BY ANTHONY SANFILIPPO
One of the great things about living in the Haymount district of Fayetteville, N.C. is the neighborhoods. Conducive for families, it’s got a small-town feel while remaining incredibly close to the action of downtown.
However, there is one dark cloud that refuses to move from over top of Fayetteville – the commercial district is not blessed with walkability.
It’s a high traffic area with cars speeding by and not a lot of room for people to walk or bike around. There are many who feel that creating room for people to walk or bike is just the thing the commercial district needs to blossom and reach its currently untapped potential.
One such group in Fayetteville who believe that is the Longleaf Pine REALTORS® (LPR), who set out last Spring to show the community just how easy a fix that could be.
Using a Smart Growth Action Grant and partnering with the Haymount business community, the North Carolina chapter of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals and other local organizations, LPR worked with Better Block to create a half-day event to show how simple improvements to the commercial district – such as bike lanes, crosswalks, reduced traffic lanes and widened sidewalks could positively transform the area and help it flourish.
“It was beyond great,” said LPR Government Affairs Director Angie Hedgepeth. “This effort should benefit property values, business activity, and community connectedness, and could set a positive precedent for the entire region.”
“The event was an overwhelming success as it drew more than 3,000 visitors in just a few hours. Seeing this, City Council promised to to allocate funding for pedestrian safety measures.”
“In June and July City Council found the funding necessary to paint the temporary crosswalks onto the road, making them permanent,” Hedgepeth said. “Since that happened, we had a call for action, so to speak, within our association and throughout the community to send letters of support to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to have traffic signals put in at this location as well. In August, I was told by the city traffic engineer, that it was pushed through a different avenue to speed up the process.
“I’ve been assured that within several months, we will have the signalization at those crosswalks that we have wanted.”
A Better Block Event
The initial idea for the March event came from a city staff member who approached the REALTORS® about the possibility of securing a Smart Growth Action Grant for a Better Block Event. She, in turn, worked on the project with a county transportation planner and a committee of about 70 REALTORS®.
Partnering with the community, only a little more money was needed beyond the $5,000 grant, to transform a central block of Haymount into a safe area to walk, bike and create a temporary plaza area for people to sit, eat, and listen to live music, browse local art vendors or even play game like cornhole.
An event like this takes months of careful planning, from acquiring permits, acquiring insurance, renting stages, hiring musicians, to arranging vendors and food trucks, it took an army of volunteers to show the city what could be with the right appropriations and planning.
And even then, the morning of the event, LPR members were using architectural drafting paper and duct tape to create the eight critical crosswalks that helped slow traffic and make the area safer and certainly more walkable.
“There was no honking of horns, no screaming; drivers were just easing down the road, giving all the pedestrian activity the time and space it needed,” Hedgepeth said. “It was wonderful, and a big relief, because of course, we had no idea what to expect.”
Some of the younger volunteers were able to collect more than 300 surveys from attendees of the event that were compiled and provided as a report to City Council. In addition, LPR interviewed all the business in the Better Block zone. All had positive feedback, including one fledgling coffee shop that reported sales that tripled it’s normal Saturday intake.
“There were people who came into our tent and said, ‘Please, can you make this happen for real,’” Hedgepeth said. “They also wanted to know how they could help to make it a permanent reality and not just a one-day event.”
And it may not just be for Haymount.
City Council reached out to Hedgepeth to see if other Better Block events like this one can happen in other areas of the city outside of Haymount.
“It’s amazing to me that our little grant has snowballed into meaningful change,” Hedgepeth said. “It was the most challenging and at the same time the most rewarding project I’ve ever done. It’s really kind of taking on a life of its own, and that’s really cool.”