Pedestrian, bicycle lanes figure big in multi-modal plans

by Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Staff photo by Allison Potter 

One part of the Wrightsville Sound Small Area Plan proposed by the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization includes a multi-use path that would travel under the Heide Trask Drawbridge.

Throughout New Hanover County and specifically in Wrightsville Beach, various infrastructural plans and studies are being developed in order to provide documented ideas about how to improve multi-modal transportation and the area’s -greenways and blueways. 

Wrightsville Beach Alderman Bill Sisson represents the town on the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Basically you could have the most fantastic plan in the world but if it doesn’t capture the imagination of the politicians …” Sisson said. “On the other hand, it also depends on their natural tendencies; if these people don’t see this as a positive, then it won’t go anywhere or at least whatever happens will be minimal. That really is the ultimate determinate — are the politicians willing to say yes this is important, yes this is a priority and yes we are going to start putting some money away for this?” 

The WMPO is at the forefront of many of these plans, having developed the Wrightsville Sound Small Area Plan (WSSAP). The WMPO is currently developing the New Hanover County Comprehensive Greenway Plan (NHCGP) and the Wrightsville Beach Comprehensive Transportation Plan (WBTP). 

Wrightsville Sound Small Area Plan

Adopted by the city of Wilmington and the town of Wrightsville Beach in 2011, the WSSAP was developed in order for the city to take a closer look at the characteristics of Wrightsville Sound after the Wrightsville Avenue Land Use Plan was revised, said Eryn Moller, planner I for Wrightsville Beach. 

“They felt like it was a different bird, they felt like since it had some of Wrightsville Beach in it, it was just not as far into the city and should be looked at differently,” Moller said. “It was really a planning exercise for the area residents, they are really the ones who came up with the boundary, the points of interest and collaborated on what was important as far as planning into the future.”

The boundaries stretch from Bradley Creek to Summer Rest and from Military Cutoff Road to the Intracoastal Waterway. Moller said the main goals of the plan were to address all forms of transportation, preserve the unique and historic characteristics of the area and to look at how to develop more waterway access points. 

One of the ideas surrounding bicycle and pedestrian transportation being discussed is a multi-use path that would travel underneath the Heide Trask Drawbridge, said Mike Kozlosky, WMPO Executive Director. The path would begin in front of Boca Bay, connect with the multi-use path that will run along the frontage of the new development on the Babies Hospital site, travel under the drawbridge and connect on Airlie Road by the Bridge Tender Marina. Kozlosky said there is enough space underneath the drawbridge for a multi-use path but that the development of the project is dependent on cooperation from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, New Hanover County and Wilmington since the path would travel through the jurisdictions of each. 

Comprehensive Greenway Plan

Multi-organizational cooperation will also be key in developing plans that arise from the NHCGP, which Kozlosky said was launched to build on the momentum the city gained with the development of the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail. 

“What we are trying to do is develop a plan that builds upon our guiding principles and our slogan, which is ‘Move, Pay, Connect,’ and trying to connect people and places while also connecting them socially,” Kozlosky said. 

An example of the possible greenway connections discussed in the plan is connecting Smith Creek Park, Ogden Park, Olsen Park and Military Cutoff Road utilizing the existing easements around Progress Energy’s power lines that connect those areas. A final draft has been completed for the NHCGP and Kozlosky said the WMPO would be submitting it to the different municipalities in the county for approval in the next couple of months. 

Wrightsville Beach Comprehensive Transportation Plan

Related to the NHCGP, Kozlosky said the impetus for the WBTP was two-fold: looking at access management on the east side of the drawbridge and to reevaluate the bicycle and pedestrian opportunities throughout the town.

“You have to realize you are limited by space but we have got to plan for the future,” he said. “There was a study done by the NCDOT that evaluated the economic impact of bicycle facilities on the Outer Banks and the Outer Banks experienced a six-to-one return on their investments.”

Sisson said providing multi-modal transportation improvements and planning for increased traffic on the island will be crucial to the future of the town. 

“Because the board has taken positions in favor of promoting bicycles, I think we need to really finalize how we are going to do that and we have not done that yet,” Sisson said.  

An idea Sisson favored that was brought forward by the WMPO and Kimley-Horn and Associates — the design consulting firm for the plan — during a stakeholder interview on Sept. 18, was the possibility of utilizing the NCDOT’s Complete Streets Program in which local municipalities can take over streets under the NCDOT’s jurisdiction like North Lumina Avenue between Salisbury Street and Waynick Boulevard.  

“What that does is, once you are able to take that over you have a lot more leeway with what you can do with it in terms of streetscape improvements,” he said. 

Public comments and recommendations for the WBTP are currently being compiled by the WMPO and Kimley-Horn  before submitting the plan to the board of aldermen for approval. 

Parks and Recreation Open Space Master Plan

In addition to participating in the development of those plans, town of Wrightsville Beach staff is also developing the Parks and Recreation Open Space Master Plan with Dr. Jim Herstine, a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Parks and recreation program supervisor, Katie Ryan, said the master plan will encompass ideas about greenways, and parks programs and facilities throughout the town and that a final draft will be presented to the board of aldermen in November. 

Although some of study areas of these plans may overlap, Kozlosky, Sisson and Ryan said having plans in place and voicing similar needs for the community is crucial to acquiring funding. However, as Kozlosky and Sisson noted, the only way ideas from any of the aforementioned plans would come to fruition is with support from the local elected officials. 

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