Case Study No. 94
Main Street Redesign
Hendersonville, North Carolina
Prepared by Laurie Actman, Patrick McMahon, and Henry Renski, University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center and the City of Hendersonville, North Carolina. 2012 updates by Lew Holloway, Main Street Program Director, Historic Downtown Hendersonville.
Pedestrians in the downtown shopping district had a difficult time crossing a wide street with heavy traffic. The vitality of the downtown shopping district was threatened because of this uncomfortable environment for pedestrians and the addition of new shopping opportunities on the outside of town.
Curb extensions, or “bulb-outs,” reduced the crossing distance and the amount of time that pedestrians were exposed to traffic while crossing Main Street.
In the mid-1970s, the mountain town of Hendersonville faced a dilemma common to many rural American communities. Strip shopping centers were beginning to locate on the outskirts of town, and there was concern that a large regional shopping mall would lure even more shoppers away from downtown businesses. On Main Street, the traditional commercial and social center of the community, 17 businesses had closed their doors and Main Street was declining. At night, Main Street attracted teenagers who would drag race their cars down the wide and straight roadway. During the day the roar of traffic on Main Street endangered pedestrians trying to cross four lanes of traffic and parked cars.
Seeking their own case study, City Council members, community leaders, and downtown merchants traveled to Grand Junction, Colorado, which had successfully revived its downtown using traffic calming and pedestrian-oriented design. The work that Grand Junction had completed inspired the town leaders who returned to North Carolina ready to implement some of their own ideas for the rebirth of downtown. In order to provide a competitive shopping environment, the leaders determined that certain improvements and amenities needed to be provided, including slower traffic, easier pedestrian crossings, parking, and beautification.
They recognized Main Street needed to be a destination where residents and visitors would be enticed out of their cars and encouraged to stroll and shop.
Located at the convergence of several major regional routes which each carry tens of thousands of vehicle trips per day, Hendersonville has plenty of local and visitor-driven automobile traffic. The roadway itself is exceedingly wide as a result of a decision made by the town founders, who originally designed Main Street to have a right-of-way wide enough for a team of oxen to turn without backing. In the run-up to Main Street's redesign, this wonderful width had been given over almost exclusively to vehicles which enjoyed two lanes of travel in both directions and parallel parking on both sides of the street. The conversion of two streets running parallel to Main into one-way reduced the traffic-load on Main Street and gave through travelers a convenient alternative route. This change, from through way to destination, allowed the town leaders to pursue their new vision for downtown.
The improvements to the downtown area were financed by a special tax district requested by the property owners and merchants themselves. Main Street was narrowed from four lanes to two. In the middle of each block a quick bend in the street creates a lateral shift of the entire street. The street winds back and forth through a six-block area, with transition blocks at each end. The mid-block curves are formed by curb extensions/bulb-outs that open onto marked crosswalks at the peak of each curve. At these points traffic moves slowly and the pedestrian crossing distance is reduced to two lanes. The alternating lateral shifts also opened space for diagonal parking, while the opposite side of the street offers parallel parking.
The original projects most well received elements have been enhanced with wide sidewalks designed for optimal pedestrian comfort the norm.
Each intersection is also marked with crosswalks on all four legs, with curb bulb-outs on the two Main Street legs. The bulb-outs shorten pedestrian crossing distance at intersections, improve pedestrian visibility, force tighter and slower right turns onto Main Street, and reinforce the notion that the driver has entered a traffic calmed area. The entire area has been enhanced with landscaping maintained by contract. Brick planters were installed along the length of street and are filled with spectacular flower displays that change throughout the year. Street trees planted 25 years ago have grown tall and provide a sidewalk canopy and shade for pedestrians.
Beginning in 2007 the City of Hendersonville began a comprehensive rehabilitation of the original serpentine design through Main Street. The project included the expansion of the serpentine design into an additional block on the south end of downtown, an investment that paid off in the opening of multiple new businesses, including a downtown location for North Carolina's State Theater, Flat Rock Playhouse. The city also took the opportunity during the rehabilitation to update and enhance all of the various infrastructure elements that were, in many cases, original to the district.
Making Main Street a pedestrian friendly place has defined downtown's identity and played a major role in the economic vitality of Main Street's merchants. While the mall has arrived -- and experienced two bankruptcies -- downtown Hendersonville has experienced a renaissance. It was named a "Main Street City" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1985 and was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Property values increased after the initial roadway project, and many downtown buildings were renovated and restored. City officials are excited to convert the excitement generated by the most recent project into another round of reinvestment in the district.
The project has actually added to the urban tree canopy and created unique and inviting public spaces within the district.
There are approximately 75 retail businesses downtown, including a variety of restaurants, specialty shops, and regionally-oriented anchor stores. Offices and apartments occupy many of the second floors in two-story buildings. According to the City's Main Street Director, the serpentine layout of Main Street offers many aesthetic and safety advantages. The layout slows traffic, making the street safer for pedestrians, and gives drivers a chance to see the local businesses. Vehicles now tend to travel at or near the 20 mi/h (32 km/h) speed limit on Main Street. In addition, the mid-block crosswalks on Main Street are shorter than regular street crossings, making crossing the street safer and more comfortable for pedestrians. The improvements to the six-block section of Main Street were achieved at an initial cost of about $235,000 in 1975 and approximately $72,000 per year for maintenance. The rehabilitation project has been completed in phases to minimize the negative impact to the district's merchants, with the third and final phase scheduled to be completed during the first part of 2013. The total cost of the project will be approximately $3,000,000.
Lew Holloway, Main Street Director
Historic Downtown Hendersonville
145 5th Ave East
Hendersonville, NC 28792
Phone: (828) 233-3216
Fax: (828) 697 3014