Hendersonville, North Carolina | Population: 13,840 (2016)
In the late-1970s, Hendersonville’s downtown corridor was experiencing hard times: several major department stores left downtown, 17 downtown businesses closed, and increased high-speed traffic on Downtown Main Street--a four-lane, straight-road highway--created safety concerns for drivers and pedestrians alike. City leaders and business owners knew something had to change to make Downtown Main Street prosperous and safe again. So, inspired by the success of a serpentine-design traffic calming project in Grand Junction, CO, they made moves to transform downtown.
Serpentine design creates a winding street that allows for traffic flow, but forces vehicles to slow down. With its winding mountain town geography, Hendersonville city leaders saw serpentine street design not only as the perfect solution for their traffic-related safety issues, but as an authentic design choice. The city created a business improvement district along the Downtown Main Street to fund the original 1978 streetscape project, which overlaid a two-way serpentine street over the existing four-lane highway for the six blocks of the Downtown Main Street district/BID. Included in the design were mid-block curb extensions filled with planters and trees.
To test the proposed design, city leaders laid out cones and temporary visual cues to demonstrate to community members how the new design would function. On the whole, community members had mixed reactions to the new design, but many downtown business owners supported the change, knowing that the slowed traffic moving through the district may encourage drivers to stop and stay a while.
Credit: Historic Downtown Hendersonville
Downtown Main Street Renew
In 2006, the Downtown Main Street BID incorporated one more commercial block to the south, and with that incorporation, the city also extended the serpentine street design. Seeing the newly improved block and fresh design, community members and business owners in the original 6-block part of the Downtown Main Street district called for updates to the serpentine street and curb extensions as well.
Hoping to create a more inclusive process, city leaders and Historic Downtown Hendersonville focused significant outreach efforts on the Downtown Main Street business and downtown property owners, holding open meetings with the city engineer and creating opportunities for feedback and iteration. The Downtown Main Street Renew was then laid out in three phases, and as each phase was completed, city leaders worked with the community to evaluate what further needs could be met in the implementation of the next phase.
Between 2008 and 2013, all six original blocks, plus the new full block and two additional half-blocks received the full Downtown Main Street Renew treatment, which includes: serpentine street design, crosswalks at mid-blocks and at every intersection, extended sidewalks for increased walkability, additional street signage signaling street curves, and alternating street parking.
In the Renew, the community saw the opportunity to activate the public spaces created by the formerly decorative, mid-block extensions. They created “bosques”, tree-shaded mini-plazas with movable outdoor seating and added planters throughout the downtown area.
Since the project’s completion in 2013, Hendersonville’s Downtown Main Street district has seen both positive economic impacts and increased safety. Historic Downtown Hendersonville’s Executive Director Lew Holloway says they have seen continued gains in property investment in the form of sales and rehabilitation, new business investment, job growth, building occupancy rates, and property value increases. The Downtown Main Street district leads the county with an average 30% increase this year during the four-year property value reappraisal process conducted by the County.
He also reported that the Renew: promoted safer walkability; increased visibility and driver awareness; reduced driver speeds; and increased smoother, tighter vehicle turns.
Credit: Historic Downtown Hendersonville
In any traffic calming plan, considering side streets is crucial. In the original 1978 redesign, the North Carolina Department of Transportation turned the two streets immediately adjacent to Main Street into one-way streets. Unfortunately, this treatment of the side streets increased traffic there and affected the few businesses located there.
With the Main Street Renew, city leaders and Historic Downtown Hendersonville have focused on small interventions on these adjacent streets to create visual appeal and drive interest to the business located here. They have installed a public art banners, decorative hanging flower baskets, and are working with other stakeholders to rehabilitate Hendersonville’s historic Grey Hosiery Mill—located on a side street--as 35 units of workforce housing.
They have also been working with various business owners and community stakeholders to plan strategically for siting destination businesses there that may have a greater chance of succeeding without significant foot traffic—such as restaurants, event venues, etc. And of course, streetscape improvements on the side streets are not out of the question in the future.
Expanding Streetscape Design
Beyond the Downtown Main Street District, the success of the streetscape design has also spurred interest in Hendersonville’s Downtown 7th Avenue District. Because the 7th Avenue District does not have the same right-of-way as the Downtown Main Street District, 7th Avenue will not be reconfigured into a serpentine form, but there will be a focus on increasing walkability and foot traffic and on celebrating the district’s unique attributes and business mix. City leaders are also furthering their community engagement process for the 7th Avenue streetscape, holding frequent meetings, conceptual design events, and expanding the conversation beyond just physical design to building trust and mitigating gentrification. The 7th Avenue Streetscape project is scheduled to be completed by Spring 2021.