Take a hike - downtown

OK, all of you who have been complaining about the downtown environment, time to take a hike. The Downtown Partnership is organizing "clean and safe" walking audits to survey the area for problem spots.

People interested in participating in the audits -- 90-minute guided tours -- should contact the partnership at 967-9440 or chdowntown@bellsouth.net.

There will be daytime and nighttime audits for each section of downtown:

* East End auditors will conduct audits at 8 p.m. Dec. 8 and 8 a.m. Dec. 9.

* Middle auditors will conduct audits at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8 a.m. Dec. 8.

* West End auditors will conduct audits at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 and 7 p.m. Dec. 9.

- News & Observer, 11/29/05



I walk West Franklin Street everyday and it's quite easy to say the the trouble danger area is the corner in front of the Chinese, Indian & pizza restaurants. Let's just say that the group of men standing out front aren't waiting for a bus.

Typical interaction, "Hey, what chou want? I got whatever you need...pills...pot."

Liz would like folk to contact her before the walks so she'll have adequate guides and material.

I hope some of our Town Council officials will participate.

Anita, I hope to attend at least one of the night time walks even though the evaluations might not be so helpful.

Liz and the DPC have created a template to measure smells, lighting, "feeling of safety", etc. that the self-selected crew will use to score sections of Downtown.

She pointed out that a group walking about might perturb the responses - kind of a civic Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle ;-)

BTW, the police presence, both plainsclothes and uniformed, Downtown is way, way up. Hard to determine how much of an additional deterent that's been to crime but they're out there walking the beat.

Liz quickly provided this straightforward audit form that the walkers will be using....


Note locations where you observe excessive trash
Note locations where you observe cleanliness issues
Note locations where you notice offensive odors What are they?
Note locations where you notice other issues related to cleanliness


Note Locations and Incidents where you feel uncomfortable
Note Locations and Incidents where you feel unsafe
Note locations that are dark
Note other issues related to safety

Is this an appropriate list? What's missing?

With a little coding, the DPC could put together a Web FORM on their new website to collect this information on a routine basis.

I'm pushing for a citizen reported problems tracking system, along the lines of Bugzilla, to streamline the same kind of issue collection and end-to-end problem resolution tracking for the Town. The DPC could pilot this concept with their Safe and Clean audits.

To go a bit further, Will, the town could be using the enterprise capabilities of GIS to log these issues. Then automated messages could be sent to Public Works if there was a trash issue or a streetlight was out (linked to Purchasing/inventory control); to Public Safety if there was something 'unsafe', etc.

I would say that the area Theresa points to is an obvious problem - even my eight year-old daughter figured out what was going on there.

Will, the list is missing "sidewalk info" - I'm sure someone knows where the gaps are, but isn't it worthwhile to point out that there are still parts of 200 block E Rosemary where you have to walk in the mud?

From today's DTH guest editorial by Pat Evans

“There's nothing to draw me to downtown.” “The downtown offers little else than entertainment, eating, drinking and people watching.” “There's nothing for younger kids other than food.” “There's hardly anything I want or need downtown.” “It feels like a place for students.” “There's no bookstore.” “Parking is overpriced.”

I wonder if she heard those comments from her 50 to 100 member "Friends of Downtown" organization?

She's definitely on target with her statement

Downtown Chapel Hill has it all.

She follows with an excellent enumeration of all the types of entities Downtown.

Though I'm not quite on-board with her prescription of making the DPC, the Chamber and the Visitors Bureau the sole participants in "managing" the Dowtown, it would be great if the DPC could coordinate discussions between the Town, UNC and, bypassing the Chamber, the private parking lot owners to sort out the parking allocation problem (as highlighted in LTE on Predatory towing...).

As to the GIS mapping, etc., Berkeley did something regarding pedestrian comfort (i.e. "how safe do you feel as a pedestrian in regards to traffic") that produced some interesting output maps.

People walked around downtown and put Xs in places they felt unsafe, Os in places they felt safe, and they had two more symbols for "somewhat safe" and "somewhat unsafe."

When they merged several dozen participants' maps, they quickly saw the ares where pedestrian safety improvements where most needed, because most of the data clustered around the same problem intersections.

I some other downtown areas, the Downtown Development Entity manages all the parking in the downtown area--in some areas, that is part of the overall funding for the Downtown entity. They collect the fees, and contract with the privately owned parking areas to be sure that the lots are kept clean, monitored for loitering or other problems and that the lots are cleared out for the owner during the times the owner needs it for his own use. I honestly think most of the owners of our privately owned lots would be amenable to having them used by the public when the owners' businesses don't need them IF the owners don't have liability issues for the public who parks there, and if the lots are cleaned up and vacant when the owner comes in the next day. Perhaps the DP (and Will, I do think the Chamber can have a positive role to play in this process) can somehow take on those responsibilities in those lots and make them available for public use.

The business model for this type program has been fairly well-explored. I've brought it up a couple times over the years. Laurin and I tried to build a little excitement for it during the election cycle but there was little traction. The twist for us is UNC. The current UNC administration has blockaded so many of the traditional Downtown free parking opportunities (Hill Hall, Morehead, etc.), implemented a poorly functioning or counterproductive pay system (heck, look how they handle Memorial Hall event parking !!) and trimmed or planned to trim nearby campus parking (Art Commons) - they're exacerbating the problem! We need them seriously on-board.

I suggested going straight to the owners of the lots - the Town, UNC, the property owners themselves - using the DPC as a coordinator - instead of mixing in the Chamber - as that seems the most expeditious means to straighten out the allocation problem.

I know you're taking on a stronger role in the Chamber, so maybe you can answer the question of how Chamber involvement could expedite this process?

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that "groups of men" are necessarily dangerous. I fear that "groups of men" may be coded to mean "homeless men". Having worked at the Inter-Faith Council in the past, it upsets me that the homeless are often blamed for downtown's problems. I am not frightened when someone asks me for money--rather, I feel saddened and angry that anyone in this wealthy community does not have enough. I agree that downtown has its problems, but I personally am much more offended by garbage on the street and the ever-increasing number of "chain" stores (and that monstrous hotel being built on West Franklin--couldn't they have kept ONE of those beautiful old oak trees from the Greyhound parking lot?) than I am by the presence of homeless folks or other people just hanging out.

I don't think Theresa was implying that the group of men were homeless, but that they were DEALING. BIG difference. And there are people dealing downtown.


Note the letter in this morning's CHN, specifically, "After a meal at the Rathskellar, we decided to venture up to Franklin Street in the dark for a looksee. We quickly retreated after a group of young men came up behind us in loud voices spouting the F-word and pushed past us, making us feel mighty out of place."


"Though new construction will change the face of Chapel Hill, it has to be a good start in returning Franklin Street to a place where returnees as well as residents can feel free and safe at night to explore and shop. -- Kris Christensen, Raleigh"

Will, there are a few ways that the Chamber can assist in this process. First of all, we can put our membership's support behind viable options to ameliorating real or perceived issues with downtown, one possibility being that of working with private parking lot owners to improve the inventory of downtown parking for visitors to our downtown. We speak for 950 members, and I think the sheer weight of the numbers would make somebody--the Town Council or wherever this dialogue ends up---listen. We can lend our weight to the DP's proposals, whatever they might be, or if the DP doesn't deem it within their mission, we might take up the issues directly.

And, it's possible that there might be some legal limitations to the ability of the town or the DP to actually undertake such a task, given that they are public entities. The Chamber is not. It might be advantageous to have a private non-profit involved, I don't know.

Also, please do not take my remarks as any "official" position of the Chamber, I am just thinking out loud right now. Before the Chamber will get "official" about any of this, we will be sure that our position is well formulated and supported by our Board and our members. And we are quite fortunate to have Liz Parham on our Board, as well as Dianne Reid and James Harris. Every economic development professional in this county is on our board and we benefit from their expertise and want to support their work.

I just do not see how the Chamber's involvement can be anything other than a positive---the question is what that involvement will look like. And that depends on making sure that the Chamber's involvement pushes toward a positive solution by supporting the efforts of the DP or other entities, helping bridge gaps if there are any, lending expertise, and generally letting the Town Council and our citizenry know that our membership as a whole supports this effort. Our members have told us loud and clear that a healthy and vibrant downtown is very important to them, whether they are located there or not.

Thanks Anita. I'm hoping that this one issue, parking downtown, can be carved out of the whole on-going melange and taken care of in an expeditious manner. As you and I know, we have the inventory, private and public, we just need to figure out how to balance the allocations. I know if I owned a lot, I'd open it to general public use after hours if I got a free weekly cleaning and stepped up law enforcement monitoring.

Am I racist for assuming the rude teenagers that bothered Fred's quoted letter-writer were black? I wonder how the writer would have felt if they shared the sidewalk with a group of white teenagers saying "the f-word" and carrying skateboards?

And why does he feel "out of place" just because there are folks unlike him downtown? Isn't there room for all of us?

As I say to my neighbors, the best way to reclaim our streets from folks you DON'T like walking around, is to get people you DO like walking around. That changes the environment pretty effectively. My point is that it's our own job to re-claim Franklin Street, if indeed it needs to be reclaimed.

Ruby--it makes you SOMETHING. NO where in the letter Fred quoted is ANYTHING said about the race of the young men. Perhaps you might want to look at why you assume that the young men are black. Do you also assume that the letter's author is white?

For the record--I think any group of teens that cruise around hollering "the f word" and pushing are rude. And could be intimidating to some people. Pretty common teen male behavior,regardless of race...at least in the 13-15 y/o crowd. I believe it's a form of posturing. They seem to settle down a bit once they hit 16 or so. I know whereof I speak--I have eight 17 and 18 year-olds in my basement. At this moment. Doing what I can to keep them off the streets!


I know it's not mentioned in the letter, which is why I asked. I think there's often a presumption of race and economic status on the part of both the complainers and the listeners when we talk about downtown. I just wondered if it would change the feeling if we pictured different-looking people in the scenario.

There's no doubt, rude is rude, and I'm not making excuses for that. But it's a pretty common part of American life to come into contact with surly teenagers. What is so scary about it?

Depends on how many of them there are, and how hard they push past you. AND how used to teens you are. If the person in question is older, hasn't spent much time with teens, and has thinning bones...could be pretty scary. At the very least, unwelcoming. Even if they are the postulated white skater boys. Now, me, I'd probably ask 'em if they kiss their mothers withthose mouths...and get whacked upside the head with the postulated skate board. But then, as I've mentioned before--I have a basement full of teen boys--and I'm not skeered of the like o' them.

BUT--if I was a 60+ year-old woman...maybe not. Come to think of it, the letter writer never states that s/he was SCARED--just felt out of place. There is a difference. I just wonder why you are looking for a racial quotient/fear that isn't stated in the letter?


Sounds like the audist are going well, don't forget it's not too late to join in!

Today's audits include a daytime walk of the middle section beginning at 8 a.m. at Panera Bread and a nighttime walk of the east end beginning at 8 p.m. at McAlister's Deli.

Friday's will include a daytime audit of the east end at 8 a.m. at McAlister's and a nighttime audit of the west end at 7 p.m. at the old VisArt building.

All are welcome to participate, but the partnership requests that participants call first to ensure an adequate staff and audit sheets.

So what's wrong with dealing drugs? Drugs have to come from somewhere, and not everyone's got a doctor handing out Klonopin prescriptions like coupons for green beer on St. Patrick's Day. Suburbanites. Go do your own drugs in the safety of your vast living rooms. If you don't want the meth, you don't have to have the meth. Just say no, baby. If you try to _rob_ the drug dealers, then you might ought to be concerned for your safety. Otherwise, they're less dangerous to you than a Lancome clerk wielding a perfume bottle.


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