The N.C. Department of Transportation has been at the forefront of a local and state effort to encourage residents to exercise more often.
Through a grant program, the department has provided $3.4 million to N.C. towns seeking pedestrian plans that increase walkability and safety for residents since 2004. In the Charlotte region, 25 municipalities have gotten pedestrian planning grants since 2004. (Charlotte won a grant in 2004, but hasn’t yet adopted a pedestrian plan.)
Pedestrian plans typically include a list of projects such as sidewalks, trails, traffic lights and benches that improve a community’s attractiveness to pedestrians. They also usually analyze the community’s land development ordinances.
According to the N.C. DOT, 60 percent of state residents say better access to sidewalks, trails and paths would encourage them to walk and bicycle more. The state is the 14th most obese in the nation, according to Trust for America’s health, a nonprofit health advocacy group.
Residents’ desire to exercise was one of the reasons the Union County town of Waxhaw was motivated to apply for a pedestrian plan grant. The town won a grant in 2010 for a plan that will, when adopted, increase the number of sidewalks. (To read the plan, click here to download a PDF file.)
Greg Mahar, planning director for Waxhaw, said there is a very active population that already uses existing sidewalks, so the plan would create a larger sidewalk network in order to increase residents’ opportunities for exercise.
The plan was therefore popular among Waxhaw residents, Mahar said.
“Residents want more sidewalks,” he said. “It would be better for them if neighborhoods were connected. It’s an amenity and would bode well for marketing.”
The plan also aims to make wider sidewalks and improve intersection safety by creating more crosswalks.
The Waxhaw planning commission is expected to vote on the plan later this month.
Pedestrian plans are extensive — Waxhaw’s is more than 100 pages. Lauren Blackburn, director of the NCDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Division, said plans must be comprehensive in order to receive grants.
Pedestrian planning grant recipients
They should not only emphasize building amenities like sidewalks, but should include policy changes to ordinances, education and awareness programs and enforcement, she said.
Blair Israel, planner for the Centralina Council of Governments, said the plans must use a vision that residents, developers and planners have decided on.
Israel developed the Waxhaw pedestrian plan, as well as plans for Boiling Springs in Cleveland County in 2006 and Gaston County’s Bessemer City in 2010. He is creating a plan for Kings Mountain which he expects to be completed by summer 2013.
He said the plans value input and analysis, because residents, the town’s planning commission, the elected officials and the NCDOT review the plan and offer analysis. The entire process takes about 18 months, Israel said.
“It’s not just people in a back room making decisions. People are able to participate in how their town looks,” Israel said. “Because it is so reliant on public input, it legitimizes the process.”
In addition to increasing opportunities for residents to exercise, pedestrian plans give towns leverage with the NCDOT when it’s building or modifying a road, Blackburn said.
Maher said the possibility of future NCDOT grants would be a long-term benefit of the plan to Waxhaw.
“Having the plan means we’ll be eligible for any grant with a pedestrian component,” Mahar said. “NCDOT wants a pedestrian plan when giving grants. It will help us rank better than other communities.”
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