After a recent string of traffic crashes involving pedestrians, including two fatalities, Mayor Anthony Foxx said Thursday that Charlotte needs to build more sidewalks and make other improvements to reduce dangers to walkers and bicyclists.
But Foxx and other city officials acknowledged they dont know when or if the city will have the money to pay for safety needs. The city only has enough money for two dozen sidewalk projects, but lacks hundreds of miles of sidewalks on main and side roads.
The comments came in response to an Observer report Sunday that showed the number of motor vehicles that struck walkers and bicyclists jumped to 522 last year compared with 454 in 2005.
The rise occurred even though Charlotte officials say the overall number of crashes on city-operated streets has declined in recent years.
Foxxs reaction followed a deadly stretch last week in which Jesse Ryan Brackett, 21, and Ricky Neal, 46, were struck and killed by cars in separate crashes. Another man, 50-year-old George Curtis, was hospitalized after he was struck by a vehicle while riding a bicycle. Curtis was in critical condition Thursday.
Fourteen people have been killed walking or bicycling so far this year, a pace that could equal or surpass last years total of 24.
Foxx said the death toll is proof Charlotte urgently needs more sidewalks, crosswalks and other safety upgrades.
He promised he would lobby City Council to reconsider a capital spending plan that would use a tax increase to pay for an assortment of improvements, including pedestrian safety.
In June, the council rejected proposals that ranged from $657 million to $797 million.
That means the city does not have a bond referendum scheduled for November. Officials typically hold bond referendums every two years to pay for sidewalks as well as roads, affordable housing and neighborhood upgrades.
Foxx said he will ask council during a September budget retreat to pull together a new plan and put a ballot proposal before voters in 2013.
If we dont create capacity for these projects, it is dangerous and lives are put at risk, Foxx said.
Any proposal that would raise taxes likely would face stiff opposition in a year where council members are running for re-election.
Foxx noted that Charlottes strategic plan to create a more walkable and bike-friendly community has been nationally recognized, but said we have to fund it.
A city that does not fully address its needs eats away at its future, he said.
City Council member Michael Barnes, a Democrat, said he believes there is a strong likelihood the council will go to voters in 2013, but added that there will be political fallout.
Barnes said he would continue to push for a proposal that would peg any tax increase to the amount that Mecklenburg County lowers its tax rate.
Republican City Council member Warren Cooksey said he prefers a plan that would include no tax increase.
Cooksey noted that some homeowners saw tax bills jump after last years countywide property revaluation.
Its a bad idea to raise peoples taxes two years in a row, Cooksey said.
On Thursday, the Charlotte Department of Transportation said it has about $22 million left for sidewalk construction, or enough for about 24 projects. There is also money for 10 pedestrian crosswalk signals.
The issue highlights a problem for Charlotte and other sunbelt cities that were built most in the age of the automobile or when developers were not required to build sidewalks.
The city has about 480 miles of main thoroughfares and 1,600 miles of local roads that lack sidewalks.
CDOT has a priority list of 200 locations that need crosswalk signals and markings.
While CDOT strives to be very careful and nimble with capital investment project funding, there are many projects that will remain unfunded, spokeswoman Linda Durrett said in a written statement. Some of these have been identified by CDOT engineers and some requested by citizens. Staff writer Lindsay Ruebens and staff researcher Maria David contributed.