City okays new safety measures in Ashbury community and downtown parklet

Pictured above is an example of a crosswalk in the Ashbury community that will be implemented temporarily as part of a request that the Mebane Bicycle and Pedestrian Advocacy Commission (BPAC) made to the Mebane City Council at its July meeting. BPAC recommended two projects through the Better Block trailer, a community resource provided through the City of Graham. The first two projects that have been approved are a series of stop signs and crosswalks in the Ashbury neighborhood, as well as a downtown parklet that will include picnic tables and a bike rack along West Clay Street near its intersection with Fourth Street. 

At the Monday, July 12 Mebane City Council meeting, Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) members Katy Jones and Chelsey Morrison came before the elected board to make two requests. BPAC has been in discussions with officials in Graham about the possibility of utilizing a program called the Better Block trailer. The Better Block trailer is a shared community resource available to communities within Alamance County that is currently maintained by the City of Graham. It contains materials like chalk, paint, traffic cones, and barricades to “test drive” ideas on streets and public spaces before pursuing permanent projects. 

“It (the Better Block trailer) is a trailer of resources that are available for temporary implementations of pedestrian and bicycle improvements,” Jones explained. “In a way, it is an opportunity for us to try out pedestrian and bicycle improvements before we actually commit City resources to implement them for real. It’s also a really great opportunity for us to get input from the community on certain activities and projects that we want to do, as well as to get recommendations from the community on what we may be able to do in the future.” 

Jones noted that the City of Mebane participated in the Better Block program as a partner agency when the program was first developed through a grant from Impact Alamance. The City contributed initial funds to help the Better Block trailer program get off the ground. 

“There are a variety of ways we can utilize the resources within the trailer. We can do temporary crosswalks. We can do temporary speed reduction, as well as some outdoor dining,” Jones said. 

Morrison explained to the City Council that the first two projects BPAC would like to utilize the Better Block trailer to implement are traffic calming measures in the Ashbury subdivision, and a downtown parklet, which would be a blocked-off area to allow for outdoor dining. 

The Ashbury project would include stop signs at six intersections and temporary crosswalks at eight locations, while the downtown parklet would include an outdoor seating and dining area with picnic tables, along with a nearby bike rack, along West Clay Street near its intersection with Fourth Street outside Solgarden. The parklet would take up the current square footage of approximately two parking spaces. Morrison mentioned that multiple downtown businesses have expressed interest in having a parklet outside their location, so the parklet concept could move around to different areas along Clay Street and surrounding streets as the project progresses.

“I’m sure you’ve seen that we have food trucks coming to the downtown area, and there’s not many places for them to sit,” Morrison told the elected officials. “Ashbury has been known to have a lot of traffic issues along Blue Lake Drive. There are no stop signs, and several cross-streets. There’s a lot of traffic that cuts through from (Highway) 70, cutting through by going up Ashbury Boulevard and taking a left onto Blue Lake Drive, as well as folks coming from York Loop in the other direction. There’s lot of curves where they’re kind of blind. And people just seem to forget the speed limit. And Mockingbird Lane, which is the newer street, also has some of those issues.” 

BPAC proposed the temporary implementation of stop signs along Blue Lake Drive and Mockingbird Lane within the Ashbury community, as well as a series of crosswalks away from certain intersections, intended to help drivers slow down and stay more alert. 

“It’s generally among the neighborhood - the chatter among social media groups and at HOA meetings and that kind of thing - is that this is something that’s been needed for a while,” Morrison said. 

The Better Block trailer is reserved for a three-month period - August, September, and October - to give BPAC and local residents an opportunity to test out the new arrangement. 

Andrew Bixler, the Homeowners Association President at Ashbury, added some thoughts regarding the need of more stop signs and pedestrian walkways in the subdivision. Bixler indicated that the four-way stop implemented by the City along Ashbury Boulevard was a big help to slowing down traffic, but the BPAC recommendations would make the community safer for residents and pedestrians, as well as those drivers who travel in and out of the area. 

“We’ve had a continuing problem on Blue Lake Drive. I can be the first eyewitness,” Bixler explained to the City Council. “We have people that come down that road - I’ve seen them coming in excess of 40 miles an hour. And I know people that have been ticketed at 50 miles an hour through there, that don’t live in the subdivision. I think by doing this temporarily, it’s a low-cost way to see if it works. And it gives people protection with crosswalks, so if they’re crossing the road, they have the right-of-way, so people have to stop. It’s a cost-effective way to see if it is going to help our neighborhood be a safer place for our children, and the people who live there. I’m all for it, and everybody I’ve talked to in our neighborhood is all for it.” 

Mebane Police Chief Terry Caldwell indicated to the City Council that once the temporary stop signs are implemented, they do become enforceable according to General Statutes. 

“Ultimately, the charge of the BPAC is to put forth recommendations to the City for pedestrian and bicycle improvements,” said Jones. “This is an opportunity for us to test drive those. So ultimately, I think we see success of these measures as getting positive input from the community, or measures that they are working. And if they don’t, I think that’s also a really important measure that we are able to kind of experiment and test with some things, and then perhaps not make a recommendation of something for City funds if it actually does not end up working. So that’s certainly something that we want to be mindful of as well.” 

The City Council unanimously approved the proposal to implement the two recommended projects from Mebane’s BPAC. 

“I think the Better Block trailer is a wonderful idea, because like you said, you get to test drive ideas is a cost-efficient way,” said City Council member Patty Philipps. “It may be that your community discovers that four stop signs is better than six stop signs. You’re going to be able to get the specific feedback so that those things are placed in the right area, or where they’re going to have the most impact. I think it’s a great idea. I think the efforts that BPAC is making towards making Mebane a safer place are extraordinarily important. Safety for pedestrians is paramount.” 

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” added City Council member Tim Bradley. “It’s great that we’ve got that resource.”