The first issue on Rylands’ list was to identify a “sense of community.” Some examples of other towns that have done this are Leavenworth, Wash., located in the central Cascade Mountains which calls itself “Bavaria”; Beckley’s (W.Va.) proposed “Coal Camp” section of downtown; and Jerome, Ariz., a copper mine boom town that calls itself “America’s Most Vertical City” and “The Largest Ghost Town in America.”
I agree with Rylands. I think that we should have a catch phrase for our town, too. Elkins might be called, for example, “The Western Gateway to Central Appalachia” or something that identifies us with one of the most beautiful and varied chain of mountains in the world. We might have a contest in our local schools as a way of finding an appropriate “title” for our town. We need something that will “stick in the minds” of those that visit us to take home with them that will serve as a memory jog of where they have been.
He suggested tying the bike trail to the downtown area and building amenities for bike riders throughout town. (If the cost of gasoline keeps going up — and it surely will — the implementation of this suggestion might be one that we’ll all be using sooner than we think.) Along with this, he advocates amending laws to enhance pedestrian/bike safety, and the enhancement of crosswalks with in-street signs and outline highlights.
Along that vein of thought, here’s a wish of mine that will bring “huffs and puffs” from our city fathers; those who know they have all the right answers but are never seen sharing their wisdom at idea sharing forums: let’s get rid of all the traffic lights on Davis Avenue in the downtown area proper. I had the opportunity to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada last fall and was amazed at how orderly their traffic was. The only traffic light in use on this mile-plus-long Main Street was one flashing red and amber — amber for main street traffic and red for traffic entering the main street.
This little town lies along the west bank of the Niagara River where it empties into Lake Ontario and is a major tourist destination nearly year round. Other than this one intersection, the traffic is controlled entirely by four-way stop signs.
We don’t have to go that far away, however, to witness the effectiveness of four-way stop signs.
South Charleston has only one traffic signal in its historic downtown business district. Shepherdstown took down its traffic lights and replaced them with four-way stop signs, providing a higher degree of safety for pedestrians. Requiring all traffic in high pedestrian traffic areas to come to a full stop provides a much safer environment for pedestrians than traffic lights ever have.
Now if you think that statement is contrary to fact, take a few minutes sometime soon, if you haven’t already, and watch how drivers react to traffic lights as opposed to stop signs. If a driver is anywhere from 75 feet to 75 yards from a traffic light when it turns amber, the driver will accelerate in an effort to get through it before it turns red — and even run the red light. You will never see a driver accelerating to run a stop sign.
Think about this, too. There are many efforts being initiated among historians to maintain the historical heritage of our downtown. How many traffic lights were on Davis Avenue (or anywhere else for that matter) when the town was laid out by Henry Gassaway Davis, Stephen B. Elkins and their cronies? (Yeah, I know, times change — the horse-and-buggy days are gone.) I contend that downtown Elkins would be much safer for all concerned if traffic signals are replaced with four-way stop signs.
The fear factor of running a stop sign without incident is far greater than that of running an amber or red light a few seconds after it has changed color. It would also save taxpayers $450,000 that the state is shoving down the city’s throat to replace the Darby lights that the Elkins Historic Landmarks Commission worked so hard to preserve.
Rylands also advocates a historic plaque program that would enable visitors to conduct self-guided tours of the downtown area during down time between their arrival, shows at the American Mountain Theater or the Old Brick Playhouse, and train rides. To facilitate this program, he suggests that a system be established that will enable visitors to know how much time they have between scheduled activities. This program would also include a map of what the downtown has to offer.
Also contained in Rylands’ list of ideas was that if the enhancement/revitalization of downtown Elkins relies on the addition/expansion of entrepreneurial/family retail businesses, tax and fee schedules should reflect it. He suggests reviewing the B&O tax structure to allow exemptions on the first $500,000 of retail sales, appoint an individual within city government to act as a conduit for small businesses, and discuss changes in the zoning code to encourage continuity in storefronts and building design.
“Communities fall into three categories,” Rylands said, “those that never take risks, those that take risks only when forced to do so, and those that take calculated risks when all is well, because they have an eye to the future — those that take responsibility for their destiny. Don’t think staying with the status quo has no risks. Although comforting and familiar, that can lead to stagnation and isolation. The more options that are on the table, the better your decisions will be. Proactive is about attitude and outlook — ready for action with wisdom in preparing for that action. Hopefully with effective leadership, groups that are broad based, open minded and willing to work together toward our community’s best interests, we will be successful in accomplishing our goals.”
Rylands continued, “If a visitor can come into our community and interact with shop keepers, restaurant staff, hotel/motel staff, visitor information attendants and city officials, and come away saying their interaction was positive and everyone seemed to be working toward the common goals and best interest of their community, then that community is on the right track.”
In conclusion, Rylands said, “A healthy community is one where people are not just out for themselves and they are not just working on their individual or organization’s pursuits, but one where they understand their relationship and responsibility to the ‘community as a whole.’ This is what visitors see. Ultimately, Elkins will be defined by others based on how well we enhance the unique characteristics of our community and upon the level of economic vitality and diversity of our downtown, small-business community.”
Rylands, I couldn’t agree with you more.
Rotarian Merllene Yorkey introduced two prospective new members to Rotary at the weekly luncheon on Monday — Robert “Robbie” Morris Jr. and Elizabeth “Tate” Nestor-Summerfield. Morris is president of Elkins Business Consultants Inc. and Nestor-Summerfield is manager of Tygart Valley Distributing.
Rotarian Roy Stalnaker also introduced Palmer Clark as a prospective new member. Clark, a retired minister, is married to Josephine Clark, owner of Advance Realty.
The guest speaker at Monday’s luncheon was Rosemary Wagner, executive director of Region VII Development and Planning Council, who updated attendees of past successes and projects in progress. Region VII, including Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Randolph, Tucker and Upshur counties, is one of 11 agencies covering the state, providing for the formulation and execution of objectives and policies necessary for orderly growth and development in the region as a whole.