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Originally published: 2013-07-17 15:27:44
Last modified: 2013-07-17 15:28:42

Church, others oppose New Market Blvd. proposal

by Anna Oakes

The Boone Town Council on Tuesday rejected a Transportation Committee proposal to remove New Market Boulevard's center lane so that bike lanes can be created.

The Transportation Committee requested that the council consider recommendations to convert New Market Boulevard into a "Complete Street," which are designed to enable safe access for all modes of transportation, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit.

Specifically, the committee recommended restriping the road to remove the center turn lane to create space for bike lanes and to reduce the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph. However, the center lane would not be removed at the intersection with King Street nor at the traffic signal at Hardin Park School, according to the committee's recommendation.

Craig Scheffler, a member of the committee, presented the recommendations to the council at its regular meeting Tuesday.

"This would be a cheap and cost effective opportunity," Scheffler said.

The committee mailed a survey on New Market Boulevard to 65 residents and businesses near the road, posted the survey on town of Boone, Watauga County and High Country Council of Government websites and posted a newspaper notice from June 17 to July 5.

Of the survey respondents, 24 supported bike lanes while 12 did not, and 22 supported removing the center lane while 12 did not. However, six of the respondents who supported bike lanes said they supported them only without the removal of the center turn lane.

Local residents and members of Boone United Methodist Church spoke at the meeting, stating they felt the loss of the center turn lane would increase congestion and decrease safety on the boulevard. They also felt that the bicycle lanes would not be effective because they would not extend to King Street and to N.C. 194.

"I'm surprised by how little benefit that I perceived from this," said Ralph Leonard, who manages property on the boulevard and attends Boone United Methodist. "I see very little need to change something that's worked well for two decades."

The council voted unanimously to send the proposal back to the Transportation Committee to further explore the speed limit recommendation and other improvements.

In other action, the council:

agreed to postpone consideration of downtown parking solutions until the Aug. 20 meeting. The Downtown Boone Development Association requested additional time to consider new options for downtown parking, including pay stations.

heard a resolution of appreciation from the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country, which presented a check to the town for the balance of its loan. The town fronted $624,000 for purchase of the foreclosed property in late 2011, agreeing to loan the money to the Downtown Boone Development Association for three years. The nonprofit Appalachian Theatre of the High Country formed to manage the theater and raise the funds necessary for the building's restoration.