The Plaza Midwood Land Use Group meets every Third Wednesday of the month at 7pm in the basement of The Vine Church (2101 Belvedere) to discuss landuse changes in the neighborhood. The group was formed in 2014 to address the need for a consistent and informed neighborhood voice in development issues impacting Plaza Midwood. We have held consistent monthly meetings since February 2016.
Meetings are open to all. Property Owners, Renters, Developers and Neighborhood enthusiasts are all encouraged to attend and participate. Recommendations to the PMNA board are not majority rule. Recommendations are transparent and consensus based. Consensus or non-consensus is fully reported to the board for their consideration. The group facilitates communication with developers and neighbors, strengthens advocacy efforts through discussion and education, and makes consensus based recommendations to the board regarding land use changes, infrastructure investments, and advocacy initiatives.
Over the course of our meetings the following have emerged as consensus principals:
- We embrace principals of walk-ability that encourage pedestrian engagement and safety
- We embrace the city’s long term efforts to concentrate development and density in centers and corridors.
- We embrace smaller incremental developments that add variety to our commercial streetscape.
- We value the eclectic aesthetic in our commercial area and therefore do not dictate adherence to a specific architectural style.
- We encourage the reuse of structures.
- We value diversity of housing stock, diversity of housing occupants, and housing affordability
Specific actions taken by our Group for the consideration of the board include:
- Recommendation to support Rezoning Petition # (2015-056) Midwood Flats on Central Ave
- Recommendation to support Rezoning Petition # (2016-017) Resident Culture Brewing
- Recommendation to support Rezoning Petition # (2016-05)
- Proposed Policy to Protect Alleyways in Plaza Midwood
PLAZA & PARKWOOD STREET CONVERSIONS
See more information on The Plaza street conversion, including designs, HERE.
View details of the corridor study HERE.
See more information on the Parkwood street conversion HERE.
WHY PMNA SUPPORTS THE STREET CONVERSION
In the early days of Plaza Midwood — long before that’s what the neighborhood was called — The Plaza was a streetcar route, with Paul Chatham’s battery-powered rail car running down Central Avenue and north along The Plaza. But as neighbor Tom Hanchett points out in his history of the area, the streetcar wasn’t particularly efficient, and eventually it disappeared altogether.
The result, however, is a beautiful stretch of road that runs through the heart of our neighborhood, with a wide, tree-lined median separating two lanes of traffic in each direction, with craftsman homes all along the way. And as the neighborhood continues to evolve, so, too, does The Plaza.
Starting next year, the city will begin a street conversion project on The Plaza that won’t take us back to the days of the streetcar, but it will make the road safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists, add to the character of the neighborhood, encourage more biking and walking, and continue to serve as one of Plaza Midwood’s primary connectors to Central Avenue and beyond.
The plans for the project remain in flux, as CDOT works with the neighborhood association, city leaders and other organizations to find the optimal design for the new look on The Plaza, but while the specifics are still a work in progress, the larger scope of the project is well underway.
By now you’ve probably heard a good bit about the bike lanes, and those are a big part of the street conversion, but there’s even more significant reasons for the changes.
A year ago, C-DOT and PMNA partnered for a test run of those bike lanes on The Plaza to see whether it would encourage bikers, reduce speeding, or impede traffic. It was a first-of-its-kind project in Charlotte, and we were thrilled to be on the front lines of some progressive thinking.
Of course, we also weren’t endorsing any longterm changes until we saw the results of the test, which, as it turned out, met virtually every goal we had for it — maintaining the same volume of traffic but at safer speeds without encouraging motorists to use side streets, while getting folks on bikes and encouraging alternative forms of transportation. That’s why PMNA is so excited to see the new streetscape project finally take off.
While a similar project is in the works on Parkwood Avenue, scheduled for 2020, The Plaza conversion will extend from Central Avenue to Mecklenburg, with the two projects eventually working in conjunction to provide connectivity to the Blue Line and Cross-Charlotte Trail.
New safety precautions are being taken for pedestrians, too, with new pedestrian crossings and enhancements to some existing crossings across The Plaza. This includes a flashing pedestrian sign at Hamorton, currently one of the most dangerous spots.
And this isn’t a project aimed at making life more difficult for drivers either. Several changes are proposed for the intersection at Central to ensure efficient traffic flow, while optimizing the experience on a new, safer Plaza.
In addition, we’ve already seen some terrific improvements that will work in tandem with this project. A new crosswalk and traffic signal were installed at Clement, near Midwood Smokehouse. All-walk signals (“exclusive pedestrian phases”) were added for peak pedestrian hours at the Central Avenue intersections with Pecan, Thomas and The Plaza. A new crosswalk and signal are coming to Veterans Park, and the awful curb cut into the Rita’s shopping center at Central Avenue was removed, making that intersections safer for drivers and pedestrians and adding four new parking spots.
But we’re still aware that folks have plenty of questions about what the overall impact of this initiative, so we’re hoping to answer some of those here, while also discussing at our quarterly neighborhood meeting (Thursday, July 26 at 7 p.m.), and we’re eager to hear from you via email (info@PlazaMidwood.org), as is C-DOT. So, read on and reach out, and we hope this project will satisfy most neighbors while once again showcasing Plaza Midwood as one of the most progressive neighborhoods in Charlotte.
Q: What’s happening on Parkwood and The Plaza?
A: These are two separate projects that both impact Plaza Midwood. The Parkwood street conversion, however, largely impacts Belmont and Villa Heights and will not begin for some time. The more immediate changes you’ll see in our neighborhood is a traffic-calming plan on The Plaza, reducing lanes from four to two from Parkwood to Central Avenue, with protected bike lanes added for the entire stretch.
Q: Why is this project happening?
A: The goal is to create a safer environment for all neighbors on an exclusively residential street. Traffic studies showed excessive speeding on The Plaza, and this project is a way to reduce those speeds, add safe lanes for bicyclists and improve safety for pedestrians.
Q: Is this project definitely happening or is it still in the discussion stages?
A: The traffic calming project is definitely happening, and it will include the crosswalks, street conversion and bike lanes. What remains open for discussion is how, exactly, the design will look, and while C-DOT has some preliminary designs available, there’s still plenty of time to provide feedback. Many additional design details are still to be determined.
Q: If the goal is to reduce speeding, why not just add stop signs or speed bumps?
A: Speed bumps are not allowed within the public right-of-way. Speed humps are allowed, but only on lower-volume residential streets; The Plaza is classified as a minor thoroughfare. Stop signs lose their effectiveness when placed with the intent of slowing traffic or creating gaps. According to C-DOT, when a stop sign is installed without meeting warrants per the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, drivers may come to a rolling stop at the vicinity of the sign, but speed up once they are clear of the intersection to make up for lost time. Stop signs are appropriate for side streets and for use at more low-volume local streets, but they are typically not used at intersections where the mainline volumes far exceed side road volumes (such is the case with The Plaza).
Q: OK, why not use the bike lane for parking then?
A: There are significant drawbacks to that idea. For one, it encourages more traffic flow down the road. Secondly, it would not accommodate emergency vehicles. It would make The Plaza even less palatable for cyclists, and it would also add a significant potential for accidents by creating blind spots when people are exiting driveways.
Q: Isn’t this project expensive?
A: The project is being done as part of an already planned repaving of The Plaza, along with some supplemental C-DOT funding, thus heavily reducing the net financial impact of the project and not requiring additional funding from the city.
Q: What is the timeline for this project?
A: C-DOT hopes to have a final design plan ready by Spring 2019 with actual work to begin that summer. The Parkwood road diet is set for 2020.
Q: When will C-DOT provide additional feedback and updates on the project?
A: We will have C-DOT officials at our July neighborhood meeting, but both C-DOT and PMNA are happy to address your concerns at any time. You can reach PMNA at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact C-DOT coordinator for The Plaza, Keith Bryant or Parkwood coordinator Keith Hines and Matt Magnasco. You can also get updates and alerts HERE and HERE.
Q: Why is PMNA supporting this?
A: For one, PMNA has a mission to keep the neighborhood safe, and we feel the slowed traffic on this residential street is a step in the right direction. Secondly, PMNA supports eco-friendly growth, and we believe the bike lanes offer that. Third, the data from C-DOT showed this would not have a significant impact on traffic on The Plaza, and we based our decisions on their data. Lastly, in a survey done by C-DOT after the 2017 bike lane study, they found that 63 percent of respondents were satisfied with the bike lanes and a majority of all types of commuters approved of them (drivers, 61%; bikers, 81%; pedestrians, 70%).
Q: Isn’t there too much traffic on The Plaza for C-DOT to reduce lanes?
A: Nope. They study traffic patterns before they’ll allow a road diet, and The Plaza falls within the parameters of their criteria. In addition, the study done last year showed that, even with the bike lanes, The Plaza handled the same volume, just at slower speeds that more closely reflected the posted speed limits.
Q: But isn’t more traffic coming?
A: With more development comes more cars, yes. But the point of this project is to train drivers to drive at safer speeds along this residential road and encourage alternate means of transportation by making those options safer and more convenient. In the longterm, we think this will equate to a safer streetscape and, hopefully, fewer folks who feel the need to drive. Additionally, with the street conversion coming at Parkwood, it makes sense to reduce lanes on The Plaza, too, rather than have it become the “fast” alternative to Parkwood, encouraging additional drivers to use this route.
Q: Won’t this make speeds on The Plaza slower?
A: Yes, but that’s a good thing. The posted speed limit for The Plaza is 35 mph. When C-DOT studied traffic flow before and during the bike lane demonstration last year, it found that nearly a quarter of speeds were in excess of 10 mph over the speed limit when the road was four lanes. During the demonstration, that number was reduced to less than 2 percent, with the average speed closer to 36-38 mph. That represents a 12%-18% decrease in speeds, to a level closer to the posted speed limit. As for the side streets, there were minimal changes in the average speed. The posted speed limit on these streets is 20-25 mph, and speeds remained in the mid-twenties before and during the demonstration project.
Q: But won’t those slower speeds also be a big inconvenience for commuters?
A: During the study, the average speed on The Plaza was reduced from 45 mph to 38 mph (still above the speed limit), a difference of 7 mph. The length of The Plaza that will see changes is six-tenths of a mile. This equates to a difference of about 9 seconds of travel time. Even if average speeds at peak times were reduced to half the posted speed limit — say, 15 mph — it would account for no more than a two-minute increase in travel time.
Q. Won’t traffic just move to side streets?
A: C-DOT studied this also and found that there was not a significant increase in traffic on the adjacent streets (Thomas, Pecan, Nassau).
Q: This is just like East Blvd. and traffic there is a mess. Why should I support a project like that?
A: The City has completed more than 30 street conversions since the early 2000s and has found that, while there are certainly some tradeoffs from a vehicular level-of-service standpoint, the city’s goals are to accommodate all modes of transportation. Additionally, the East Blvd. conversion was primarily a commercial area, while this represents an almost entirely residential street. Lastly, when CDOT studied both corridors (East in 2015, The Plaza in 2017), peak traffic volume on East was about 43 percent higher than The Plaza.
Q: How will traffic at the Central Ave. intersection be impacted?
A: For now I would say that based on feedback and Internal City review, we are evaluating the intersection layout and decisions on a final configuration of this intersection is forthcoming. PMNA understands making this intersection safe and efficient is a key to the success of this project and are working hard to ensure there is a left-turn signal added and a safe means of moving cars, pedestrians and bikes through the intersection.
CITY SERVICES, ETC.
Q: How will this impact garbage collection?
A: There should be no significant changes to collection. While we did ask that Plaza residents place their cans on the outside edge of the bike lanes during the demonstration last year, that will not be necessary this time around.
Q: Where will delivery trucks stop?
A: Similar to garbage collection, the barriers will not preclude access from private delivery trucks, allowing normal traffic flow to continue.
Q: How will this impact emergency service vehicles?
A: The vertical elements will not prevent emergency vehicles from utilizing the bike lanes when necessary. By containing traffic to one lane, this actually should make it easier for emergency vehicles to navigate The Plaza.
Q: Many drivers utilize the median cuts for u-turns and left turns onto cross streets, particularly at Belvedere. If there are multiple cars waiting to turn and only one lane for traffic, won’t this cause significant congestion, particularly at peak hours?
A: This is among the more significant trade-offs made when reducing the number of lanes. Where there may be some slightly extended wait times at these turn lanes, the hope is that the new bicycle infrastructure, safer roadways and better access for pedestrian crossings will offset this inconvenience. The median crossovers will still be available for drivers to pull ahead in anticipation of a turn, too, so the concerns should only arise during peak hours.
THE BIKE LANES
Q: What will the bike lanes look like?
A: This is still a work in progress. PMNA is working to ensure that they are safe and attractive and present the type of character expected of Plaza Midwood. If you have suggestions or questions, let us know.
Q: Will there be any art or planters included?
A: Yes. This is a big push by PMNA, and we’re working with the folks at Sustain Charlotte to ensure we have not just the first protected bike lanes in Charlotte but the coolest ones in the country. A working group including PMNA board members, community leaders, Midwood Merchants members and local artists and designers, along with Sustain Charlotte, are currently working on potential design ideas and welcome your feedback.
Q: Will there be a vertical barrier to protect bikers?
A: Yes, that is part of the plan. The current designs call for “armadillo” barriers, which are small humps on the road that designate the bike lanes, along with some concrete barriers at side street intersections. This is a first of its kind design in Charlotte, however, and much of these designs are preliminary and subject to input from other city services and officials.
Q. Will trees be removed?
A: In the current plans, several trees near the Hamorton/Plaza intersection will need to be removed to elongate the turn lane at Central Ave. PMNA is asking that additional trees be planted elsewhere on The Plaza for each one removed. Still, these plans remain preliminary.
Q: Will we see major changes to the median strip on The Plaza?
A: The current design does include a reshaping of the median strips at Hamorton and at Mecklenburg. The left turn lane near Hamorton from The Plaza onto Central will be elongated (reducing the length of that median strip) and a Z-shaped crosswalk installed at the actual Hamorton intersection. This is designed to force pedestrians and cyclists to view oncoming traffic. At Mecklenburg, the current design shows a closure of the median cut that connects Mecklenburg with the gas station. This would allow for a left turn lane onto Parkwood and two right turn lanes onto the northern end of The Plaza. This is part of the Parkwood street conversion, however, and not the plan for The Plaza. PMNA has not endorsed this idea and encourages further discussion.
CYCLISTS AND SAFETY
Q: There are not that many bikers on The Plaza. Why are we doing all this to accommodate them?
A: We aren’t. This is part of Charlotte’s initiative to make key streetscapes accessible for everyone. We want to encourage more biking, and this design should help with that. But we also want to reduce excessive speeding on The Plaza, make pedestrians safer and keep The Plaza looking great. These are all priorities on this project. But most of all, we’ve seen multiple fatalities for bikers and pedestrians on Central, The Plaza and Parkwood in recent years, and our goal is to ensure that never happens again.
Q: Aren’t some advanced cyclists in the community against this?
A: Yes, and we understand their concerns. But first, the bike lanes are not the primary focus of this project. They are a considered the most effective way to reduce traffic speeds on a residential road. Moreover, these bike lanes are being designed for all bikers — children, families, etc. — and not just those who are already comfortable and familiar with biking. Advanced cyclists can continue to utilize Thomas or other roads as desired, but the Plaza plans offer a solution to traffic calming needs while also providing a safe area for novice riders. We’ve also met with the Bicycle Advisory Committee and will take their feedback into consideration when committing to a final design.
Q: Won’t the driveways and intersections actually make this more dangerous for bicyclists?
A: There is no perfect plan to ensure no bikers or pedestrians will ever be in danger, and to be sure, these bike lanes do not absolve riders of their responsibility to be alert, aware and attentive. That said, we see this project as a clear step towards a safer neighborhood, and we think that the focus on bike lanes will also help remind both drivers and bicyclists that they’re sharing the streetscape.
Q: Why aren’t the bike lanes on the inside lane adjacent to the median?
A: C-DOT studied this option closely. The rationale is that it would complicate major intersections at Central Ave. and Parkwood Road, forcing bikers to cross traffic to gain access to sidewalks or further bike lanes. Additionally, because motorists are not used to seeing bike lanes on their left, there is a concern this would lead to increased safety concerns. Median-adjacent lanes also present access concerns, since you would have to cross traffic in order to get onto the bike lanes. The current design also offers a buffer between traffic and sidewalks, adding safety for pedestrians.
Q: Where will additional crosswalks be added on The Plaza?
A: Yes, new pedestrian crossings and enhancements to some existing crossings across The Plaza. This includes a flashing pedestrian sign at Hamorton, currently one of the most dangerous spots.
PARKWOOD STREET CONVERSION
Q: What does the street conversion on Parkwood look like?
A: This project is the result of a petition to city council in 2015 with more than 500 signatures asking the city for better pedestrian and bicycle access on Parkwood Avenue. A transportation study in 2016 for Parkwood and The Plaza offered insight that changes were needed. The project will result in reduced lanes, improved sidewalks and bike lanes in areas between North Davidson Street and The Plaza. The project includes work between the existing curb lines that proposes new pavement markings that will create buffered bike lanes along the entire project area. Additional improvements will include new traffic signals, pedestrian crossings and median modifications. More info can be found HERE.
Q: How will these two projects (Plaza and Parkwood) tie together?
A: The bike lane will extend all the way to Parkwood Avenue for the southbound lanes on The Plaza. For the northbound lanes, the cyclist can either merge into traffic or use a new widened sidewalk, or shared-use path, that will connect to the Parkwood.
Q: Why does the Parkwood road diet not include all blocks between Belmont and The Plaza?
A: Based on C-DOT’s study of traffic flow, the number of cars utilizing several portions of Parkwood exceeds the guidelines for a potential road diet, so at this time, they would remain open to multiple lanes of traffic. PMNA has voiced some concern about the limited scope of the road diet on Parkwood, however, and is working with residents along those sections of the road to find a potential solution.
Q: Will there still be left and right turn lanes from The Plaza onto Parkwood?
A: Yes, aside from the proposed closing of the median strip at Mecklenburg, the interchange at Parkwood should not be dramatically impacted.
Q: Will the bike lanes offer connectivity to things like the blue line or the cross-Charlotte trail?
A: Yes. That is one of the primary benefits of this plan. The new streetscapes will make it far easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to utilize these roads to connect to Villa Heights, Belmont, the greenway and the Blue Line. As the Cross-Charlotte Trail and other projects develop, those, too, will be tied into the design.
- From CityLab, an explainer on “road diets”:
The original thinking held that wider roads meant better traffic flows, especially at rush-hour, but new lanes also attracted new traffic, and outside the peak periods you’d end up with lots of wasted road space. An analysis of road widening in the small city of Fort Madison, Iowa, showed an increase in traffic volumes, but also delay, speed, and crash and injury rates.
- From the Federal Highway Administration on road diets (The Plaza falls into category 2, 10-15K volume):
FHWA and several other transportation agencies have developed guidelines for selecting candidate Road Diet locations to ensure that the effect on traffic operations is minimized.
Latent demand has been recognised by road traffic professionals for many decades, and was initially referred to as “traffic generation”. In the simplest terms, latent demand is demand that exists, but, for any number of reasons, most having to do with human psychology, is suppressed by the inability of the system to handle it. Once additional capacity is added to the network, the demand that had been latent materializes as actual usage.
- A study from North Central Texas Council of Governments on road diets in San Francisco, Kentucky and Seattle:
*Collision reduction in the first year
*2009-2011: 23% reduction
*Significant speed reduction
*Dramatically reduced percent of drivers traveling > 10 mph
over speed limit
*Percent drivers traveling over the speed limit reduced more
*Top-end speeders reduced by 90%
- A white paper from Science Direct on building sustainable streetscapes.
- From CityLab about a Brunswick, NJ case:
The analysis finds that the safety benefits of reducing automobile space and speeds on the street would far outweigh any losses from driver delay.
- On how the backlash against road diets in Gainesville, Florida was not fueled by the outcomes:
The life and death of the Gainesville road diet reflects the broader tension and debate that comes with removing traffic lanes on urban streets. On one hand, road diets have been called “one of the transportation safety field’s greatest success stories,” and often make a road better for all users without a measurable impact on traffic flow. On the other hand, drivers tend to oppose them out of a fear, real or perceived, that fewer lanes will mean greater congestion and delay.
- On a controversial road diet in Los Angeles:
- Since the road diet was installed more than three years ago, LADOT has been collecting data on traffic patterns. An analysis of that data makes it clear that the project has worked as intended: Average speeds dropped from 39 mph to 35 mph, and safety has significantly increased on Rowena, with no effect on overall traffic volume.
- Before and after photos from 25 New York City road diets.
- And below is a summary from Stevan Talevski, coordinator of Stroll & Roll Plaza Midwood…