“Cross-Boone Connector” hopes to bring safety, accessibility for pedestrians, bicyclists

Emily Broyles, Reporter

As the town of Boone increases in size, some residents feel that safety precautions for cyclists and pedestrians should do the same. After a local elementary art teacher posted a sketch of possible bridge over U.S. Highway 105 online, residents had mixed feelings in the comments.

“I think it’s an awesome idea, and I know it will be beautiful!!” Kathy Younce wrote on Facebook, adding a heart-eyed emoji.

Daniel Fields commented that the bridge design “looks ridiculous.”

“Can we consider something more minimalistic? This design is great but it doesn’t scream permanent road structure to me,” Zae Hodgdon wrote. 

Dabney Smith, the post’s creator, said she uploaded the sketch on Facebook group App State Classifieds to get community input, as she, along with nonprofit Harmony Lanes, wants to make the bridge a reality with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

“I was surprised and saddened by the comments (on the post), even though there was a lot of positive ones,” Smith said. “It was really weird to read that kind of stuff, but ultimately, it worked.”

Smith’s post received over 600 likes and around 300 comments. Most importantly to Smith, 200 viewers of the post signed letters of support and approval for Harmony Lanes to present the NCDOT. 

Paola Bula Blanco
Though there are a number of crosswalks around Boone at students’ and community members’ disposal, some still feel Boone isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly. Dabney Jones, along with help from nonprofit Harmony Lanes, propose that a pedestrian bridge be built above the intersection of Blowing Rock Road and NC-105.

The bridge is the first step in creating “The Cross-Boone Connector,” a multi-modal corridor Harmony Lanes hopes to install in the next 10 years. The XBC would run from Rivers Street to the end of the Boone Greenway near Walmart. 

“Not only could we really save lives, but we could make our lives better. We could allow people to get across town not only for recreation, but for running errands, or getting to classes or to your job,” Smith said. “I feel like these different modes of transportation are the ways of the future, and I think that we need to think green and sustainable and not just only car or truck-centric.”

Harmony Lanes co-founder Dave Freireich said he understands the project is “far out,” but thinks he “shouldn’t wait until somebody is killed to fix this problem.”

On Feb. 3, a motorcyclist and bicyclist collided at the intersection in front of Peacock Hall on Rivers Street and on Feb. 19, a pedestrian was hit on the intersection of Rivers and Center streets. 

“More and more people are getting hit in Boone. Several people have died in Charlotte in the past few weeks getting in hit-and-runs with bikes and pedestrians, and it’s a growing trend all across the country,” Freireich said. “Boone hasn’t kept pace.”

Daniel Adams, division traffic engineer for NCDOT, wrote in an email that crosswalks should be in areas that are safe for all forms of transportation.

“We should be more concerned about the quality of crossings over quantity of crossings. With the help of the Town of Boone, NCDOT is planning to install crosswalks and pedestrian signal heads on Blowing Rock Road at Boone Mall, Shadowline Drive, Watauga Village Drive and Deerfield Road intersections, which have traditional signal lights,” Adams wrote. 

Adams also wrote that pedestrian signal heads with push-button activation were added to the crosswalk at the bottom of Stadium Drive.

Smith, who was inspired by Freireich to advocate for pedestrian and cyclist rights, said it’s unfortunate there is victim blaming for those who decide to travel other ways.

“Regardless of whose fault it is, we need to put in the infrastructure to take away that error,” Smith said. 

She said though she is passionate about safe pathways, her inner-artist carried a heavy weight in the bridge sketch. 

“The bridge particularly really sparked my interest because I thought ‘Woah, it could be beautiful.’ I just picture something that’s an incredible statement for our town. Something that says ‘Boone’ literally and figuratively,” Smith said. “Let’s face it, that intersection is not beautiful. We call it the ‘Wendy’s’ intersection. Why not jazz it up a little bit and give our town some flavor?”

Smith said she appreciates the differing opinions on her post.

“I did put it out there and asked for input, so I was glad that they shared ideas. Really, a lot of them were constructive and pointed out things we had already been thinking of or maybe new ideas we haven’t thought of,” Smith said. “I’m an elementary art teacher, not a bridge designer, so I wanted people to know that this was just a sketch, it was just a proposal.”

She said because Boone is a small town, seeing negative comments next to names and faces was an odd feeling. Smith said she hopes people can be open to the project and in the future, be open to other people’s ideas in the community. 

“Instead of putting other people down, people should try to appreciate someone who’s trying something new and trying to create something instead of just (posting) negative comments on the Internet,” Smith said.