With up to 19,000 vehicles passing through each day, Hillsborough’s Churton Street and its cross streets can prove dangerous for pedestrians, and congested and confusing for drivers.
Through stamped crosswalks, widened sidewalks, and designated bus stops and loading zones, the Hillsborough Town Board hopes to “reduce pedestrian-vehicle conflict, enhance the pedestrian environment, and improve traffic circulation,” town planner Stephanie Trueblood said.
Construction on the 0.3 mile stretch could begin in the spring with the final crosswalks completed next fall.
“We have a very experienced team working on a very complicated project, just in terms of it being in the heart of our community and people’s lives being affected,” Trueblood said this week. “I think it will improve people’s lives when all is said and done.”
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The town will communicate closely with residents, businesses and groups, to help the construction flow as smoothly as possible.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has committed $557,600, which should cover the project costs, according to Trueblood.
The designated bus stops and loading zones should unclog some of the downtown congestion, since buses and trucks currently stop in the traffic lane on the east side of Churton street and at the police station on the west side. The plan calls for two loading zones on King Street.
Hillsborough residents regularly ask for safer conditions for pedestrians, Trueblood said. The stamped crosswalks, ADA-compliant parking, and better aligned sidewalks and crosswalks should help.
Currently, 12 crosswalks (where Churton Street intersects Margaret Lane, King Street, and Tryon Street) are marked with fading white lines so the project will “stamp” crosswalks with a 3-D thermoplastic material that looks like brick, for high visibility.
The project will also add a stamped crosswalk from Nash and Kollock Street across Churton, where there is no crosswalk now. Trueblood said she hopes it will encourage Weaver Street customers and other downtown visitors to cross over to River Park, which is now “underutilized.”
Widened sidewalks on the west side of Churton Street will also create a calmer, more enticing atmosphere for shoppers, outdoor diners, and passersby, she said.
Lucia Apollo Shaw, owner of The Qi Garden, 112 S. Churton St., looks forward to a wider sidewalk outside her business. The narrow sidewalk seems to funnel visitors through quickly, she said, and cramps her space for outdoor displays.
“We’re all just looking for more visibility for our businesses, because a lot of people come to Hillsborough for the first time and don’t know where to go. I think we need to slow people down,” she said. “You’re in the heart of the pedestrian district.”
The Churton Street changes will take away 13 on-street parking spaces, for which Trueblood hopes improvements to the Bank of America-owned parking lot behind businesses like Antonia’s, the Wooden Nickel Pub, and Matthew's Chocolates will compensate. The town can fund approximately $167,000 to streamline traffic flow in the parking lot and make it more aesthetically pleasing and sanitary.
Ultimately, the projects should serve both businesses and Churton Street commuters, Trueblood said.
“The Town Board wants to make downtown Hillsborough a place where people love to visit, because that’s what supports our businesses,” she said. ““But they need to be able to move cars through town in order to improve the quality of life.”