January 2012 Highlights

Updates on recycling, greenways, parks, sidewalks, and public transit are in order this month.

Greenways plan update and parks improvements:    The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Greenway Plan was originally adopted in 2002, and has served as useful guidance for our efforts to create and extend these linear parks for walking, running, and biking. We're in the process now of updating that plan with an eye toward the new needs and opportunities that have developed over the past decade. In the plan update, we're looking especially to prioritize construction of greenways that are practically feasible to build; improve safe bike/pedestrian connections between neighborhoods, schools, parks, and work/shopping destinations; and which have good public support. Several initial public comment-gathering sessions were held last year, and the resulting draft Greenway Plan Update has been out for public comment for a month. We're coming to the end of three planned public comment meetings on that draft plan before the document is wrapped up and sent to the Planning Board for consideration.

Proposed priority greenway expansions of special interest to the Southwest Ward include Salem Creek Extension (from Marketplace Mall on Peters Creek Parkway to Forsyth Tech main campus on Silas Creek Parkway); and Little Creek Phase 2A (completing that greenway north of Somerset Drive). Other proposed priority greenways include completing the Waughtown Connector, and further extension of the Muddy Creek Greenway. The final comment-gathering public meeting is set for Tuesday, January 31, 6 p.m., Bethabara Visitor Center, 2147 Bethabara Road, Winston-Salem. Written comments can also be submitted by email to Amy Crum at amyc@cityofws.org or Margaret Bessette at margb@cityofws.org.  The full draft plan update can be reviewed at http://www.cityofws.org/Assets/CityOfWS//Documents/Planning/Publications/Parks_Greenways/Greenway%20Plan%20Update_Draft_maps_20120104.pdf

Speaking of parks, it's worth noting that the city council on January 17 approved dedicating about 180 acres of city-owned property south of Reynolds Park Road, including the old Piedmont Quarry, as new parkland. The Waughtown Connector greenway, when completed, will run through that park and provide great views of the 12-acre quarry lake, sheer granite cliffs, woods, and even the downtown skyline. Turning this area into the unusually attractive urban park it has the potential to become will take careful planning and investment.

And finally on the parks front, we're continuing the process of upgrading the playgrounds in our city parks. In January, we approved contracts for playground renovations at six more parks: Oak Summit, Shaffner, Piney Grove, Easton, Kimberley, and Fairview.

Recycling rollout carts:    The new rollout recycling carts are being delivered to residences during January and over the next two months. Pickup of the rollout recycling carts will begin citywide on April 2. When you receive your rollout cart, just keep using the green bins until April 2, and then follow the directions for when and how to put out the rollout carts. Full details, plus answers to frequently asked questions, can be found here: http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/RecycleToday/Articles/RolloutRecyclingCarts  

Public transit system resolution:    The city council on January 17 approved a resolution in support of maintaining current or enhanced public transit service. This may seem like the proverbial "no-brainer"--who could support cutting bus transit service when gas prices are going up, unemployment is high, and more people need reliable public transit? Unfortunately, federal assistance to public transit systems across the nation is also shrinking, while rising fuel prices are hitting bus systems as hard as individual drivers. In Winston-Salem, we have also been wrestling with a decades-long trend of squeezing back routes and service as a cost-cutting measure. As a result, city staff felt that they needed guidance in drafting future transit planning and budgets for council consideration.

Only in the past few years have supporters of balanced transportation options for our city successfully pushed back to expand evening and Saturday service and upgrade buses and bus shelters. As a result, transit ridership is climbing again. To maintain that positive trend, we'll have to resist further calls to cut service as a budget-balancing measure.

By maintaining and improving our public transit service, we'll see critical public benefits. We will protect jobs that are dependent on employees, customers, and students being able to reach places like Baptist Medical Center, Forsyth Hospital, Hanes Mall, and Forsyth Tech. We will protect air quality from the extra pollution caused by increased single-passenger driving (especially in older, dirtier-emissions vehicles). We will maintain and improve the ability of our lower-income and disabled citizens to meet their transportation needs.

Of course, we will continue to look for efficiencies in operation of our public transit system. (For example, we're already seeing major savings in fuel costs due to our increased use of diesel-electric hybrid buses.) At the same time, we'll continue to work to improve the quality of transit service in our city, both for those who have no other affordable alternative, and for those who would prefer public transit, if it is run well enough to be a practical option for them. We'll be working on this issue for years to come.

Parking deck sales:    The city council in January approved sale of the Cherry-Marshall parking deck downtown to a private realty firm, for continued operation as a deck. The sale will save the city from substantial maintenance and operational costs. In November, the city previously sold the Triad Park parking deck downtown to BB&T Bank, which occupies most of the Triad Park building. These are planned moves to reduce avoidable costs to taxpayers. City studies show that these sales will produce millions in net savings to taxpayers over the coming decade.

Pedestrian projects updates:    I neglected in my December update to mention two other pedestrian safety projects which have been recently completed in the Southwest Ward. Pedestrian warning signs and a crosswalk have been installed connecting Johnsborough Court with the new sidewalk on Old Vineyard Road. The new section of sidewalk on Link Road from Peters Creek Parkway to Waybridge Lane has been completed, and pedestrian signs, curb ramps, and crosswalk have been installed there across Link Road to the existing sidewalk on the south side.  In addition, construction is now underway of the Ebert Street sidewalk between Cherokee and Hawthorne.

Public protest sites and rules:    The City Council's Public Safety Committee in January decided to hold off on clarifying city rules regarding where and when "open air public meetings" can be held on city property. The committee asked staff to research the issues and options, and to report back in the spring. I expect that the absence of any further misunderstandings between city officials, police, and protesters influenced the committee's determination that temporary action was unnecessary. Several council members were also concerned by the misperception that the rules clarifications were intended to discourage the Occupy group from its public assembly rights. Although I personally met with the group twice for several hours in "open air meetings" on the City Hall steps, I was unable to reassure them that the issue was not the content of their speech but only where on the grounds the meetings could most appropriately be held. While I continue to believe that respect for shared public property would suggest that assemblies are better held on the paved areas than on the small ornamental lawn, I don't consider that question worth further extended acrimonious debate time.

Citizens' Police Academy:    Finally, the Winston-Salem Police Department is accepting applications for the spring session of the Citizens' Police Academy, a 13-week program which meets once a week starting March 29. The curriculum covers subjects similar to new officer training, including department functions, search and seizure laws, crime prevention, criminal investigations, and more. The classes are intended to help citizens understand the processes and challenges of police work, improving police-community relations.

Classes are held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday evenings, and applications will be accepted until March 8 from people 18 and older who live, work or attend school in Winston-Salem. Applications are available and can be submitted online at www.wspd.org