Sunday, December 17, 2006

The bypass conundrum

Today I got into a discussion about someone about small towns and highways. He mentioned that Hampstead, NC used to be such a nice small town until the road through down was widened to four lanes.

I started thinking about small towns that I like. It turns out that the ones on my list all made the decision to have the bypass actually bypass the town instead running the main road through the middle of town. Small towns are a delicate balance. You have to have enough life in the town to attract traffic, but there has to be enough traffic to create some life.

I am sure there are places that thought they would die if the they were by-passed. After all look what happened in "Cars" the movie, the town almost died when the Interstate by-passed it.

One of my favorite towns, is actually my home town, Mount Airy, NC. Due to geography, the town actually being on a hill, the main roads by-passed Mount Airy quiet early. Yet the downtown survived somehow and now thrives. Another good example is Lexington, Virginia which compares pretty favorably in mind to the shopping mecca of Tyson's Corner, Virginia which is built around roads. Now they aren't the same scale, but I guarantee you getting from one end of Lexington to the other is more fun that getting from one end of Tyson's to the other.

Local places in coastal North Carolina that have survived by being out of the four lane zoo include Beaufort and Swansboro.

I've lived in Columbia, Maryland, planned community, where the Mall food court ended up being the center of town. The follow-up to Columbia with lessons learned was Reston, Virginia. The Town Center of Reston is a wonderful spot assuming you can find a parking place. Of course parking isn't exactly easy in Beaufort or Swansboro. Beaufort's Front Street is at least wide enough for two vehicles which is more than you say for Swansboro, but I would not trade their quaintness for all the parking in a giant parking garage.

Four lane roads make travel easier as do by-passes. Four lane roads turn city centers in never-ending strip malls. The trouble is that by the time you figure this out and try to do the planning, it's too expensive to make it happen until something breaks.

I hope places like Mt. Airy, Lexington, Swansboro, and Beaufort continue to thrive and keep their main streets alive.

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