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MossColumn: Village Council's vote made road safer

Maya Richardson did not get as much ink as other commenters on the North Highland Lake Road widening project.

She was laid up with a broken left leg and sprained left arm and wrist. She sustained the injuries on Feb. 10 on the narrow winding road that has caused so much rending of garments these past months.

I’ll let her describe the pickup v. bicycle crash.
“As I was riding along, the cars passed me when it was safe to; however, one man in a small, blue pick-up truck began to honk impatiently,” she said in an email to the Village Council. “I looked back and saw that a few cars were behind me. Up ahead was a bend in the road, and I was going to round it and get off the road so that the cars could pass safely. But the pick-up truck driver grew impatient, pulled up beside me and turned his truck into me. After he hit me, he drove off.”
Maya, 56, has been unable to ride her bike for four months, thus has lost her independence (she doesn’t drive).
“I have not been able to re-open my bakery business as I have not been able to stand, knead and perform other baking activities,” she wrote.
If Highland Lake Road had a 2-foot paved shoulder, the impatient pickup driver could have squeezed by Maya.
“I would like to see the roads become safer for bicyclists like myself,” she said. “If that means an extra few feet of space on the road, then, at least ‘sharing the road’ would not end up with someone like me hit by a car or truck that does not seem to have enough road to drive on.”

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It appears now, at last, that Highland Lake Road will be widened (with a 2-foot shoulder on the south side and curb and gutter on the north side) and straightened. The NCDOT project also will include a concrete culvert in place of a metal culvert where King Creek crosses under the road, a new entrance to the Park at Flat Rock (saving village taxpayers roughly $1 million), left turn lanes at Highland Lake Drive and Highland Park Road, a pedestrian crosswalk serving the Highland Lake neighborhoods, a sidewalk along the Pinecrest Presbyterian Church property and a multi-use path through the park. Because most of the widening is on the north side, most of the land for right-of-way will come from the village, not private property owners. (Yes, the state has to pay the village for the land.)
All this would seem like a sweet deal for motorists who use the road and a relatively minor inconvenience for those who will have to tolerate its year-long construction. That’s not the way Historic Flat Rock and an organization called the Cultural Landscape Group: Flat Rock portrayed the project. In meeting after meeting, members of those groups lambasted the council and the NCDOT for this threat to civilization as we know it. If our tie to the rich history of Flat Rock is so tenuous that it could be severed by a sidewalk, a center turn lane and a few loads of asphalt then we haven’t much of a tie to start with.

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The opponents had the floor for a long time and they pressed their cause with energy, passion and organized roadside litter (which, for some reason, was not an affront to the historic character of the village). Theirs were the loudest and most persistent voices.
I don’t know if they amounted to a silent majority, but those in favor of the project must have been applauding last week when the Village Council voted, courageously, to endorse the project.
“I am looking forward to being able to walk from my neighborhood to the park, as well as easily make turns onto Highland Lake Drive,” Laurie Foote wrote to the village. “I feel that much of the opposition to the plan is unfounded and based on speculation rather than fact and have been surprised at how close-minded and unwilling to listen — to anything — these people who oppose the plan are.”
Nancy Rivers, who lives in Kenmure, might earn a hug from Maya.
“The most important factor is the safety aspect,” she wrote. “We are never going to eliminate foot traffic, nor should we seek to, thus it makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity to incorporate pedestrian and bike access into the roadway.”
Alberto and Sonia Arce, of Flat Rock Forest, told the mayor that “the next generation will thank us for our foresight” if we make improvements now.
“Bridges and roads wear out, traffic patterns change, and safety issues arise, and the best solutions will sometimes involve the widening of roads, the adding of sidewalks, the clearing of right of way.” It’s the same “displacement of nature and property” that created “the roads and other infrastructure that we take for granted today.”
Those three residents of the village made good points that deserve hearing.

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The county Board of Commissioners made a premature decision and set a harmful precedent when it abruptly voted on May 7 to kill the Balfour Parkway. The Not in My Backyard crowd has been citing the decision in every other jurisdiction to encourage a similar summary judgment against roadwork. The decision by the Mills River Town Council on June 14 to endorse the five-lane widening of N.C. 191 and the Village Council’s vote to greenlight the Highland Lake Road project restored some balance to the scorecard when it comes to transportation improvements.
If they listen only to those passionate speakers whose ox is gored, of course our elected leaders will say no to every new road. There are lots more motorists who don’t show up at the meetings who would prefer not to be stuck in traffic. And a few people on foot or on bikes, too, who would like to safely share the road.

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Reach editor Bill Moss