Imagine, a quaint, friendly and charming town where the warm ocean breezes and sparkling water and boats can be seen from downtown wherever you walk.
Now, imagine that there are no crosswalks to safely get to the other side of the road without fear of being hit by cars due to traffic. This was the pedestrian/bike dilemma in Southport, NC, over three years ago until, thanks to the town’s elected officials, along with residents, AARP North Carolina and the YMCA, demonstrated how a dangerous road crossing could be safe for those on foot or bike.
The project conducted “walk audits,” where volunteers identified areas of danger. They then deployed “tactical urbanism” an approach to neighborhood building that uses short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies to catalyze long term changes. For Southport, these changes not only benefited people who walk or cycle, they also helped the downtown businesses that rely on foot traffic.
A team of 25 volunteers created temporary safe crosswalks and bike lanes with chalk and paint, built attractive small seating areas called “parklets,” and stenciled unique parking spaces in various colors to beautify the downtown streets of Southport.
Those who helped organize the demonstration project called it a “down home community project of the people, by the people and for the people of Southport through collaboration of YMCA Alliance NC, Nir Family YMCA in Wilmington, AARP Network of Age Friendly States and Communities, Town of Southport, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), and US Representative Charles Miller.
Once the temporary changes were in place, residents of Southport had an opportunity to weigh in through utility survey to vote “yes” or “no” to making the changes permanent. A vast majority (86 percent) of Southport favored these improvements. Community listening sessions were then held, and more positive support was expressed. Southport was able to make the changes permanent, thanks to funding of $400,000 secured by Rep. Miller and NCDOT.
Watch how this “tactical urbanism” project showcased safer spaces and streets for pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists. And next time you visit this beautiful coastal community, be sure to walk around downtown and experience the” home safe home” of Southport.