Elon’s town council has given its unanimous nod of approval to a comprehensive plan to revamp the Haggard Avenue corridor, with an objective of making it safer for pedestrians and bicycles.
This road map for Haggard Avenue’s proposed redevelopment, which was adopted on Tuesday by a vote of 5-to-0, envisions some ambitious changes for this well-traveled thoroughfare – which along with Williamson Avenue, is one of the two primary drags that feed local traffic past the town’s eponymous university campus.
Among its recommendations, this plan calls for sidewalks along both sides of the roadway along much of Haggard Avenue’s 2.65-mile sweep through Elon’s municipal limits. It also suggests “multimodal paths” to accommodate bicycles and other non-motorized transport, numerous crosswalks designed for both foot traffic and bikes, and various “traffic calming” measures that would sap some of the momentum from motor vehicles passing through Elon University’s campus. The plan even includes a couple of roundabouts – albeit with the disclaimer that they’re purely conceptual and wouldn’t be put in without a formal traffic study.
This mammoth proposal, which had been in the works for more than three years, was not without its sticking points for Elon’s town council. In fact, some members of the council hesitated to lend their support to the proposal due to their outstanding misgivings about the two roundabouts as well as a median that would form a backbone along part of the roadway.
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The council nevertheless accepted the plan on the advice of Elon’s planning director, Lori Oakley, who stressed that the whole exercise was chiefly intended to give Elon a leg up when it pursues state or federal funds for roadway improvements.
“It’s not going to be 100 percent perfect,” she added. “This is a bird’s eye view…Any of the improvements are subject to additional studies…You can also choose what you implement and at what time frame.”
A hazardous roadway
The council ultimately adopted this plan during a joint meeting with Elon’s planning board that coincided with the council’s own regularly-scheduled gathering on Tuesday evening.
This joint session began with an extensive overview from Michelle Suverkrubbe with TranSystems, who has helped the town’s leaders compose the plan since the community’s leaders first decided in 2020 that Haggard Avenue needed a makeover.
Suverkrubbe reminded the council that the primary intent of this process had been to address some of the safety hazards which tend to emerge as vehicle traffic comes into conflict with the bikes and pedestrians which frequent much of this roadway.
“We have a lot of crashes between bikes, peds, and cars,” the consultant recalled. “We also have some folks who travel pretty fast through the corridor in their cars…We have sidewalks on only one side of the road in some areas and also areas of missing sidewalk…and you don’t have any dedicated bike paths or multi-use paths [along Haggard].”
Suverkrubbe added that the precarious interactions among drivers, bikers, and walkers was largely confirmed by the public feedback that the town has received during the course of this project.
“We had about 200 people respond during the period of the study,” she said. “A lot of people walk or bike the corridor; 20 percent only walk or bike, which is a good thing…But we did hear some concerns that people are speeding and that people are jaywalking…and the very biggest thing was to separate bikes from cars.”
[Story continues below the consultant’s renderings of the five sections of Haggard Avenue plan.]
Smoothing out Haggard’s rough edges
Suverkrubbe said that the steering committee which has guided this plan’s composition ultimately came up with several objectives for Haggard Avenue’s proposed redevelopment.
She recalled that one of the committee’s primary goals was to provide pedestrian accommodations on both sides of the corridor. The committee also expressed a preference for multi-use paths rather than separate bike lanes to handle bicycle traffic, and it called for the installation of crosswalks and “multi-modal crossings” throughout the span of the corridor.
As for the roadway itself, Suverkrubbe said that vehicle counts and other data supported the two-lane configuration that prevails along much of Haggard Avenue.
“The traffic volumes aren’t enough to support more than two travel lanes,” she declared. “There are some areas,” she added, “that will be reduced from three lanes to two lanes in our plan…We’re calling it a road diet.”
The town’s consultant went on to describe some of the specific suggestions she’s made in order to implement the committee’s goals. She presented these proposals in three sections, or phases, which corresponded to the three prongs of her attack on the Haggard Avenue corridor.
The first phase of Suverkrubbe’s proposal keyed in on the area between Antioch Avenue and York Road – a particularly tumultuous stretch that includes a large chunk of Elon University’s campus.
In her account of Phase 2, Suverkrubbe turned her gaze west of Antioch Drive and addressed some of the accident hot spots within Elon’s downtown development zone. She ultimately roved as far as Haggard Avenue’s juncture with University Drive and noted the complete lack of sidewalks along this part of the thoroughfare.
In Phase 3, Suverkrubbe focused on the eastern reaches of Haggard before it recrosses University Drive, which loops back around as it makes its wide circuit of Elon’s north side.
The campus connection
Suverkrubbe noted that the current vision for Phase 1 was originally adopted by Elon’s town council as a standalone plan while the recommendations for the other two phases were still in development. She added that this phase contains a couple of legacy features that have been obviated by recent developments. In particular, she pointed to a roundabout at Haggard’s juncture with Oak Avenue that she confessed would conflict with one of the dorms that Elon University has recently built.
Suverkrubbe added that, at one point, there was a movement afoot to completely eliminate motor vehicle traffic from the portion of Haggard that’s highlighted by this phase of the plan.
“There was a very strong preference for closing the road in Phase 1,” she recalled. “Both the [North Carolina] DOT and the town did not want to go down the road of trying to close this.”
The consultant recalled that the focus has since shifted to the use of various “traffic calming” devices to reduce vehicle speeds as they zip through the university’s campus. These measures include a stretch of median between Oak and Antioch avenues that Suverkrubbe admitted may not be universally welcomed.
“Medians aren’t desired by the business owners,” she reminded the council. “But medians are very helpful for pedestrian safety and also for traffic safety, so this area was definitely recommended for a median because there aren’t a lot of left turns that need to be made there.”
Suverkrubbe also called the council’s attention the sidewalks that the plan recommends along both sides of the roadway in Phase 1. She went on to mention a roundabout at the juncture with York Road that she confessed was a relic of previous discussions among municipal leaders in Elon and Burlington – and to which she expressed no particular attachment.
Yet, these features, along with the aforementioned median, have drawn stiff opposition from Carolina Biological Supply, which has a 40-acre facility in Burlington that bumps up against this section of Haggard.
Before Tuesday’s vote on the plan, Craig Turner, an attorney with the Vernon Law Firm in Burlington, appeared before the town council to sum up some of Carolina Biological’s concerns about the proposed changes.
Turner, who also serves on the county’s board of commissioners, noted that the proposed sidewalk on the south side of Haggard would demand the removal of a high iron fence on the company’s property. He also protested the proposed median as an ill-suited feature for what’s essentially an industrial zone, and he decried the roundabout as a threat to an “iconic” decades-old lily pond that graces the company’s campus.
In response to Suverkrubbe’s objections about the proposed sidewalk, Suverkrubbe argued that the traffic conditions along this portion of Haggard really do call for pedestrian accommodations on both sides of the roadway.
“But there’s a way that the footprint for those improvements could be shifted to the north,” she added, insisting the sidewalk needn’t displace anything on the company’s land.
Suverkrubbe also emphasized the merely conceptual nature of both the median and roundabout. Meanwhile, Oakley pointed to a pair of disclaimers which state that both of the plan’s roundabouts would require additional traffic studies before they can be developed.
Not ‘set in stone’
The concerns which Turner had shared on behalf of Carolina Biological seemed to touch a nerve with some members of Elon’s town council.
Councilman Monti Allision appeared particularly uneasy about the plan’s more contentious points like the roundabouts and the median.
[Story continues below photo of the Elon town council during recent meeting.]
“I don’t feel comfortable accepting it as it is,” he went on to declare. “I’m not very positive that some of this could even be incorporated.”
In response to Allision’s worries, Elon’s mayor Emily Sharpe reminded her colleagues of the tentative nature of everything in the Haggard Avenue plan.
“By adopting a plan, we’re not committing to every single detail,” she asserted. “A, we would still need to have a study done, and B, we can’t afford it [without external funding to implement the recommendations].”
The two roundabouts also raised some misgivings for councilman Quinn Ray, who went on to confess his sympathy for Carolina Biological’s qualms with the plan. Ray nevertheless embraced the plan’s overall “concept” – and especially its emphasis on safety over aesthetics.
The plan’s safety measures also appealed to councilmember Stephanie Bourland, who was particularly pleased with its proposed realignment of Haggard’s intersection of Williamson Avenue, where she complained drivers must currently “make some weird turn” to avoid winding up in the wrong lane.
Meanwhile, Mark Greene, Elon’s mayor pro tem, observed the plan’s flexibility, which he said will be crucial due to the ever-changing landscape which serves as the backdrop for Haggard Avenue.
“Face it: things are going to change over the years,” Greene added. “Funding is going to change, and things in the town are going to change.”
“None of this is set in stone,” agreed councilman Randy Orwig. “At first, I wanted to say that medians are set in concrete; they’re not set in stone.”
The town’s consultant was quick to concur with the councilman’s jape.
“It’s not set in stone, and it’s not set in concrete,” she said. “It’s meant to be worst case scenario. The roundabouts are the worst case for funding.”
Suverkrubbe went on to share some recommendations for how the town’s leaders could draw down the revenue to implement parts of the Haggard Avenue plan. For starters, she advised them to pitch the proposal to the Burlington-Graham Metropolitan Planning Organization, which distributes state and federal transportation funds in the Burlington area.
“It’s not going to be a cheap project,” she added. “But it’s going to be an important project, so you need to get as much state funding as you can…It will be put in for funding from the state, and I think that having all three phases together can only help you.”
In the end, the council voted 5-to-0 to adopt the plan as it was presented, following a 9-to-0 endorsement from the town’s planning board, which also voted on the plan during Tuesday’s proceedings.