Several neighborhoods on Main Street north of Elmwood Avenue are asking the City of Columbia and the state's Department of Transportation to consider installing a crosswalk with a traffic control beacon at the increasingly busy intersection at Main and Franklin streets.
Leaders of several nearby neighborhood associations — including those from Cottontown, Earlewood and Elmwood Park — recently signed a letter that was sent to Columbia City Council requesting the crosswalk. Representatives from a number of businesses in that corridor — including Curiosity Coffee Bar, The War Mouth, Cottontown Brew Lab, Indah Coffee and others — also signed on to the letter to Council.
"The area in the immediate vicinity of this intersection is experiencing significant growth in the number of businesses frequented by residents of our neighborhoods, and visitors seeking to patronize multiple destinations," reads the letter to Council, a copy of which was obtained by Free Times. "In the interest of pedestrian safety, and the improvement of the walkability of the area (a feature desired by many small-scale, forward-thinking entrepreneurs), a crosswalk at Franklin Street has become a necessity.
"Many residents also currently utilize Franklin Street to walk to nearby Segra Park and other attractions in the BullStreet District, necessitating the crossing of Main Street in a location currently unmarked for pedestrian crossing."
The area around Main and Franklin has seen commercial growth in recent years, with the addition of trendy coffee shops like Indah and Curiosity, along with the production brewery at Cottontown Brew Lab and the Southern cuisine at The War Mouth. Plans are underway for the construction of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint, part of a Nashville-based chain, on Main a couple blocks south of Franklin Street.
Will Thrift is the president of the Cottontown Neighborhood Association. He says the time has come for a crosswalk with a signal at the intersection.
"This would make it a safer place to cross Main Street, given that a lot of people frequent some of the businesses that have popped up right there," Thrift tells Free Times. "It would also enhance the area's walkability, which we are hoping would make it even more attractive for the kinds of businesses that are popping up there anyway."
Thrift says neighbors favor a HAWK beacon signal for the intersection. That’s a traffic control device that allows a pedestrian to push a button and activate a red light that signals traffic to stop until the pedestrian can cross. There are a few such beacons already in use locally, including on Taylor Street near Finlay Park, and at the chicken plant on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia.
The most recent HAWK signal installed in Columbia is on Millwood Avenue near House Street. The crossing was put in there because that stretch of road proved particularly treacherous, even deadly, for pedestrians. In three and a half years, there have been 145 car crashes on that road, including 51 rear-end crashes. Three pedestrians have been killed by cars along the street since 2015, including one in January of this year in the 2500 block of Millwood.
Scott Nuelken is the president of nonprofit Cola Town Bike Collective, located on Elmwood Avenue. He supports the idea of a HAWK signal at Main and Franklin. He says crossing the street there can be a safety issue.
"Frankly, it's really dangerous to cross Main Street there," Nuelken says. "That whole area is going to continue to develop. And, without a safe way to get from one side of North Main to the other, there might as well be a river going through it."
Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine recently sent an email to state Sen. John Scott, state Rep. Todd Rutherford and SCDOT Commissioner J.T. McLawhorn to inform them of the neighbors' wishes for a new crossing and signal.
"These neighborhoods are enjoying the amazing development along the North Main corridor and have noticed an increased interest of residents to walk from their homes to the various businesses on the corridor, however, as you can imagine, the traffic flow of North Main sometimes is a barrier to pedestrian safety," Devine wrote to the state officials in an email obtained by Free Times. "Therefore, these neighborhoods have made a request for a mid-block crosswalk at Main and Franklin."
Lori Campbell is the SCDOT district traffic engineer for the Columbia area. She tells Free Times she has received a request from the city regarding a HAWK signal, and plans to conduct a pedestrian study at Main and Franklin.
The study was set to begin some time after the recent opening of the new school year, as that is a better time to collect traffic and pedestrian data, rather than during the summer months.
"In general, installation of a HAWK signal would need to meet certain volume thresholds to be warranted," Campbell said. "Our study will be designed to review any non-motorized crashes in this area as well as evaluate the volumes of pedestrians and vehicles."