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Fayetteville leads America's large cities in improved walkability 


 Fayetteville is becoming more pedestrian friendly thanks to walkways like this one that connects the North Carolina Veterans Park to the downtown area. Photo credit: City of Fayetteville

As a city traffic engineer 10 years ago, Rusty Thompson noticed a public outcry for sidewalks in Fayetteville. He brought funding opportunities to his boss, and the city’s pedestrian projects have been a labor of love ever since.

The city installed 13 miles of sidewalk in the past five years, which might have something to do with its percentage of pedestrian commuters jumping from 1.7 to 5.4 – according to Governing Magazine, that’s the largest increase in share of pedestrian commuters among the nation’s largest cities. 

“We’ve managed to get quite a bit of sidewalk over the years with not a lot of municipal investment,” said Thompson, who’s now Fayetteville’s engineering and infrastructure director.

Fayetteville used matching and partial funding from Safe Routes to School, North Carolina Department of Transportation, and FAST New Freedom to install sidewalks throughout downtown and neighborhoods surrounding schools. Currently, the city is working with the North Carolina Department of Transportation Rail Division and North Carolina State University to complete two streetscape projects that will close a rail crossing to expand sidewalks on Winslow Street and install a permeable pavement to filter water through a pump to irrigate new landscaping on Person Street.

These sidewalks also provide much appreciated connectivity to other projects that earned Fayetteville national and international recognition. Last May, the International Parking Institute recognized the city with the Award for Architectural Achievement, the Institute’s highest award of excellence, for the Franklin Street Parking Deck.

The 294-space parking deck opened in 2012 with lighting that is two and a half times brighter than state standards, 19-foot ceilings on the first floor, security cameras, glass elevators, and emergency call boxes. The deck is aesthetically pleasing as well with a brick façade to blend in with other downtown buildings.

According to Thompson, it has been a great asset for the downtown area during busy times like the Dogwood Festival, which brings 250,000 people to Fayetteville.

“A lot of downtown businesses left when the walking malls were created, but now downtown is an eclectic mix of governmental offices, churches, libraries, restaurants and museums,” Thompson said. “We’re starting to get quite a few residents downtown, and there are times on weekends when parking spaces are not available.”

The sidewalks also connect visitors to Fayetteville’s award-winning parks. In April, the American Public Works Association chose the N.C. Veterans Park, a state park maintained by the City of Fayetteville, as the Project of the Year in its Structures category for parks costing between $5 and $25 million. Thompson said this park is modern and contemporary with QR codes, art made of broken military equipment and subtle references to all five branches of the military.

“It’s not a tombstone and statue park that veterans’ parks usually are,” Thompson said.