Busy-ness 40 and the Business of Construction

On Thursday, July 9, transportation planners hosted a drop-in session at the Old Salem Visitor’s Center. The meeting was set up to raise resident awareness of all the changes that will be coming in the fall of 2016 when Business 40 will be shutdown to accommodate construction on roughly 1.1 miles of roadway.

And it’s not 1.1 miles of roadway somewhere in Kernersville.

It’s 1.1 miles of roadway in the middle of the city.

I’m kind of looking at this like I do my credit card bills: A finish line is so far away that they’ll probably forget about it just like I did. Such is not the case, both with my credit card bills and the transportation project.

The most interesting part of the whole drop-in session, aside from digital videos complete with flyovers and fly-throughs of the completed tunnels and roadways, is the proposed traffic and road projects set in downtown Winston-Salem.

As it stands now, downtown Winston-Salem flows pretty well, unless you’re trying to drive downtown at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, in which case you have to avoid some tank-top bros and mini-skirt ladies bustling between traffic lights like blind cats. The changes that are proposed for downtown will affect Liberty and Main streets by turning them into two-way.

Now this makes a lot of sense. If you can picture downtown Winston- Salem from a bird’s eye view, looking at Trade Street and then glancing east, there is a deserted patch of potential that lies in waiting. The new Artivity on the Green Park serves as the perfect segue between Trade Street and the Winston Lofts, Innovation Quarter, Bailey Park and Plant 64 developments. But that stretch of Liberty Street is just dead.

Why is that? And what will making it a two-way street gain? Hopefully more foot traffic, really.

Right now, walking down Liberty Street after the sun goes down feels sketchy. Not because there are scattered vagrants scuffling down the street, or because you have to walk by the bus station which always has a cast of characters busking for anything, but mainly because it’s dark and relatively traffic-less by way of cars.

Liberty Street is the mangled wooden bridge separating Downtown from InnQuo. We have already begun to see growth, though.

The National Cycling Center, for one, is going to significantly change the face of Liberty Street. The proposals for what that’s going to look like will turn what’s

currently a drab brown building into a model of health and fitness. That’s a good thing, even if we’ll only be able to look at it from the driver’s side of a car for the next four years.

Main Street sort of has the same feeling, except all you really see is the back of dilapidated buildings and the Reynolds towers.

So, if Liberty and Main become two-ways, how will that bring people to those streets?

The hope is that pedestrian and retail businesses will fill the current vacant spots, and reports are that will be happening rather soon.

All of these things are easy to discuss and hope for, but where does all this money come from to open these businesses, maintain them, and provide the security of longevity?

Perhaps the idea is that with InnQuo expanding with more technology and research facilities, and developments like Plant 64 bringing young people to the area, the money will naturally follow. After all, people need to buy stuff, right?

One of the other proposals is cutting one of the lanes on Cherry Street just south of Fifth into a two-lane road and adding some parking on the west side of the street lining Benton Convention Center. Speaking with some of the Davenport designers and engineers, many of whom were present at the July 9 drop-in session, revealed how much research has gone into these proposals. Monitoring the traffic patterns on Marshall, Cherry and Fifth streets was of big importance, especially when deciding to trim a three-lane street down to just two.

But wait, there’s more! A proposed greenway trail that will wind through the city all the way to BB&T Field and cross over Business 40 around Peters Creek has a lot of local cyclists excited. It would allow safe travel to and from the baseball field, for one, for people choosing to ride bikes or walk. It also connects the south side of Business 40 to Ardmore without having to cross the street. The bridge design also will provide a colorful landscape as drivers pass under it (even though when you look at it from the right angle, the angled bridge’s wings create a perfect set of testicles for the Wells Fargo Center, which already stands as Winston-Salem’s phallus.)

Are you getting excited yet?

Everything along the highway has already been pushed ahead of schedule to begin in the late summer or fall of 2016, which means we are about one year out on that hassle. The other proposals are still in the works, but those seem to be the most important when it comes to direct impression on downtown life.

These proposals, the ones located in downtown, aren’t going to move forward until the Business 40 construction is finished, which is years down the road.

So, we are going to clean up and make Business 40 much more approachable, which will in-turn make downtown more accessible, which will bring more people to downtown, which requires that we turn a couple main streets into two-way streets so that we can accommodate more foot traffic, which requires that we add bicycle lanes and more parking to downtown so that all of these new people can get to where they need to be in a safe and timely manner.

There’s a good chance I’ll pay off my credit cards before all of this is done, and with good reason: There will be so many new retail stores to run up my debt again, but at least I can bike to them. !