IMG_8417Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Franklin is another step closer to implementing a new plan to make the town more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Last week, the Town of Franklin planning department held an open house to solicit input from the public on prioritizing needs to improve the downtown area.

“The Open House went very well. We had between 40-50 people drop in and look over the projects and the plan,” said Franklin Planner Justin Setser. “I heard nothing but good feedback. Our next step is to take the comments and findings back to the steering committee in August for them to review and make final comments.”

The open house was another step in a multi-year process in developing a BikeWalk IMG_8424Plan for the downtown area. With funding from a grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the town has contracted with J.M. Teague Engineering & Planning (JMTE) a traffic engineering firm from Waynesville to devise a bike/walk plan. Franklin received a $32,400 planning grant from the state with the town providing the required match of $3,600 to fund the development of a bike/walk plan.

Residents attending the open house were asked to rate nine projects by placing a dot in the box of their top five ways they would like to enhance the bicycling and pedestrian experience in Franklin.

IMG_8419The nine proposed projects include a fix-it station equipped with an array of tools and a free air pump for bicyclists to make repairs; buffered bike lanes with painted lines to separate cars from bike lanes, to improve visibility and delineating space; bicycle parking placed in high-demand areas; paving treatments for aesthetic improvements designed to highlight foot traffic; pedestrian refuges of raised islands at intersections or medians to help protect crossing pedestrians; way-finding signs designed to guide people from one location to the next; outdoor social spaces that include sidewalks with a wide buffer, landscaping, benches and outdoor dining facilities; crosswalk visibility with signage to increase motorist’s awareness of pedestrians and reinforce the law; and trail-based businesses such as inns, coffee shops, and bicycle rental shops incentivized by a new trail system.

In addition to prioritizing enhancing ideas for Franklin, residents were informed of how IMG_8418a bike/walk plan would work toward the betterment of the town through education, encouragement, enforcement and health advantages.

Based on information boards placed around Tartan Hall for residents to view and discuss with the town’s consulting firm working on the plan, education efforts surrounding the plan will help motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and greenway users better understand how to properly interact with one another along streets, trails and at intersections. Education programs planned includes bicycle rodeos to teach kids and inform parents of proper riding; Watch for Me NC campaign aimed at promoting better motorists, bicyclists and pedestrian behavior; and curriculum from Lets Go NC to teach safe walking and bicycling to school age children through PE and other classes.

IMG_8416Community support and involvement with the plan will be vital to promoting a lifestyle change in the community. The types of strategies intended to be employed will vary by the type of cyclist or pedestrian. Some programs possible include theme and fundraising rides/walks, bike/walk to work days, bike/walk to school days, and bike corrals.

Enforcement will be a crucial piece of implementing a new plan. Speed limit or speed zones will be important as well as signage clearly identifying bike and walk paths. The health benefits of the plan will be a good measurement tool for effectiveness of a bike/walk plan. Currently, 21 percent of elementary school age children and 25 percent of middle school children in Macon County are obese. Franklin’s greenway system and Safe Routes to School program can help combat those conditions and chronic diseases such as diabetes.

The open house also included an implementation timeline that begins with IMG_8421implementing a new plan as soon as possible and goes through a 10-step process that ends in 2017 by completing the Bike and Walk friendly applications with the League of American Bicyclists’ that will be used to inform future priorities.

The 10-step implementation process includes

• a review of NCDOT’s maintenance program to identify opportunities to add bikeable shoulders or bike planes to existing routes (timeline varies based on project scheduling);

• emphasize complete streets by developing, adopting and working to implement a Franklin’s Complete Streets policy with an emphasis on bike tourism, pedestrian accessibility, and economic development (timeline is ongoing);

• develop supportive education and enforcement programs by complementing bike and walk routes and greenways with safety and other campaigns to promote safe and increased use (timeline is 1-3 years);

• consider budget for local projects such as signage and pavement markings for neighborhoods (timeline to start fiscal year 2017-18);

• strengthen connections between development and infrastructure by ensuring bike and pedestrian access is considered in all development projects (timeline to begin immediately);

• become a bike tourism hub for WNC through the access to the greenway and rides like the Tour de Franklin (timeline 1-3 years);

• conduct special events to promote walking and bicycling such as community rides, kidical mass, walk-to-school and walking events (timeline 1-3 years);

• measure performance by conducting surveys along bike and walk routes (timeline 2017-18);

• complete bike and walk friendly application to build on momentum and plan for the future (timeline 2017).