No ‘magic wand’ for Davidson’s pedestrian safety initiative

Installation of a mid-block crosswalk on Main Street, and convincing pedestrians to use it, was an initial step in Davidson’s traffic safety initiative. /Doug Coats

DAVIDSON – There is no quick-fix approach to pedestrian safety, but every step counts, and according to those deeply engaged in traffic safety issues, Davidson has made an impressive start.

At the outset of the town board’s two-day planning retreat – a placement indicative of the topic’s priority status – commissioners received a comprehensive report about the goals and challenges of a Vision Zero mission along with assurances that small successes matter on the journey toward the goal of eliminating injuries and deaths on town streets.

“It will not happen overnight … there is no magic wand,” Angela Berry, manager of the Charlotte Department of Transportation traffic safety program, said. But she later added the level of community involvement in Davidson positions the town to make significant strides.

“You have people in your community who are passionate about safety,” she said, emphasizing citizen enthusiasm and passion are vital assets in working to obtain the ultimate goals of the Vision Zero program, a growing movement of towns and cities, which Davidson joined last year, focused on preventing pedestrian and vehicle accidents. “There are hoops to jump through, but you’ve already jumped through the biggest one to be engaged in the national network.”

The retreat’s opening discussion, also involving Seth LaJeunesse – senior research associate with the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center – was designed to introduce town officials to the best practices, as well as pitfalls to avoid, in implementing and expanding the Vision Zero goal until it becomes woven into the fabric of the town’s everyday activities.

Addressing commissioner concerns about the pace of implementation and significant strides, Berry and LaJeunesse said its important to acknowledge every change – like the town’s new Main Street crosswalk as well as signage and signal adjustments designed to reduce chances for vehicle-pedestrian conflicts – as steps in the desired direction combined with an emphasis on community awareness.

The importance of a town-wide, teamwork approach was underscored by Commissioner Tracy Mattison Brandon.

“It’s accountability,” she said. “Accountability among each other to keep each other alive.”

Lejeunesse added that while the town’s Vision Zero Task Force works on a comprehensive plan, it’s important to keep pedestrian and traffic safety in the public eye.

“Complacency is a threat,” he said. “Keep the issue out front … create a shared identity in the town.”

Berry added there is a “great groundswell” in the country behind the Vision Zero effort, with LeJeunesse adding Davidson was poised to ride that wave of growing interest and enthusiasm.

“Congratulations to you for being likely the smallest community to join,” he said, “and for hitting the ground running.”

Extension of water lines to Bridges Farm Road (right) helps define the “boundary” between Davidson and Mooresville and lays the groundwork for anticipated development on open acreage just north of town. /Lee Sullivan

Commercial calculations

Another high-profile retreat topic involved updated expectations for commercial development. Following a summary of the planning and development visions by Planning Director Jason Burdette, commissioners were asked to weigh in on future commercial corridors by Economic Development Director Kim Fleming.

Fleming told commissioners that while Davidson is in the rare position where providing municipal services to residential developments is close to a “break even” proposition, instead of a loss, due to property evaluations and sales tax distributions, commercial development remains vital.

Commercial ventures generate jobs while providing services and a tax base boost and the goal, she said, is to be active in seeking out the preferred type of commercial development in the right place.

“There’s a better shot of something happening if we are actively pursuing something,” Fleming said.

Beyond the prospects for new ventures on South Main Street and the Circles @ 30 areas, Fleming said areas to consider include an 80-acre parcel just north of town along N.C. 115, property on N.C. 73 as well as “neighborhood nodes” at rural intersections, the Davidson Bay development and the Westmoreland Road area.

In short order, the focus went to the northern property bordered by N.C. 115 and Bridges Farm Road.

“I don’t want to see 250 rooftops there,” Mayor Rusty Knox said, referencing expectations that the property is primed to become some type of “employment campus.”

Negotiations with Mooresville to establish a clear jurisdictional boundary, with Bridges Farm Road as the dividing line, will play a key role in shaping plans for that property, and Town Manager Jamie Justice said he hopes that agreement will be finalized in “a few months.”

Knox said he knows there has already been some interest in the acreage, and Fleming provided perhaps the best prediction of the property’s fate.

“Davidson zoning, Iredell County taxes,” she said. “It’s going to develop at some point, in some way.”

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