The Pender County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan envisions a future in which walkers and bikers are just as safe as drivers.
If you have ever sat in local bumper-to-bumper traffic and thought “I could walk faster than this,” you may get to test that theory in the future.
Over the past several months, Pender County has been collaborating with the Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization to gather suggestions and data in order to make improvements to an infrastructure that is predominately vehicle-centric. According to their press release, the Pender County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan’s goal is “to identify existing challenges to bicycling and walking, propose a preferred bicycle and pedestrian network to strive for, and lay out the specific policy, program and infrastructure recommendations.”
From late 2022 through early 2023, the Pender County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan team assembled a steering committee, created media, issued press releases, held pop-up events, hosted a website and managed several two-way information streams: one side put out information, and the other collected input and feedback. While the feedback collection phase has ended, it is clear this is a passionate topic for many of our neighbors now that their feedback is being released.
The group has done an impressive job of organizing all the information and sharing it with the public, including an analysis of the Existing Conditions, a Proposed Network and Priorities, overall Implementation and other focus areas. Twenty-six pages alone are dedicated to the Public Engagement Survey results from the community (there were 619 responses at last count), which highlights problem areas, the main reasons people bike and walk, their confidence in doing so and comments shared verbatim with the survey team (all listed there for your reading pleasure).
There are many wise observations listed, but perhaps feedback from those who responded can be summarized with this general comment, “Overdevelopment and poor planning has made the Highway 17 corridor a nightmare to drive, let alone walk or cycle.”
The report shows that more people would walk and bike around southern Pender County if those activities were safer. Many of the graphs and survey responses tell this story time and again, with many thoroughfares flagged as roads in need of bike and pedestrian infrastructure, including Scotts Hill Loop Road, Country Club Road in Hampstead and many other paved tributaries flowing out of the busy, much-maligned U.S. Highway 17.
Most of the local roads were not designed with pedestrians or bicyclists in mind.
Of course, there are a lot of people who depend on their own two feet or a bicycle to get them from place to place since the luxury of having an automobile at the ready is not guaranteed. These people are at a distinct disadvantage as there are no public transportation options either. Walkers must walk through the tall grass along Highway 17, and rumble strips are the only things to protect anyone on a bike. Not to mention that there are no crosswalks, no shade and not many breaks in the heavy vehicular traffic coming from both directions at all times.
WHERE HAS IT BEEN DONE WELL?
The Town of Surf City has done a superb job with the pedestrian lane on the bridge and boardwalks leading onto the island and the beach, all proud segments of the Mountains to the Sea Trail. There are also many neighborhoods scattered around that had forethought when developing their own infrastructure, complete with sidewalks and bike paths and a calmer, quieter, cleaner traffic flow. But oftentimes those neighborhoods are isolated islands of progress with nothing to connect them to one another. They are all separated by busy roads where biking or walking would be dangerous endeavors.
What if it was easier to take a leisurely stroll to the coffee shop or a retailer, to bike to an appointment or to feel okay letting your kids walk to school? These things are important, and achievable.
Even without the Hampstead Bypass project, there is plenty of ongoing construction and development at any given time, and the thought of adding biking and pedestrian lanes into the mix only sounds like more traffic and more hassle. But to many in the community, it is well worth the collateral sacrifice. Riding a bicycle is a great way to immerse yourself in an environment rather than being encased in a temperature-controlled automobile roaring by at 60 miles an hour. Our status as a sedentary and overweight populace is well documented and people want more movement in their lives, oftentimes through walking. Without a gym membership or a home treadmill, those 10,000 steps are hard to come by when your house is surrounded by busy roads. An improved biking and walking infrastructure could have a tremendous positive impact on public health.
THE NEXT STEPS
A Proposed Network map shows suggested changes for specific neighborhoods, roads and highways, so it is easy to look at your street and imagine what those changes could be.
But remember, this is just a draft. Daniel Adams, Pender County Planning & Community Development director, is quick to point out that final decisions, even in the short term, are pending.
“Once the draft is finished, it goes to a planning board of appointed subject matters experts, then is put before the board of commissioners,” Adams says. “We’re trying to put together a plan that makes sense and brings as many of these ideas together as possible.”
In the meantime, we will drive these roads and picture what it would look like with fewer cars and more people on foot and bikes, as we bring this vision of the future to the present.
WANT TO SEE THE PLAN?
Draft recommendations and the full report are available at wmpo.org/pender-county-bicycle-and-pedestrian-plan.
While the bike ped plan is wrapping up, there’s another way for your voice to be heard. The Metropolitan Transportation Plan focuses on the entire region, not just Pender County, and includes all transportation modes. The public outreach period is ongoing through the end of November.
For more information visit: wmpo.org/2050mtp