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Grant to help city study pedestrian safety

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An unidentified man crosses Ehringhaus Street between Quality Seafood and the Royal Wok restaurants, Monday evening.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

In a step toward making Elizabeth City better for pedestrians, the city has won a state grant to figure out where the city needs more sidewalks and other improvements.

The N.C. Department of Transportation has awarded the city a Pedestrian Planning Grant, City Manager Rich Olson announced last week. The grant will cover 80 percent of the cost of hiring a consultant, which DOT estimates will be $45,000 to $60,000.

Angela Welsh, coordinator for the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization and member of the plan’s steering committee, will help with the plan's development. The plan will study and prioritize where Elizabeth City needs new or improved pedestrian projects, she said.

The plan is also necessary for the city to receive state dollars to pay for the pedestrian projects. Without a formal plan, DOT will not consider including those projects in its Strategic Transportation Improvement Plan, Welsh said. She noted the city is included in a Comprehensive Transportation Plan adopted in 2015, but said that plan covers all of Pasquotank County and focused more on roads than pedestrian features like sidewalks.

Welsh said the plan will consider public input. The plan's steering committee would look to hold public meetings in the plan's first few months. The entire project may take 18 months, she said.

The project application, provided by city grants specialist Dawn Harris, further details the plan and its importance.

More pedestrian infrastructure would make the city safer, it states. Walking is a “way of life” for many of Elizabeth City's low-income residents, and many of the city's pedestrian accidents since 2010 have happened while someone was in a travel lane.

The application also notes problems with the city's pedestrian infrastructure.

“Elizabeth City has only a negligible portion of its pedestrian network GIS-mapped,” it states, referring to detailed, computer mapping through Geographic Information Systems. “There is a definite lack of pedestrian signals at various intersections within the city. Crosswalks are absent at most intersections and handicapped access to sidewalks and trails needs significant improvement.”

The document also notes some trails, such as the Knobbs Creek trail, were damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and still aren't back in service.

The application also notes pedestrian infrastructure is important to promoting healthy living and outdoor activities and quality of life. Convenient sidewalks and bike paths encourage exercise, and help adults and children get regular, needed cardiovascular exercise. Better pedestrian access would also support other city initiatives, such as the police and parks and recreation departments' “Active Routes to School” program, it notes.

Where the plan will recommend better pedestrian access is unclear, but the application notes several roads with high pedestrian traffic. They include East and West Ehringhaus Street, where many people live nearby and cross the five-lane highway to get to various businesses, plus Halstead Boulevard Extended, Church and Road streets, River and Oak Stump roads, and Southern, Riverside, Brooks, Walker and Roanoke avenues.

The steering committee will include various city officials, with Public Utilities Director Amanda Boone playing a lead role, according to Harris. Welsh and DOT official Gretchen Byrum will also be members.

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