Friday, June 24, 2016

A prime example of citizen activism

There’s a reason for the saying “you can’t fight city hall”.  It’s hard!

To get what they want citizens need perseverance, organization, and a willingness to push.  The recent successful effort to lower speed limits on Davidson-Concord Road provides a prime example.

To be fair, local residents weren’t so much “fighting town hall” in this case as the Town of Davidson had previously asked to have the speed limit lowered. The problem was that when NCDOT said “no” on each occasion, the town did not force the issue.

The situation came to a head this Spring when multiple videos surface showing harrowing scenes near a school bus stop in the area and as the new West Branch neighborhood proposed over 300 new residences on the Westmoreland Farm adjacent to the already dangerous Robert-Walker Drive intersection.

So, what did residents do?

In the interest of transparency, I was involved in some of the activities that follow,, but all of the heavy lifting was done by many other citizens.

Residents organized multiple trips to town hall leading to two packed meetings in May and June.  They worked with the media to bring the issue more attention.  They showed tremendous courage in speaking truth to power.  Most importantly, they did public records requests.

The public records request may be the sharpest arrow in the activist’s quiver.  The results of these requests provide information.  They shed light on who said what to who and when they said it
In this case it, these requests showed many interesting things.  Here are just a couple.

The public record showed on multiple occasions in 2013 and 2014, citizens asked the town how they could get involved.  Should they go to their legislative representatives?  Could they help with gathering petitions?

In at least three different situations during this time period, Mayor John Woods told different residents that if NCDOT did not agree to lower the speeds, the town would engage the citizens for these activities.  That never happened.


In another thread, the record shows NCDOT actually being open to the idea of lower speeds around Robert-Walker Drive contingent on the installation  of a roundabout.  However, the discussion was related to the proposed West Branch development and on street parking – not as a pedestrian safety initiative.  This conversation involved NCDOT and the developers, including Commissioner Brian Jenest whose firm is doing the project’s design.  Somehow, that information did not make it to the town board as a whole for nearly three months?

Again, why?

The answers as to “why” are not in the public record, but it does show the mounting pressure having an impact.

The first records request went in on May 3rd.  On May 4th, State Rep John Bradford posted on Facebook that he had been contacted by Davidson Mayor Pro Tem Beth Cashion on the issue.  He said “I’m ready to help.  I don’t know what can be done, but I’m willing to learn.”

That contact to state electeds appears to have been the turning point.

After the May 10th town hall meeting, Bradford again posted to Facebook saying he was coordinating with the State Engineer at NCDOT to have a closer look at the issue.  Shortly thereafter, State Engineer Kevin Lacy spent a Sunday and Monday in the area, and before the June 14th meeting the decision was made to lower the speeds along the entire length of the road including the area at Robert-Walker - without a roundabout.

Still though, the activists work wasn’t done.  NCDOT had made the speed reduction to 35mph by Robert-Walker contingent on the West Branch development being 25% occupied – potentially delaying it many months, if not years.

It took another trip to town hall and another round of impassioned speeches to  NCDOT Rep Scott Cole who was in attendance to get the speed limit lowered immediately.

As of last Thursday, the new speed limit signs are up.

Should it have been this hard?  No, it shouldn’t have.  In the end however, it yielded the results citizens were seeking - making it all worth it.

This post first appeared in this week's edition of the Herald Weekly at 

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