Street to Greenhill Road, of about 1.2 miles, is among Surry County Scenic Bikeway loops that pass through Mount Airy.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.