(BUILD A BETTER BOULEVARD)
In 2014, The Civic Hub partnered with Metrocology Inc and Hall Planning and Engineering to launch the Build a Better Boulevard project. The multi-city contract called for a transportation study designed to re-envision Wilkinson Boulevard, a major thoroughfare connecting the small towns of eastern Gaston County with downtown Charlotte NC, as a corridor that enhances placemaking opportunities, economic development potential and the commuting experience for the citizens of Belmont, Cramerton and McAdenville.
The project focused on determining physical improvements to the character and function of the segment of the Wilkinson Boulevard corridor running from the Catawba River to the Wesleyan Drive/Market Street intersection just to the west of the South Fork River. The study identified street design improvements, and developed improvement strategies based on the local context and user needs of the Boulevard and adjoining property owners, as well as the regional context and function of the Boulevard within Gaston County and metropolitan Charlotte. Recommendations on existing zoning and land use will also be developed to inform and support the suggested thoroughfare improvements and strategies.
Our role in the project was to bridge the divide, between the community and the very real concerns that naturally result from enduring a dysfunctional system, and the professionals and the very logistical considerations that are central to any transportation analysis. Together with our project partners, the multi-jurisdictional municipal client team, and with the help of an invested stakeholder group, we crafted an engagement strategy that leveraged public input, utilized both print and digital media, and provided a real-time transparent process. The result was a technical transportation analysis that is accessible and relatable to community concerns, with a set of complete streets recommendations that can have immediate impact on the quality of life and the ease of transportation in eastern Gaston County.
Build A Better Boulevard was honored to receive the prestigious 2015 Marvin Collins Award for Outstanding Planning from the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association. Among other aspects, the APA-NC cited the public engagement and community events, designed by our team to support and enhance the design efforts, as evidence of the merit of the project.
TWO RIVERS RIDE
As a method for creating a shared understanding of the current incomplete street conditions of Wilkinson Boulevard, we organized a community bike ride exploring the corridor to kick-off to the project. Participation by elected officials, municipal staff, stakeholder group members, the project team, and the community made for valuable discussion at intermittent stops along the route and at the end of the ride. Together, riders came to consensus on the serious need for redesign to ensure cyclist and pedestrian safety along the boulevard.
MEETINGS AND presentations
Facilitating strategic meetings and developing engaging presentations is the meat of what The Civic Hub does during public workshops, and the Build a Better Boulevard project required careful coordination with the three contracting municipalities to do so. The support we provide our team means that they can deliver their expertise with confidence: that all the stakeholders are in the room, that the public is fully involved in the process, that they have all the relevant information to develop their recommendations, and that their message is being fully received.
While most transportation studies document their findings in thick bound volumes that end up on city hall shelves, we proposed a more accessible alternative: a project website that could serve as the digital archive of the study. At www.buildabetterboulevard.com visitors can find: examples from our research on the history of the Wilkinson Boulevard; maps, videos, and photos of the current condition of the corridor; updates and current documentation of the process; and ways to contact the team and get involved.
Where the project website remained a mostly-static library for the community to learn about the project, the dedicated social media site became the place for conversations about the future of Wilkinson Boulevard to develop. We chose to utilize a Facebook Page for the Build a Better Boulevard social media tool, based on the previous success of the City of Belmont page in public engagement, and were able to keep those digitally active members of the community updated on project progress through the page and its various features.
An important task in understanding the needs of the corridor was having a clear view of what was happening (and what wasn't). Using drone footage, we were able to compile helpful videos showing traffic conditions at various times during the day and at various traffic "choke points" along the boulevard.
Corridor study Documentation
While still a highly technical document, given the nature of the issues being studied and the importance of this state highway as a major thoroughfare through a metropolitan area, the Wilkinson Boulevard Corridor Study benefited from the input of a diverse set of stakeholders and viewpoints generated by our community engagement techniques. The resulting report responds to a broad set of related concerns ranging far beyond traffic movement, including economic development, zoning regulations, and alternative modes of transportation.
APA-NC Marvin Collins Award For Outstanding Planning
An excerpt from the APA-NC Awards Committee Chair:
The Committee was very impressed with how effectively this plan incorporates the "Complete Streets" approach while simultaneously addressing details including traffic signal adaptation, intersection realignment, and coordination with resurfacing projects. The plan creates valuable development sites for the community and included effective public involvement through diverse representation on the steering committee and creative events such as the community bike ride.