Greensboro residents positive about new phase of downtown greenway

by Jordan Green

Residents and business professionals from downtown Greensboro’s satellite neighborhoods got their first look at Phase 2 of the planned 4.2 mile greenway during an open house at the Greensboro Central Library on Dec. 8.

The next section curves around from the Ole Asheboro neighborhood at the greenway’s southeast corner and follows Murrow Boulevard along downtown’s eastern flank, then makes another turn at the northeast corner into the Aycock and Fisher Park neighborhoods.

The city is considering reducing the four-lane Murrow Boulevard by one or two lanes to accommodate the greenway. Greensboro Transportation Director Adam Fischer said that could easily be done without significantly affecting traffic flow. Murrow Boulevard was built as an expressway with the intention that it would curve around and run parallel with Lee Street and connect with Freeman Mill Road, but the city discontinued that plan.

The possibility of transforming the Murrow Boulevard bridge over Church Street into a public space excites Aycock resident Brian Heagney. He especially appreciates the view of the railroad tracks running north to south.

“We were talking as a neighborhood that that could be so beautiful, whether you have public art there or what,” he said. “You don’t really notice it when you’re driving over it because you’re going so fast, but when you slow down you notice that it has this nice arc; it’s a great piece of engineering. You could have a performance space there, maybe do events in conjunction with First Friday.”

The plans on display Dec. 8 do not show a public art display on the Murrow Boulevard bridge, but do show two potential gathering places and public art installations along Murrow Boulevard at Lee and Lindsay streets.

The first completed section, which runs through the Warnersville neighborhood from West Lee Street to South Eugene Street became a setting for controversy during the recent election season when District 1 candidate Ben Holder took up the cause of a small group of residents who complained that a set of public-art benches were attracting prostitutes and derelict behavior associated with homeless people who receive services at nearby Greensboro Urban Ministry. The benches were temporarily removed following a meeting between city staff, residents and Guilford County Commission Chairman Skip Alston. District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small was not consulted about the action, but won reelection despite the controversy.

Response to the greenway at the Dec. 8 open house appeared to be almost uniformly positive.

Dabney Sanders, an Action Greensboro employee who is the project manager for the greenway, said she considers the Warnersville dustup more a function of political posturing than anything else, adding that the city and Action Greensboro held early informational meetings before the greenway was installed and opposition was expressed after construction. To address concerns about public safety going forward she said a public safety committee has been established including representatives from the police department, the fire department and the parks and recreation department. The committee will be consulted on public education components such as encouraging pedestrians to carry cell phones and to listen to iPods at a reasonable enough volume to be aware of surroundings. The public safety committee might also help make decisions about lighting, surveillance cameras and the possible installation of call boxes.

“We have studied trails from across the country,” she said. “They have proven to be very safe places, safer than your own home. An area that may look a little seedy, if there has been criminal activity, once you get some lighting a criminal may not feel that’s the place to do that criminal activity anymore.”

Like Heagney, Aycock resident Kasandra Hart, relies on walking and, to a lesser extent, cycling as primary modes of transportation. Hart said she walks about two miles a day.

“I think it’s good having the bike lanes, the walking trail and the green space,” she said. “I walk all over town.”

Phil Barnhill, director of operations for the East Market Street Development

Corporation, said he hopes the greenway will improve business on the corridor, which connects NC A&T University to downtown.

“Ideally, you would bring people who haven’t had the opportunity to come down here,” he said. “It should present some opportunities for business, particularly those near the Murrow Boulevard portion.”

He said he considers the public safety aspect to be a wash, suggesting that police may want to shift some resources from vehicles to foot to follow the public.

The entire price tag comes with a $26 million price tag. Sanders said Action Greensboro has raised $5.5 million to $6 million in private funding, and will pursue state and federal grants. Voters approved a street improvement bond in 2008 that included $7 million for the greenway, and Sanders said she expects the city council to authorize another bond for voter referendum including additional monies for the greenway.

Sanders added that Action Greensboro has begun discussions with the Greensboro Police Department about staffing needs, but it’s still too early to determine whether the greenway will require additional manpower or only a reallocation of resources. The city is responsible for maintenance of the existing portions of the greenway, but Sanders said the greenway’s budget includes a $1 million endowment intended to “help supplement the city’s maintenance of the trail.”

“Our responsibility is to educate folks if they’re not familiar with greenways,” Sanders said, “whether it’s about alternative modes of transportation, or you’re interested in your physical health. It’s a great way to connect socially with people. It is, of course, a real boost to economic development.”

The eastern side of the proposed Downtown Greenway runs along Murrow Boulevard. (courtesy image)