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As is the case with the City of Danville and other cities all across Virginia and the U.S., the City of Martinsville has been working diligently to redevelop its traditional business district, known as Uptown Martinsville.  Over the past decade, the Baldwin Block, west of Moss Street, was developed to house New College Institute’s (NCI’s) new 52,000 square-foot state-of-the art education building and manufacturing training facility.  Additionally, the former Henry Hotel on East Church Street was redeveloped as luxury uptown apartments.  And to promote walkability, uptown pedestrian amenities had been added including development of the Silverbell Spur Trail, extending from the main portion of the Dick & Willie Passage Trail to the vicinity of the YMCA, and crosswalks had been installed in and around uptown.  Now, the City is working to facilitate safer and more comfortable pedestrian movements between the Commonwealth Boulevard commercial corridor and Starling Avenue, home to Piedmont Arts and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Recently, City of Martinsville officials met with representatives of Martinsville Uptown Partnership, a local real estate development corporation, a staff member of the West Piedmont Planning District Commission (WPPDC), and a staff member of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in the uptown area to discuss walkability and development.  During this meeting, a Martinsville official noted the City’s desire to promote greater pedestrian activity between the north end of Commonwealth Boulevard which includes the Village of Martinsville shopping center and the Clocktower building, and Starling Avenue, situated southeast of uptown, which is home to major cultural institutions in the City including Piedmont Arts and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Anyone who is familiar with the Commonwealth Boulevard corridor is aware that it is very automobile-oriented, and while sidewalks are present in key areas along the corridor, crosswalks and other pedestrian amenities are not.  And, given the commercial functionality of this corridor and its high traffic volumes, it can be very intimidating for pedestrians to cross at any number of its intersections.  That said, there are certainly opportunities to render the Commonwealth Boulevard corridor more multimodal, particularly with regard to pedestrian mobility, which can be accomplished through a combination of measures such as installation of crosswalks, pedestrian signals, and pedestrian refuges – all of which improve pedestrian safety and comfort.  Improving walkability along this corridor could also help to reduce motor vehicle traffic between the various establishments located here.  With the right combination of pedestrian amenities, a consumer could park near Kroger and easily cross Liberty Street to get lunch at Chick-fil-A without the need to make an additional trip by car.

A sidewalk is located along key sections of the Commonwealth Boulevard corridor, but crosswalks and other pedestrian amenities, are not.

A crosswalk with a pedestrian refuge, such as this one shown in Greensboro, North Carolina, could enable pedestrians to more safely cross Commonwealth Boulevard.

In addition to current establishments located along the corridor, the site of a former gas station and car wash which was located along the south end of Commonwealth Boulevard across from the Chick-fil-A restaurant, will soon be home to a Starbucks and at least one other nationally-recognized dining establishment.  Furthermore, surrounding properties are proposed to be developed, with the new establishments mentioned here serving as a catalyst for the development of these surrounding lots.  It is the City’s desire to promote walkability from locations on the north side of the corridor, such as Chick-fil-A, the Clocktower building, and the Village of Martinsville shopping center to the site which will contain the new Starbucks along the corridor’s south end.  Given the likely popularity of these new dining destinations, facilitating other modes of travel aside from the automobile will be important to reducing traffic levels on this busy corridor.

The construction site where a new Starbucks and other establishments are being developed along Commonwealth Boulevard. Photo taken from Townes Avenue.

Uptown Walkability Improvements

As noted earlier in this blog, the City desires to draw people from the Commonwealth Boulevard commercial corridor to cultural establishments along Starling Avenue such as Piedmont Arts and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.  According to one Martinsville City official I spoke with, the City envisions two routes to accomplish this.  One route would bring pedestrians near the Starbucks and through uptown, while the other would utilize Market Street.  The uptown walking route would direct pedestrians past uptown destinations such as the farmers’ market and various dining establishments.

This map shows two potential walking routes from the Commonwealth Boulevard corridor to the Starling Avenue cultural corridor – one through the heart of uptown and the other along Market Street.

In addition to improving walkability along the Commonwealth Boulevard corridor, pedestrian improvements are needed between this corridor and uptown.  In particular, sidewalk and crosswalk additions and/or improvements are needed along Liberty Street, Townes Avenue, and Moss Street for pedestrians walking from the corridor through uptown and toward Starling Avenue.  Furthermore, individuals will likely want to walk to Starbucks and other establishments from the uptown area, requiring the presence of a suitable pedestrian infrastructure network.

Future uptown Developments

In addition to the new developments underway which were noted above, a developer has proposed a new uptown apartment complex at a former Food Lion grocery store located at the intersection of Moss and Fayette Streets.  Furthermore, the City would like to develop a hotel in the uptown area to further add to vitality and tourism of uptown.  Additionally, the former BB&T Bank building, located along East Church Street uptown, is proposed to be converted to apartments, as is the Chief Tassel Building located along Church Street.  This is in addition to the former Henry Hotel along Church Street which was redeveloped as apartments in recent years.  These proposed developments, taken together, would both benefit from a seamless pedestrian network, and would make the pedestrian network more successful via additional foot traffic; therefore, both would complement each other.

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