City + Citizen News

Bringing the Mary Black Rail Trail into Downtown

Tuesday, July 23

One of Neighborland's hottest ideas, coming soon...


Civic engagement. Those are quite possibly the two most important words in our vocabulary here at City Hall. Finding better, more efficient and involving ways to connect with our residents is, to put it plainly, just what we do here. Last year, we added a great new tool called Neighborland designed to connect residents not just with us, but also with others in our community who share their passion for our city.


The idea behind Neighborland is deceptively simple. Let’s say someone in Spartanburg wants to turn a vacant lot in his or her area into a neighborhood park. The person suggests that idea on Neighborland. Other folks in Spartanburg voice their support for that idea through clicking on a “me too” button. Simple enough, right?


But Neighborland is a lot more than just an online popularity contest for ideas. Users can also plan events with other supporters of their idea, share information about organizations working on the idea, start a petition, and even plan a fundraiser. Neighborland offers residents a set of tools to not only share an idea, but to work together with their neighbors to turn that idea into reality.


So where does a city government fit into that picture?


For starters, we can respond to your ideas, and maybe even suggest a way forward for a few. With that in mind, we're going to start out by talking about one of the most popular ideas so far on Neighborland, connecting the Mary Black Rail Trail to Downtown. Thirty-six of Spartanburg’s Neighborland-ers support this idea, making it the second most popular idea in the list, what?


As it happens, the City, Partners for Active Living, and the Palmetto Conservation Foundation are working to make the extension happen using ideas from the Spartanburg Trails & Greenways Plan, and with federal funding meant to make the Rail Trail part of the statewide Palmetto Trail. Pending approval by City Council, here's a rundown of where we are at the moment:


One of the future project’s challenges, and perhaps the biggest obstacle to getting the Rail Trail into Downtown is the Henry Street crossing. Check out the photo below.


Henry Street Crossing

Corner of Henry and Union Streets with the Rail Trail across the street


To be frank, this crossing isn’t particularly friendly to pedestrians or cyclists at the moment. The crosswalk isn’t very visible for oncoming cars, and the four-lane road intersects with Union Street at an angle, making the crossing seem dauntingly long for anyone who might have a mind to walk on into downtown from the current end of the trail. Now let’s take a look at a couple of solutions offered up by the Trails & Greenways Plan. Click on either of the photos to view a larger version.


Henry Street Crossing idea 1

Henry Street Crossing idea 2

Anyone who's ever stood at the intersection of Union and Henry Streets can tell you how much of an improvement either of these solutions would be over the current crosswalk. Heart-racing dashes across an angled, four-lane intersection will replaced with safer crossings that allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the street in two stages while also increasing their visibility for drivers.


As difficult as getting across Henry Street is, that’s just the first step. Next, a safe route into Downtown has to be constructed, an entirely new path on the eastern side of Union Street between E. Henry and E. Kennedy streets. Take a look at the photos below.


Rail Trail Union Street extension 1

Future path for the Rail Trail extension going into Downtown along Union Street


Rail Trail Union Street extension 2

Looking down Union Street from Kennedy Street along the future path of the Rail Trail extension.


From there, things aren’t exactly settled yet. There are several options for bringing the Rail Trail those final couple of blocks into the heart of Downtown, but whatever option ultimately emerges, soon enough a person looking to make their way through our city by bike or by foot will have have a much-needed new option to do so. And our engaged citizens on Neighborland? Well, they will be able to cross this one off their list.