August 2003 Highlights

Stormwater problems & policies: This year’s change from "drought" to "monsoon" weather conditions has swept stormwater runoff problems back to the top of many residents’ concern lists. I’m getting "swamped" with calls on the topic. (OK, enough bad puns; stop me before I go overboard.) Seriously, as development and paving increase, so do the amount and speed of runoff. Drainage routes and systems adequate to handle the runoff of 30 (or even ten) years ago can be overwhelmed today. This results in more flooding, faster erosion, and more debris deposited downslope. Often, measures designed to address one area’s problems can even further worsen conditions downstream.

A sampling of the problems which have been called to my attention over the past months include these: Streets lacking curbing, where street runoff spills directly into yards (and sometimes basements); streams swollen beyond normal historic levels which erode driveways or inundate yards; trash and sediment plugging drains which then flood roadways or parking lots.

What’s to be done? Remember, there is no free lunch in either nature or public budgets. What speeds runoff from one block very often increases problems on the next. Engineering fixes, from curb and gutter, to retention ponds, to larger drains and culverts, are expensive. Who pays—your household budget, or your city taxes? Ultimately, the cash comes from our pockets in either event.

That’s not to argue against addressing the issues, just to lay out the problems, and to invite your participation in crafting responses. At the request of myself and other city council members, the Public Works Department has begun reviewing the city’s policies in this issue area. Over the next several months, the council’s Public Works Committee will discuss what initiatives and policy changes should be considered. Your comments and questions are welcome during this process.

"Panhandling"/solicitation changes adopted: The city council at our August 18 meeting adopted several changes to the city’s ordinances regulating public solicitation (including "panhandling"). These approved changes include prohibiting begging and soliciting under the following circumstances: within 100 feet of banks and ATMs; at outdoor dining areas, transit stops, taxi stands, or in public transportation; by touching the person being solicited without their consent, or by using profane or threatening language or gestures; while the person being solicited is standing in line at a commercial establishment; after dark; or while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances. Enforcement will continue to depend on the complaint and testimony of the person being improperly solicited or the observation of a police officer.

To my disappointment, I could not persuade a majority of my colleagues to support the restriction of solicitation at intersections and in traffic lanes. There may be future opportunities to reconsider adding such a restriction. However, as a practical matter, that will depend on other members of the council hearing concerns from more of their constituents on this topic.

Illegal roadside signs being taken down: As you may have noticed in the newspaper, city Inspections Department staff are trying to "crack down" on illegal roadside signs. As many constituents have pointed out, these placard-sized signs are distracting, ugly, and can even impede clear lines of sight at intersections. City staff are collecting and destroying these signs on weekends as well as weekdays now. State law also authorizes city codes to assess a modest fine for such illegal signs—and Winston-Salem’s does so—but the requirements for proving who placed the signs illegally raise the cost of enforcement. It becomes another cost consideration: How much do we wish to pay in extra city staff for the investigation and enforcement process? It’s quicker and cheaper just to take them down. It is to be hoped that the appeal to businesses of these illegal signs will fade as their time on the street drops.

Transportation & traffic calming issues:

--Enforcement a leading topic: More meetings are being held to discuss neighborhood traffic problem spots, such as a meeting on August 19 to review the serious speed and reckless driving problem on Lockland Avenue. About 35 concerned residents participated, and agreed to form a committee to work with the Transportation Department in developing possible solutions. One approach to be tried soon will include changes in lane marking and raised reflectors to persuade drivers to slow down. A major question at this meeting as well as elsewhere has been, how can speeding enforcement be improved? In a follow-up to that question, I met last week with district Police Department leaders to learn more about current policies and discuss possible improvements. I’m continuing to work on that issue.

--Return of the streetcars: Decades ago, large and mid-sized cities across America (including Winston-Salem) relied on an efficient and attractive system for much of their urban core’s transportation: the electric streetcar. A few cities (such as San Francisco and New Orleans) never lost these systems, but most others tore them out as the age of auto dominance developed. Today, more cities are restoring these very light rail passenger systems. (These include cities in Winston-Salem’s size range, or even smaller.) In August, the city Transportation Department presented the results of a feasibility study suggesting that Winston-Salem would benefit from doing the same. A streetcar system, beginning with the urban core area from Baptist Hospital on the west end to the Piedmont Triad Research Park on the east, could benefit the whole city economically and environmentally. It would also fit in well with the proposed Triad intercity regional light rail system. City staff have been asked to develop the concept further, and return to the council with more detailed options for consideration.

--Transit investment ideas: It’s time for the annual update of Winston-Salem’s Transportation Needs Report. The city/county regional Transportation Advisory Committee will consider possible additions to that plan this fall. They can include road widenings and turn lanes, new roads, intersection improvements, bicycle and pedestrian paths, and the like. Your suggestions are solicited. Send your ideas in writing by 5 p.m. Monday, September 22, to Wendy Miller, Winston-Salem Dept. of Transportation, P.O. Box 2511, Winston-Salem NC 27102, or by fax to 748-3370, or by email to wendym@cityofws.org. Please feel welcome to copy your suggestions to me as well. (I’m on the Transportation Advisory Committee and am interested in your ideas.) Have questions? Call Ms. Miller at 727-2707.

Bolton Park & Little Creek: I’ve previously discussed both a proposed new development beside Bolton Park, which would involve an accessway easement across one corner of that park, and a proposed new greenway along Little Creek south of the Little Creek Recreation Center. At our city council meetings in August, we took actions relevant to both of those issues.

First, on August 5 the council approved a rezoning permitting the proposed development, the new headquarters of Truliant Credit Union. Those plans depended upon access to Hanes Mall Boulevard at an existing stoplight now serving Hanes Mall. The proposal was approved with involvement and support from neighborhood groups. To be feasible, the plans require a right-of-way across the far southwestern corner of Bolton Park. About one-third of an acre would be directly required, but it would also affect a larger area, especially the two to three acres of that lower corner of the park. In return for that right-of-way, the project petitioners agreed to provide compensation to the city, exclusively for the acquisition and development of new city park area.

On August 18, the city council agreed to accept $50,000 compensation to be used for new city park facilities. At my suggestion, the council directed that the funds be deposited in a city escrow account and earmarked for use in development of the proposed Little Creek Greenway. Of course, since that greenway’s development will require more than that sum, a further city council vote will be required to move forward with that project—after the other necessary funds have been identified. (I’m working on that as well.)

On August 25, I met with interested residents from the neighborhoods on either side of that section of Little Creek (including Salem Woods, Atwood, and Ashford). We had a good, extended discussion of the proposal, and I’m pleased to report that there is strong neighborhood support for moving forward with the idea. I will continue to work with the neighborhoods to ensure that concerns like proper access, security, and tree preservation are adequately addressed. Incidentally, if you support the Little Creek Greenway idea, you’re encouraged to let the city Transportation Department know that. (Please see the transportation investment needs item above.)