Cary, NC — I’ve often been asked, “What is the best part of being a Cary Town Councilmember?” Or, “What is it that you like about being on Council.”
It’s a hard question to answer. Not because there is little to “like” but rather, the contrary. There is so much I enjoy.
Overall though, I enjoy taking ideas I have to improve the town and bringing those ideas to fruition. Sometimes that means taking problems or issues, often brought up by citizens, and then finding various workable solutions. Or, taking suggestions from community leaders, advocates, or Town Staff, and finding new and innovative ways to implement them, all with the goal of improving our collective quality of life, and making the Town an EVEN better place to live.
There have been successes, for sure. (I’d like to think that the Technology Task Force is one of those, and I’ll write another blog post about that, this week.) But there have also been times where things haven’t gone as I had hoped. And, it wouldn’t be a “real life blog” if I overlooked those. So, here goes.
A Bike and Walkable Champion
About two years ago, I brought up the idea to council that we should be looking at ways to make our town more bike and pedestrian friendly.
As an avid walker and cyclist, I see opportunities for improving our activities, ordinances, and vision when it comes to supporting folks that use our roads, sidewalks and greenways – not just for recreation, but for commuting as well. (I just hit my 1000 mile mark with my FitBit! Woo hoo!)
Council agreed that it was worth looking into and discussing, along with several other potential areas – such as Historic Preservation, our Senior Community, Persons with Disabilities, and a number of others. We put them all to the side, to have a larger brainstorming session – with the goal of determining which areas we’d like to have more “citizen input.”
Fast Forward a Year
About a year later, October 2012, we had that brainstorming session, and sure enough, Pedestrian and Mobility issues bubbled up near the top. I was glad to see that my fellow council members were looking for more citizen input, guidance and feedback. I was hopeful.
Time to Share my Thoughts
Finally last week (more than two years after the original discussion), we had a work session on the potential of adding four new boards and commissions – a Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Council (BPAC), one for Historic Preservation, a Senior related board, and a committee for persons with disabilities.
I couldn’t wait any longer – so I made my pitch.
I had talked with cycling advocates, walkers and citizens about this idea. I had reached out to the former head of the Durham BPAC and members of the Raleigh BPAC. I consulted with folks that have worked with Cary staff on improving bicycle and pedestrian safety. And I brought all that to the table. Here’s what I said…
Why Does Cary Need a BPAC?
It’s a movement – and more and more of us are walking and riding.
There is a growing movement and population that like to to walk and bike – we should continue to find ways to make it safe to do so
- Greenways are one of our “highest rated” and used resources in Cary
- We need to do more to find ways to connect the Greenways, and get people to feel safe and comfortable walking and riding.
- We need the expertise in the community to weigh in, additional advise from real users
- Issues and concerns have been raised in the community about sidewalks that are missing on various sides of key roads
- We need a holistic and COMPREHENSIVE review of Bicycle and Pedestrian access across all of Cary, not just NEW developments, or sidewalks. That is, full integration of biking and walking into community transportation policies and practices
- BPACs can review development plans and site plans which may have a significant impact on bike mobility and transportation
- BPACs can facilitate citizen participation with biking community
Cary is now a “bicycle friendly” area – but we can do so much more to engage citizens.
- we could create safety programs for kids/seniors (as done in other BPACs)
- Programs can directly attack the obesity issue: finding better ways to get kids to walk and bike to schools, safely
- Studies show that children living near an extra-wide walking and biking trail were 3 times more likely to get vigorous exercise than kids in a similar low-income neighborhood with regular sidewalks. In other words: if you build it, they will walk, run, bike and skate-board
- Education to the greater community – promoting bike and pedestrian education and safety initiatives – partnering with certified bike instructors, and law enforcement, and other interested groups in the community, and promote bike safety education on the “rules of the road” and “sharing the road” for motorist and bicyclists of all ages.
Outcomes from these Goals
The economic, environmental and community benefits of cycling and walking deserve our attention, and should be a vital part of our processes. Let’s face it,there are great reasons to do it – the reduction of air and noise pollution (enhancing our sustainability goals) , reducing our traffic congestion, helping to alleviate our vehicular parking demands – all while saving energy, using land and road space more efficiently, and in turn, saving our citizens money.
BPACs have proven to be worthwhile
I shared my conversations with the BPAC members from the various municipalities, and the staff as well. Both Durham and Raleigh have netted great results from these programs, and feel that the organizations are an important addition to their boards and commissions.
The cost for this additional advisory board is negligible; just the Town of Cary staff time to create agendas, take minutes, and to interview and bring on additional citizens to the boards and commissions process.
The End of the Meeting
As much data as I brought, I just wasn’t successful in convincing my fellow council members that this was an additional board or commission to add to our slate. (Yes, it’s tough to lose a good fight.)
But at the end of the day, this is a democracy, and I needed a majority of council members to be on what I will call the “right side” of this idea. :-)
I hope my colleagues will think about it, and maybe they will hear from other citizens that think this was a good idea, or not. But, until that time, this idea will still sit on the back burner of my list, and maybe, when the time is right, I’ll bring it out again for discussion.
On a happier note, my other two ideas – asking staff to investigate ways to increase enforcement and proactive tree buffer protection zones, and getting Accessible Pedestrian signals at Walnut Street both passed.