Bike lanes, roundabouts, thermal crosswalks ... what's next?
While some opponents recoil at the use of public money for traffic changes they consider frivolous, others say this is the future of transportation - or at least ought to be.
The issue surfaced in Rock Hill when a citizens group proposed bike lanes, crosswalks and pedestrian-friendly measures along Cherry Road in front of Winthrop University, a treacherous area for students crossing the street.
Supporters see the need for a new mentality - one that extends the thinking beyond cars moving at high speeds.
"The attitude that the car should be the only vehicle on the street is changing," said Ellen Stoune, a 39-year-old business manager who lives off Charlotte Avenue and rides a bike for work and recreation.
"I've been riding my bike in this town for the last four years, and I'm getting less and less of the odd looks. That shift is happening."
It's not just bike lanes. Traffic roundabouts are planned at intersections in or near Rock Hill, York and Lake Wylie to improve safety and congestion.
The approach extends beyond roadways. York County could soon require developers to build sidewalks in front of new houses and shopping centers as part of a sweeping rewrite of local development rules.
Some initial steps are already happening. Crews put reflective paint on medians along Cherry Road on Thursday near the Winthrop campus.
Next up are new thermal crosswalk markings slated to be installed Monday, weather permitting.
The roundabout movement has gained strength around the nation, and York County is joining the trend.
Roundabouts could be installed at Lincoln Road and U.S. 49 just outside the city of York, as well as in central Rock Hill at White Street and Constitution Boulevard near District Three Stadium, according to Phil Leazer, the county's "Pennies for Progress" manager.
A rural roundabout - one of the first of its kind in a rural setting - could be built along S.C. 324 at Cameron and Gordon roads in York County Councilman Curwood Chappell's district, Leazer said.
"We are very excited as we do believe this is the safest design for this intersection as well as an opportunity to provide real data showing this type of design is much better for traffic flow," Leazer said in an e-mail last week.
The positive results from York County prompted S.C. DOT to consider building a roundabout on its own at Lincoln and Fairhope roads in the Lake Wylie area, Leazer said.
While about 2,000 roundabouts move traffic in the U.S. - most of them built in the last decade - hundreds more are planned from Florida to Wisconsin, The New York Times recently reported.
Rock Hill boasts roundabouts on Bird Street near St. Anne Catholic School and off Ebinport Road at Brookstone Apartments.
In Fort Mill's Baxter Village, cars move through a roundabout in front of a public library branch.
Roundabouts are not the same as traffic circles, such as Columbus Circle in New York or Dupont Circle in Washington. Traffic circles usually operate at higher speeds, and some have traffic signals within their rings.
The call for bike lanes on Cherry Road drew skepticism from Councilman Kevin Sutton. He said a four-lane road makes little sense for cyclists. "We have a one-cent sales tax to help us widen roads all over the county," Sutton said at a recent workshop. "Now, you're talking about reducing lanes to make room for bicycles. It doesn't make sense to me."
Some local residents sided with Sutton.
"It is hard to understand all the talk about trying to make a "college atmosphere" out of a four-lane road that serves the heart of the city," Richard Jones wrote in a letter to The Herald. "I am not a civil engineer, but I feel we should leave Cherry Road alone."
Larry Bigham, chair of the college town citizens group, portrayed the traffic changes as a way to create a better environment for college-oriented shops, cafes and public spaces.
Money could come from an upcoming proposal for Pennies for Progress, which sets aside $1.2 million for safety and streetscape upgrades on Cherry Road.
The ideas make sense to John Thomas, a retiree who moved to Rock Hill from upstate New York. While serving as mayor of Hamburg, a town of 55,000 just outside Buffalo, Thomas fell in love with roundabouts and the "new" traffic mentality.
"Rock Hill is so forward-looking, except when you get to traffic," Thomas said. "They're doing the widening lanes, the turn lanes, anything to make traffic go faster. They need to slow things down."
Solving the problems around campus is crucial for Winthrop to thrive in the new economy, York County Council Chairman Buddy Motz said.
"The problem is they are hampered in the same way the downtown area is with traffic, rail lines, and a lot of unplanned commercial growth that surrounds the campus," Motz said.
When Winthrop was an all-female institution, the state provided sufficient money, and there was little effort or need to have Rock Hill's support, Motz noted.
In the early part of the decade, Winthrop received $25 million annually from the state, school officials said. Next year, it expects to receive $12.9 million in state funds.
Students are the main source of income, with tuition and fees accounting for 51.9 percent of the budget.
Winthrop must compete to attract top students, and curb appeal has become an important factor, school president Anthony DiGiorgio often says.
Motz said: "Now they are jointly planning and collaborating to clean up areas that are unsightly and obstacles for future development ... which is not a bad thing."