The Haymount district of Fayetteville, North Carolina is blessed with neat neighborhoods of cottage-style homes and proximity to downtown. Its vibrant commercial district is currently cursed, however, by an environment hostile to pedestrian traffic. Armed with a vision, a Smart Growth Action Grant, and a whole lot of duct tape, the local Longleaf Pine REALTORS® (LPR) set out to change that.
Partnering with the North Carolina chapter of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, the Haymount business community, and other local organizations, the 1,600-member association mounted a Better Block Event on a weekend in March to reveal how basic improvements such as bike lanes, crosswalks, reduced traffic lanes, and widened sidewalks could transform the area for the better.
“It was beyond great,” says LPR Government Affairs Director Angie Hedgepeth, of the half-day event that drew more than 3,000 visitors and earned a commitment from the City Council to allocate funding for pedestrian safety measures. It was a city staff member who first approached the REALTORS® about the possibility of securing a Smart Growth Action Grant for a Better Block Event, says Hedgepeth. She, in turn, worked on the project with a county transportation planner and a committee of about 70 REALTORS®.
Using its community relationships, ingenuity, and only slightly more money than the $5,000 grant, LPR effectively transformed a central block of Haymount that had already been the site of one pedestrian fatality. “Beyond the immediate issue of pedestrian safety,” says Hedgepeth, “this effort should benefit property values, business activity, and community connectedness, and could set a positive precedent for the entire region.”
For all its potential, the project came with a steep learning curve: the permits alone, from the North Carolina Department of Treansportation as well as the city of Fayetteville, took months to secure. Then, there was insurance for the event, and a stage to rent, musicians to hire, vendors and artists and food trucks to arrange, and dozens and dozens of orange traffic cones. There was a website to create, and a big publicity campaign, and video coverage involving overhead drones. Hedgepeth and her team experimented with various temporary crosswalk application methods after-hours in the LPR parking lot. Two local nurseries and a landscaping company contributed a row of mature potted trees, several park benches, and additional greenery. The night before the event, the REALTORS® pre-marked the roads. At 8 a.m., day-of, they were out stenciling bike-lane markers and applying eight critical crosswalks with architectural drafting paper and duct tape.
Despite the significant alteration of the traffic access, Hedgepeth reports, “there was no honking of horns, no screaming; drivers were just easing down the road, giving all the pedestrian activity the time and space it needed. It was wonderful, and a big relief, because of course, we had no idea what to expect.”
Local youngsters circulating through the event collected surveys from more than 300 attendees, which have been complied in a report for the City Council. At the end of the day, the REALTORS® interviewed all the businesses in the Better Block zone; all were excited, and one, a new coffee shop, was thrilled to report doing triple its usual trade that day, says Hedgepeth. “People came to our tent and said, ‘Please, can you help make this happen for real?’ and ‘How can we help get this done?!’”
The REALTORS® are on it. The City Councilman representing Haymount has assured them that he’ll find funding for at least the painting of the new crosswalks in the next budget cycle, as a start. Communities beyond Haymount stand to benefit from all the effort, too: an official from a nearby city called the REALTORS® directly, after she’d seen reports in the media, to ask how they’d done it. “It’ll be a while before we’re ready to do something like this again,” laughs Hedgepeth, “but we’re happy to share our new expertise! In so many ways, the grant from NAR is being leveraged in to far greater gains.”
To learn more about how the Longleaf Pine REALTORS® are working to make the communities of Fayetteville, North Carolina,more desirable, livable, workable, and walkable, contact Government Affairs Director Angie Hedgepeth at 910-323-1421. To visit the event website, see https://www.betterblockfaync.com/home.