Greensboro's Downtown Greenway: Successful Revitalization through Active Transportation
Source: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)
The City of Greensboro's Downtown experienced a period of disinvestment during the latter half of the 20th Century. Recent revitalization efforts have prompted an increase in businesses and cultural amenities in the downtown area. The Downtown Greenway project seeks to build on downtown revitalization, economic development, and urban livability efforts by promoting active living, encouraging alternative transportation, linking diverse neighborhoods, and showcasing the history of Greensboro's Downtown and the surrounding areas.
Figure 1: Plan for the Downtown Greenway four-mile loop. Each phase is indicated by a different color.
The Downtown Greenway was first conceived as part of the Center City Master Plan in 2001 and was unanimously recognized by the Greensboro Bicentennial Commission as their feature project to commemorate and provide a record of the city's 200th birthday celebration in 2008. The four-mile loop, which broke ground in 2009, will serve as a hub for trails extending in all directions from Greensboro's downtown (see Figure 1). While establishing a link between existing trails and neighborhoods was an important factor, the route was also established based on the availability and usage of nearby land parcels. In particular, rail line corridors were identified as underused parcels ready for redevelopment; a conclusion supported by public input. Public input also dictated which neighborhood linkages were most important, while future traffic studies and an iterative design process directed the route's course along the east side of downtown (Murrow Boulevard) and on the northern leg of the Greenway, respectively. As an important trail connection, the Downtown Greenway will provide a safer transportation solution for bicyclists and pedestrians accessing downtown, a place for public art, public park space, and an important link between socially diverse neighborhoods.
The Downtown Greenway is an urban paved shared-use path that typically is 12-feet-wide with buffers between the trails and roadways, and features enhanced landscaping and lighting, site furnishings that include benches, bicycle racks, drinking fountains, trash and recycling receptacles, and public art. The shared-use path provides separation from motor vehicle traffic, which reduces the risk of some crash types for bicyclists and pedestrians. When complete, this greenway will create a four-mile loop around the heart of downtown and connect not only other trails and greenways but businesses, universities, and neighborhoods.
To solicit public opinion regarding the Downtown Greenway project, a number of design charrettes and informational meetings were held with community stakeholders, civic and governmental organizations, neighborhoods, and local leaders. As this project has far-reaching effects for many neighborhoods surrounding downtown—as well as for local universities, arts councils, governmental bodies, active living groups, and others—these organizations were included in the community meetings and have become involved in the process. Specifically, neighborhood meetings were held in all of the neighborhoods adjacent to the Downtown Greenway, presenting various design alternatives and providing a survey to solicit feedback from neighborhood residents. Arts Councils, active living groups, and local universities have been involved in fundraising initiatives and, in the case of Greensboro College, have allowed the Downtown Greenway to be built on college property. They have also served in advisory roles on project committees. Governmental bodies, such as the Greensboro Department of Transportation, the Police Department, and Parks and Recreation, have also been involved in the design and implementation of the Downtown Greenway with their presence on the Oversight and Technical Greenway Committees.
The support of the neighborhoods adjacent to the proposed greenway route was of primary importance in starting the Downtown Greenway project. Many neighborhoods that surround Greensboro's downtown are historic and vary greatly in terms of demographic make-up. Coordinating with neighborhood associations and local leaders as well as ensuring that the project coordinators were accessible to individual citizens created an environment of cooperation and collaboration around the project. By presenting to the Neighborhood Congress in Greensboro, Action Greensboro (the lead agency on the Downtown Greenway project) provided a forum for discussion of the Downtown Greenway initiative and identified neighborhood leaders. Interested neighborhood residents and citizens were invited to participate in design charettes and informational meetings. The inclusion of a Greensboro Council Member and numerous volunteers on the Downtown Greenway Steering Committee also provided avenues for further public input.
Figure 2: The Gateway of the Open Book by Brower Hatcher is public art installation on the Morehead Park section of the Downtown Greenway.
Photo by Downtown Greenway.
From the project's inception, public art was an area of focus, both to highlight the history of the places around the greenway and also to make the trail into a destination. One of the consultants on the project, Cooper Carry, suggested creating four "cornerstones" along the Downtown Greenway, an idea that was well received by the Oversight Committee. The first step in this process was to create a Public Art Selection Panel, made up of North Carolina artists, which issues an open call for proposals, conducts interviews and evaluations, and awards commissions. The first winning cornerstone design was installed in 2012 (Figure 2) and work on the second cornerstone commission was completed in early 2014.
For the 12 art benches that will be located along the Downtown Greenway, local North Carolina artists will be selected to create the pieces for installation. Two benches have been installed thus far, and the third will be installed as part of the next phase. As part of their contracts, all artists visit Greensboro to get to know the community and host neighborhood meetings to help them create site-specific, meaningful art installations on the Downtown Greenway.
Special signage has been created to distinguish the Downtown Greenway from other pedestrian bicycle paths, while the 12-foot path width identifies the facility as different from other greenways in Greensboro. In conjunction with the Greensboro and the North Carolina Department of Transportation, treatments that benefit bicyclists and pedestrians have been designed for use along the Greenway. These include new traffic signals, pedestrian refuge islands, and pedestrian countdown signals.
About three-quarters of a mile of the four-mile loop have been completed—a half-mile in the southwest corner and one-quarter mile along the north. The segment to the north was expedited to take advantage of an existing construction project. Greensboro will continue to construct the southern leg and complete the design of the eastern leg of the greenway. The western leg of the four-mile loop will be built on what is now an active rail line. Abandonment of that line is expected in the next few years and federal railbanking legislation will be used to convert the land from rails to trails. This will likely be the final phase of the Downtown Greenway to be completed. It is the city's goal to complete the entire downtown loop by 2018, pending acquisition of the railroad corridor and final public funding.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Although early planning and engineering design efforts were difficult because of the lack of public support for change in the area, especially the lane reduction, overall public response to this project has been favorable since its opening. In addition to the increased capacity for bicyclists and pedestrians, the lane reduction had some effect on lowering vehicle speeds, which may allow the city to reduce the speed limit in this area.
Costs and Funding
The estimated cost for completion is $26 million, with funds coming from a variety of sources in a true public-private partnership. Funds will come from Federal and state grants, local foundations, transportation bond allocations, and contributions from private individuals or businesses. A streets improvement referendum was successfully approved on November 4, 2008, which released some transportation bond allocations for the greenway. These bonds, which allocated $7 million to the Greenway project, will be instrumental in the success of the greenway.