Paul Winn is a Masters Student of City and Regional Planning and a graduate student assistant working with Lenoir County.
Funding for streetscape improvements along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Kinston have been submitted to the Golden Leaf Foundation for final review. The funding would allow for improvements to MLK between Vernon Avenue and King Street that would slow traffic, improve aesthetics, and create a pedestrian scale roadway.
The addition of roughly 1/4 mile of sidewalks would create a continuous network of sidewalks for the entire length of this corridor. It is suggested that street trees and pedestrian scale, 15-foot lighting be installed. Both of these amenities are cost-effective, proven means of reducing crime, increasing property values, and improving automobile and pedestrian safety. Piano-striped crosswalks at major intersections would improve visibility and driver awareness at major intersections, with very infrequent necessary maintenance. It is also recommended that the existing chain-link fence in front of the Sampson School and Boys and Girls Club be replaced with decorative, wrought-iron fencing. The fencing, combined with prominent signage on MLK promoting the Boys and Girls Club, would give the Boys and Girls Club a more inviting home in Kinston at very little cost, while improving the overall aesthetic of the area. The final recommendation for this corridor is a “road diet.” This would entail reducing the roadway from four to three lanes, with the addition of bicycle lanes. There are currently 12,000 average daily vehicles on MLK, suggesting that this road is significantly overbuilt. The section of MLK between King and Vernon Streets experiences over 10 crashes per annum. Road diets often cut the number of accidents in half, translating to a reduction of approximately 5 annual crashes along the MLK corridor in Kinston. Road diets have the following proven benefits:
- Improve commercial and residential development
- Substantially reduce crash rates due to lower automobile speeds, designated turn lanes, and no lane swapping
- Reduce pedestrian crash risk at intersections and crosswalks
- Provide a buffer to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and level of comfort; buffer also reduces likelihood of automobile accidents with stationary objects, such as utility poles, fire hydrants, etc.
The road diet could be implemented during normal, scheduled North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) resurfacing/restriping at little or no additional cost to the local municipality.
At a cost of less than $200,000 for sidewalks, fencing, lighting, trees, crosswalks, and “road dieting,” the money would be recovered within a few years based on accident reductions alone. With increased development and property values, these improvements could quickly have economic benefits that far surpass their modest costs.