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President George Washington called Charlotte, a "trifling place" during his visit to the city in 1791. But it's certainly changed since then. WFAE's Tasnim Shamma explores the ins-and-outs of Charlotte in this podcast.Subscribe: Use iTunes Use Another Player RSS

A Trifling Place, Episode 16: Where The Sidewalks At?

Welcome to A Trifling Place, a podcast dedicated to exploring the ins-and-outs of Charlotte. 

When I first moved to Charlotte, the one thing I complained about most was the lack of sidewalks. Of course, there are sidewalks in uptown, but move away from the center city and you're venturing into unpaved territory.

Credit Tasnim Shamma

I would love to walk to our studios in the University area, since I only live a couple of miles away. But try crossing streets with no official crosswalks and you'll have a lot of drivers honking at you. 

The lack of sidewalks annoyed me so much that I put in an official sidewalk request through the city's website just one month after moving here. And within a couple of weeks, I received a cheerful response.

Here's what the e-mail said:

"Hello, I am in receipt of your sidewalk request for a section of North Tryon Street. I have good news for you. North Tryon Street from Highway 49 to Mallard Creek Church Road is currently on the sidewalk list. Please let me know if I can help you further."

Safety Concerns 

That's the good news. The bad news? I'm still waiting. But the bigger issue is probably the lack of crosswalks. Charlotteans sometimes die trying to cross streets where there are no crosswalks.

In February of 2012, one-year-old Jeremy Brewton and five-year-old KadrienPendergrass were hit and killed at the corner of Shady Lane and West Tyvola Road in west Charlotte on their way to daycare with their father. 

Credit Tasnim Shamma
Garinger High School senior Brittany Palmer was 18 when she died after being hit by an SUV while crossing the street in March 2012. Her death prompted city council to approve funding for sidewalks in front of the school.

One month later, another person was killed while trying to cross the street across town in front of Garinger High School in east Charlotte. Eighteen-year-old Brittany Palmer, a senior at Garinger, was hit by a jeep as she crossed Eastway Drive at East Sugar Creek Road.

"What's unfortunate is that Brittany Palmer was killed at this intersection and that prompted the city council to take action on dedicating funding for this," says Debbie Smith, the city's traffic safety manager.

The intersection in front of Garinger High School was ranked in the city's top ten list of intersections that need crosswalks. But Smith says Brittany Palmer's death moved it to the top of the list with the help of state funds. 

Two weeks after her death, CDOT got the green light to build crosswalks and sidewalks. Construction is expected to begin this summer.

This puts the city just a little closer to meeting its goal of building 375 miles of new sidewalks by 2035. Charlotte currently builds about seven miles of new sidewalk a year and each mile costs roughly a million dollars.

So 375 miles divided by 7 miles per year … that's 53 and a half years … At this rate, we're talking about waiting another HALF A CENTURY!

Rating Charlotte's Sidewalks

On Walk Score, Charlotte ranks as the 50th most walkable large city in the U.S. The website adds that Charlotte is a car-dependent city because "almost all errands require a car."  

And it's not just 24-year-olds like myself who wish they could walk to a bodega.

Michael Olender is the associate state director of AARP North Carolina.

"There's situations where there's say senior housing on one side of the street and then some type of service on the other side of the street," Olender says. "Whether it's transportation, whether it's grocery shopping. And the older people who are trying to get across that street have no real safe way of doing that."

So last fall, AARP organized Walkable Charlotte Week. Volunteers got out their clipboards to collect data on 15 sidewalks in Charlotte.

Credit Tasnim Shamma
AARP volunteers examine and report the cracks in the sidewalk on the intersection of Charlottetowne and Metropolitan Avenue near uptown.

At first glance, the intersection of Charlottetowne and Metropolitan Avenue looks great. But once the senior citizens bent over for a closer look, it was easy to find flaws: no audible pedestrian signals, drivers who don't stop behind the white lines and cracked sidewalks. 

One of the Walkable Charlotte Week participants, Dean Brodhag, thinks it will take a while for Charlotte's sidewalks to become as comprehensive, as say, New York or Boston.  

"They started in the 16 and 1700s," Brodhag says. "We started 10-15 years ago. What I tell folks when I worked with schools -- at least through the 80's and the 90's, 3,000 new kids came into the city. That's building a high school every year."

He makes a good point … and it's probably why I should cut Charlotte some slack and zip my mouth.

But the challenge is only going to get tougher, by the year 2030, the office of state budget and management projects Mecklenburg county will grow by another 350,000 people.