The North Carolina Department of Transportation is paving the way to develop bicycle and pedestrian paths across the state. This week on the Down East Journal, more on the grant plan and how Emerald Isle’s bike path is paying off 10 years later.
Laws regarding the use of bicycles on sidewalks vary widely across the state. However, on dedicated bike paths, there’s enough room for bikes and pedestrians. In addition to improving safety, they’re also promoting healthy lifestyles and benefiting the local economy. That’s why bike paths are gaining popularity. In fact, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is allocating $400,000 this year to municipalities to develop plans that encourage safe walking and biking.
“A lot of municipalities and city staff want to provide more of these items but they’re just not sure how or where to begin.
Bryan Poole is NCDOT’s Transportation Planner.
“So we have this program because developing a comprehensive bicycle or pedestrian plan is really a key step. It helps cities determine what the existing conditions are, it helps them to learn the desires of the community, and it also helps them to develop together with the community a vision and some goals for the future.”
The initiative, now in its thirteenth year, has awarded $4.1 million dollars to 155 municipalities across the state. Locally, DOT has helped develop a bicycle and pedestrian plan for New Bern, Kinston, Washington, and Winterville. Poole says the plans represent a strategy to expand biking and pedestrian options throughout the community.
“We’re really looking for cities to have thought about and understand that there is a need for these facilities, and maybe recognize that there’s a cross walk that really needs to be in place, that school children are having trouble getting to their school. Or that there’s been conflicts between bicyclists and motorists. So really having an understanding of the problems in the community but also we like to see that they’ve started to think about what the community wants and what the future would look like.”
Probably the best example of a community in eastern North Carolina that’s benefited from bike paths is Emerald Isle. While the seaside community didn’t seek out the DOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning grant, they recently completed a bike path that runs the complete length of the town, about 11 miles.
“it’s really crowded all the time. In some cases, there’s more people riding bikes or running on the path than there are people on the road.”
Town manager Frank Rush says their bike path project started in 2004 as a way to connect residential areas with commercial centers.
“We see folks all the time in the evening and ride down and get ice cream from an ice cream shop or maybe they stop at a gift shop. Maybe they’re riding their bikes down to a restaurant or to the movie theater.”
In addition to bringing positive economic impact to local businesses, Rush adds the 10 foot wide concrete sidewalks increases the aesthetic appeal of the Emerald Isle.
“It’s so much improved with the bike path in place than it was prior to the bike path. To see people out and about moving around, I think that just enhances the atmosphere here in Emerald Isle and of course as a tourist destination, we’re trying to make the community as attractive and pleasing as possible.”
Creating paths specifically for bicycles and pedestrians also improves safety by getting them off the pavement. From improving a crosswalk to developing a dedicated bike path, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is seeking grant proposals for their Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant initiative. Transportation Planner Bryan Poole encourages municipalities across the state to apply.
“this year is new are allowing county governments with populations less than 25,000 residents, they can apply as a county.”
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Grant is paid for by the General Assembly and federal funding sources. The deadline to submit the electronic application is Friday December 4th. For more information, go to publicradioeast.org.