09/11/08 Star News Article
By Gareth McGrath
Middle Sound | Flat and blessed with a temperate climate most of the year, the Port City should be a biking mecca.
But anyone who has ridden around Wilmington knows that the reality is something quite different.
Few dedicated bike lanes or paths, a paucity of sidewalks in many areas, narrow shoulders, aggressive motorists and non-connected neighborhoods can make getting around on two feet or two wheels challenging and in some cases downright dangerous.
“We’re just not built to take advantage of our weather here,” said Ed Mondello, standing in front of Ogden Elementary School as yet another sport utility vehicle sped out of the intersection and veered into the bike lane on Middle Sound Loop Road.
Yet there are bits and pieces of progress here and there, notably the new multi-use trails along Military Cutoff and Eastwood Road and the bike lanes along River Road.
Now a new grassroots group, Getting Connected, wants to expand the county’s biking and walking options by filling in some of those open spaces.
The group’s idea isn’t to reinvent the proverbial wheel but to connect or expand existing facilities to make biking or walking a viable enterprise that’s actually functional. That could include linking a neighborhood to a supermarket or school, as well as providing recreational opportunities.
“There should be access to alternate means of mobility,” said Michael Bassano, like Mondello a member of the group’s steering committee. “But around here, you just don’t see enough of it.”
The argument to increase the region’s bicycling and pedestrian facilities isn’t new, and neither are the numerous reasons why we should want to do it – healthier communities, reduced traffic congestion and increased recreational opportunities, just to name a few.
The recent surge in fuel prices and the growing interest in living “greener” has given new impetus to the initiatives, as seen by developments like Mayfaire and Autumn Hall incorporating extensive paths and bike lanes into their projects.
But the biggest bump in the road remains money.
Jackson Provost, division operations engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the state likes adding bike lanes to its roadways because it helps reduce concerns about sharp shoulder drop-offs and alleviates some maintenance issues.
But adding a 4-foot-wide bike lane to a roadway can cost up to $200,000 per mile, and that’s just for the asphalt. If drainage ditches or utilities have to be moved or property acquired, that price can quickly skyrocket.
Still, there are some significant projects on the books. They include new bike and pedestrian facilities with the upcoming Kerr Avenue widening project, improved pedestrian crossings around the busy South College Road and Oleander Drive intersection and new stretches of Wilmington’s Cross-City Trail.
Getting Connected started after some parents decided to ride or walk with their children to Ogden Elementary School for Earth Day.
They quickly decided their community that should be flourishing with bikers and walkers was missing some key elements of connectivity.
Case in point is accessing the new multi-use path along Military Cutoff between the Forum shopping center and Gordon Road.
“Once you get there, it’s great. They’ve done a great job,” Bassano said. “But getting there can be a little bit of a gamble.”
He said adding sidewalks or bike lanes through Covil Farms and on Market Street could significantly increase the use of the 10-foot-wide path by Odgen and Middle Sound residents.
Another sore point are the bike lanes on Middle Sound Loop Road, which were supposed to go all the way around the five-mile loop when the road was resurfaced several years ago. But the DOT ran out of money after about a mile, leaving bikers to warily share the road with cars, trucks and school buses for most of its length.
Then there’s the situation in and around Ogden Elementary, a school surrounded by subdivisions that’s at a busy and confusing four-way intersection.
Yet there are no sidewalks, neighborhood connections or pedestrian crossings at all – although some of those shortcomings could be rectified when a new roundabout is constructed in front of the school.
“To be in such close proximity to a school and not be able to get to it is frustrating to a lot of people,” Mondello said.
The group’s members know there’s no quick fix or a money tree to get everything built that’s needed. But they said they’re encouraged by the support they’ve received from local officials and the plethora of public and private programs out there to help plan and fund bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
“We know we’ve got to be creative in how we’re going to do this and keep on pushing,” Bassano said. “But we’re in it for the long haul because we want to make our community better for everyone, especially our children.”
Learn more On the Web: To learn more about Getting Connected and see a petition to promote new sidewalks and bike paths in the Ogden/Middle Sound area, go to http://gettingconnected.word
For information about the region’s bicycle and pedestrian facilities, go to www.wmpo.org/WMBPC/index.html