University City

Sidewalk project renews debate

Sidewalks are again a hot-button issue in the neighborhoods just south of UNC Charlotte, along Rocky River Road West.

Supporters of a sidewalk plan approved by the Charlotte City Council last fall have mobilized to counter opponents, who have been lobbying to kill the project.

Meanwhile, the area is full of dangerous passages for anyone traveling on foot.

Charles Dameron discovered that when he decided to take his 2-year-old daughter, Della, for a stroll on a recent sunny day. He found himself dodging cars and trucks on curvy Rocky River Road West, pushing his baby stroller in the traffic lane.

"I sure would like to have a sidewalk along there," Dameron said after he, his daughter and friend Anthony Whineglass made it to the nearby safety of the redesigned intersection of Tryon Street and University City Boulevard.

"We were just visiting her grandparents, who live along there. It used to be pretty empty, but now there's a lot more houses and traffic."

The winding, still-scenic road between Tryon Street and Old Concord Road is now called Rocky River Road West. The Newell brothers once herded mules along the same path, taking them to the railroad for shipment to market. The road now serves as a connector for vehicles, bikes and pedestrians. It has a disconnected jumble of deadend sidewalks that start and end abruptly, with long gaps where there is no sidewalk. That pattern is seen throughout University City.

Where Dameron and Whineglass were dodging traffic, they had no option. There is no sidewalk as Rocky River Road West approaches the busy intersection with Tryon Street.

The approved Newell South sidewalk and improvement project would build a network of sidewalks to link neighborhoods south of Rocky River Road West, particularly Autumnwood, with the proposed Toby Creek Greenway to UNC Charlotte, Rocky River Road West and Tryon Street at Owen Boulevard.

Autumnwood resident Karla Guidry supports the sidewalk plan because she believes it increases safety and accessibility.

"We have many children in our neighborhood whose world will become larger and more safe with sidewalks," Guidry said. "Not to mention the elderly and the handicapped, who would be able to enjoy the outdoors and the opportunity to meet neighbors in a safe manner."

Plan opponent John Ricciardi and other opponents say the Newell South plan should be shelved and the money used to provide sidewalks elsewhere, such as near Shady Lane and Tyvola Road, where two young boys were struck and killed last month.

After that tragedy, Newell South project opponents raised the issue again. Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, saying he had been contacted by residents on the North and Southwest parts of Charlotte who did not want sidewalks, has asked City Manager Kurt Walton to look for sidewalk funding for South Tyvola Road.

In response, sidewalk supporters, including Autumnwood Association President John Neilson and Okan Pala, who served on a communitywide sidewalk committee, are now asking supporters to contact public officials.

Roughly equal numbers of Newell South sidewalk supporters and opponents went before the City Council last fall, when the project was given the final go-ahead.

At that time, opponents criticized the design of the plan and its effect on the neighborhood's appearance and character, particularly within Autumnwood and along Owen Boulevard. They argued the project was unnecessary and represented wasteful spending.

Supporters countered not only that were the sidewalks vital, but also that a survey showed overall support within the community. Opponents, they maintained, were simply "playing politics" to show they could defeat the project after it had been approved, pointing out that many opponents didn't live on affected streets.

Above all, however, sidewalk supporters, many with young children, emphasized their belief that with increasing traffic in the area, sidewalks are badly needed to improve safety.