The City of Kinston was once a regional hub for tobacco, cotton, and lumber production. After the decline of those industries in the mid-twentieth century, Kinston is finally going through another renaissance moment. The restaurant scene has taken off in Kinston, starting with the popularity of the Chef and the Farmer restaurant through the PBS-TV show A Chef’s Life. The Mother Earth Brewery makes Kinston a must-stop for North Carolina craft beer enthusiasts, and the abundance of Civil War history and recreational activities bring a variety of visitors to town.
The Kinston Riverwalk Greenway was envisioned to be another piece of the Kinston revitalization. Early in 2014, Stewart, along with the NCDOT Bicycle/Pedestrian Unit, NCDOT Division 2, and the City of Kinston, began a master plan and feasibility study for a three mile long greenway through Kinston along the Neuse River. This greenway would help connect several of the city’s important places that are currently difficult to reach by walking or biking: the Woodmen Recreation Center, the Mitchelltown historic district, and the new African American Music Trail Park. The goal was to connect those major points of interest, as well as the neighborhoods in between, to the thriving downtown core. NCDOT provided the funding for the feasibly study, construction documents, and a portion of the construction funds for the first phase.
The engineers and planners at Stewart developed several route alternatives over the three miles through Kinston. One of the areas where alternatives were presented to the City was near an old cotton mill. Floodway and utility constraints prevented the greenway from following the Neuse River in this part of Kinston, so two greenway alternatives were first conceived through the privately-owned mill property. The challenge with these alternatives was going to be right-of-way acquisition.
Stewart then saw an opportunity to utilize underused street space in this area. Atlantic Avenue is a one-way street, parallel to the North Carolina Railroad, and is about 22’ wide. This street width was much too excessive for the neighborhood context and for the low volume of traffic it sees. Stewart studied the feasibility of a set of separated bicycle lanes on Atlantic Avenue. (Separated bike lanes are sometimes referred to as “cycle tracks” or “protected bike lanes”.) Separated bicycle lanes have become a valuable tool in cities throughout the United States in recent years to add bicycle capacity to existing streets. Separated bicycle lanes allows bicyclists to safely travel in both directions, on an existing street, and are separated from traffic by a painted buffer, and short flexible delineators. The type of separated bicycle lane that Stewart proposed was a two-way, where bi-directional bike lanes would be on one side of the street.
Separated bike lanes were evaluated and found to be an appropriate solution, as well as a low cost way to connect the neighborhood to the greenway. This would, however, be the first two-way separated bike lane in North Carolina. The partnership between the City, NCDOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Unit and Division 2 made this “first” an even more significant milestone.
Stewart proposed the separated bike lane idea to NCDOT and the City of Kinston, and it was well received. Two bike lane options were shown as alternatives at the first public meeting. The feedback received at the public meeting was positive, and in the final master plan, the separated bike lanes were listed as the preferred alternative. To augment the Atlantic Avenue separated bicycle lanes, new sidewalks were added, and sharrows and sidewalks filled the gap between Atlantic Avenue and the end of the paved greenway on Pollock Street.
Kinston’s City Council approved the Riverwalk Greenway Master Plan in May 2014. Immediately, Stewart begin to prepare construction documents for Phase 1 of the greenway, which would begin in Pearson Park in downtown Kinston, and terminate at the end of the separated bicycle lane. Stewart worked with NCDOT to gain concurrence on the types of pavement markings, signage, and lane widths to be used on the project.
Because of the innovative nature of putting bi-directional bicycle lanes on a one-way street, some of the pavement markings and signage to be used on this project had never been seen in North Carolina before. Jeff Cabaniss at NCDOT Division 2 helped navigate this project through NCDOT approvals regarding the new signing and striping. Stewart used the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Guides as a basis for design, with some minor modifications to fit the context of the specific project. The Federal Highway Administration had adopted the NACTO guides in August 2013 to help cities plan and design separated bikeways. In addition, FHWA released their own Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide just prior to bidding. The Kinston design is fully compliant with the new FHWA guide.
Phase 1 of the Kinston Riverwalk Greenway was bid in August 2015, with an anticipated completion in Spring 2016. Future phases of the greenway, which will extend to the Woodmen Community Center and the African American Music Trail, are in design and will be constructed when funds become available. The final Riverwalk Greenway alignment will link neighborhoods of various social and economic backgrounds, ensuring equitable access to all residents to public spaces throughout Kinston.
Once completed, the Kinston Riverwalk Greenway will be a small piece of the statewide Mountains-to-Sea Trail. This 1150 mile trail connects Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey’s Ridge on the Outer Banks, and numerous state parks, cities, and towns along the way.
In addition, this greenway will be a catalyst for further bicycle and pedestrian connections across Lenoir County and all of eastern North Carolina. There are several long range plans for bicycle and pedestrian connectivity within the City as well, including a TIGER grant application to connect to the Global Transpark. As the City of Kinston continues to transform, this Riverwalk project will be an important piece of its future, demonstrating the community’s commitment to walking and biking.
NCDOT showed throughout this project that they are committed to implementing safe, equitable, and innovative bicycle infrastructure in North Carolina. Traditional bicycle lanes, adjacent to fast moving traffic, only cater to confident and fearless cyclists. On-street bicycle facility design has changed rapidly in the past five years to be more inclusive of users of all ages, backgrounds, and experience.
Residents in communities across North Carolina are demanding on-street, separated bicycle infrastructure that enables them to ride from their homes to run errands, visit neighborhood stores, and go to work, school, or church. To keep a strong local economy in our North Carolina cities and towns, separated bicycle infrastructure is great way to add capacity with a relatively low cost, and high return-on-investment. NCDOT has proved that they want to implement more of these types of bicycle lanes. As these types of projects are built, they will be monitored to ensure safety and inclusiveness of all types of riders. As we speak, there are several other projects around North Carolina where separated bicycle lanes will be implemented on NCDOT-maintained routes.