Open letter to Saxapahaw

Dear Saxapahaw,
You are no longer merely a rural crossroads and a boarded up mill. You have become a desirable residential area. And you are now a regional destination for arts, food, and entertainment. I’ve enjoyed living in your town for four months now, and I intend to stay a while. It’s pretty here.

The view from Saxapahaw.

The view from Saxapahaw.

Your star is rising. People claim to be “saxy” and “saxapahawlics.” There’s even a nascent cycling club that calls itself the “Saxapahawgs.” OK, we love you, now change.

Your roads and intersections are dangerous, and incidences of injury and death are likely to rise if you don’t take planning and re-engineering seriously.

Normally I would be the last person that would want to disrupt the quaintness of an historic place – the old mill on the Haw river sitting atop a Sissipahaw Indian site. We all want to preserve rural heritage and individual character. However, it’s not quaintness and history that is your particular allure. Your historic river mill shut down almost 20 years ago, and the old mill house community has long since changed. It’s time you caught up.

Development thus far seems to have worked for you, at least from my perspective. Local culture and entrepreneurship are thriving and expanding. Your big attractions are the farmers market and live music that run half the year and draw hundreds of people from surrounding regions; the Shell station that is now the Saxapahaw General Store – it still serves as a filling station and convenience store, and is now home to a wildly inventive grill that is cooking some of the best food in the entire region, on par with the finest restaurants in Chapel Hill and Durham; and you are the home of the Southeast’s premiere puppet company, Paperhand Puppet Intervention. The River Mill apartments, resurrected from the ashes of the closed mill, are a bee hive of residential activity.

It’s not just that I’ve lived here for four months: you have been a stop on my cycling routes for 8 years, far enough back that the mill was not renovated and the General Store and its amazing grill really was just a filling station and a place to get cold gatorade. Now I’m happy that all my bike rides end here with you.

The result of your growth, which is not likely to subside soon, is more people on the roads, more modes (driving, walking, biking, young engaged couples on tandems) in use on the roads, and more need for safety and appropriate facilities to accommodate the volume and the modes. Children of all ages reside here, and are now zooming on bikes and skateboards and scooters, and bouncing balls, through roadways not meant to accept simple walking, much less the antics of kids.

The current road situation is an inevitable legacy of the past. Now you have to take account of the present reality, and catch up with the development you’ve made possible. The River Mill and the attractions have concentrated a greater population here.

Here’s my wish list:
1. Sidewalks. Well, there’s one 200 ft. section of sidewalk from the River Mill apartments along the road to the General Store. But no sidewalks connecting any of the other neighborhoods to the center of town.

The right idea.

The right idea.


Let’s have more.
2. Crosswalks. This is especially a problem on Farmers Market/Music events on Saturday evenings when the town becomes a parking lot and neither cars nor pedestrians know how to proceed.
3. Sightlines. There’s no visibility around corners, due to tight corners, overgrown vegetation, and narrow roads.
Turn left here? Look out!

Turn left here? Look out!


No sightline around curve. To make a left turn, you have stare hard through the bush on the right to see cars coming, or drive around the corner to see oncoming traffic and risk traffic running up behind you around the curve. We take a leap of faith every single time we turn here, be it in a car, on bike, or crossing on foot. I walk this narrow, curving hill at night with my dog around this corner to get home and there is no refuge at all. If a sidewalk were here, it would serve dozens of residents (and their pets).

4. Streetlights, particularly at major intersections. Though not in “downtown” Sax, the intersections from the major highways (87, 54, Old Greensboro) need to be lighted to safely guide the increased volumes of traffic turning onto the rural roads that meet in Sax.

5. Improved intersection of Sax-Beth and Swep-Sax.

Intersection of Sax-Beth/Swep-Sax/River Mill.

Intersection of Sax-Beth/Swep-Sax/River Mill.


Hill, curve, no sightlines, signs all over the place indicating nothing, no street light. Recipe for crash.

6. How about a widened road and shoulder (i.e. bike lane) along Sax-Beth road out to Highway 54? How about shoulders everywhere? This could mitigate roads conflicts between bikes and drivers.

7. Enforcement. Regular speed checks would put drivers on notice that they are coming into a pedestrian area and need to slow down.

I’m writing this to you, Saxapahaw, because I feel like I’ve come to know you and we’ve gotten along so far. I don’t have the same rapport with N.C. DOT and Alamance County planning yet. I think you and I should get together and call them sometime and see what we can do. Maybe we can meet at the General Store, order up a kick ass goat burger (you’ve had it, right?), and talk.The parking at the General Store by and large still looks like this:
saxgen2

They know food, and they’ve got the right idea about where this town is headed. This parking lot shows the style of the future:

Bike + ice cream + parking at the General Store = the right idea.

Bike + ice cream + parking at the General Store = the right idea.

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13 Responses to “Open letter to Saxapahaw”


  1. 1 Heather LaGarde October 10, 2009 at 10:22 am

    We agree and are working on it – way harder than one would expect unfortunately w/ gov. regs – would love you to be involved – lots of good planning going on now due to the upcoming development of the upper mill – spent a day in meetings on many of these issues just Thursday — email me –

    also posting this on the facebook and twitter sites for Saxapahaw in the hopes we can have more people join in –

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Saxapahaw-NC/SXPHW/40474061573?ref=ts

    http://www.twitter.omc/saxapahaw

    -Heather LaGarde

    • 3 Anonymous October 10, 2009 at 11:28 am

      I agree that at times there is difficulty with some of the roads and seeing around, but within the past year the Sax-Beth was paved which has made a world of difference. I personally enjoy the fact that these winding roads, and blind curves require us as members of this quaint town to slow down and take it easy as this is what the town is and I hope it will remain this way. Some have said this will be the next Carborro and even though this would be fabulous for my property value I truly hope it remains quieter, less commercialize, and we keep our two lane roads. Those who visit our town should also learn to respect this on the festivals we provide. More parking would be very helpful but that is all I wish to see..

      • 4 pomocomo October 10, 2009 at 11:53 am

        Thanks for responding! The point of my post is not to promote further development of Saxapahaw and change its character. The development has happened, will continue, and planning needs to keep pace with that. I, too, would like a quiet town with slow windy roads, and conscientious drivers. Measures like sidewalks, lights (smart ones that direct white light down and spread out, rather than those awful yellow street lights), and better sightlines will help protect us from ourselves and other drivers. The fact about blind curves is that drivers take them blindly. I like Sax as it is now, too, and just wish that my life didn’t feel threatened when I attempt to walk to the post office.

  2. 5 Tom LaGarde October 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Things need to improve for safety sake. Having faithfully put up Saturdays in Saxapahaw signs for the past five years, I have often felt that if I meet an early demise it will be while putting up and taking down signs on our windy, hilly, blind curve roads. I’m sure a pile of flowers and a cross will replace my final sign planting and the show will go on but I prefer a different outcome.

  3. 6 Mel October 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I, too, wish we had sidewalks in town. It would make it easier to get from one end of town to the other. I don’t know if we need them to be concrete, as a nice wide gravel path might work as well and be less expensive.

    I’d also like the idea of a bike lane/wider shoulder to the Sax-Beth, Sax-Sweps, Church and Whitney roads (at the least, though some of the others could use wider shoulders as well). For those of us who use alternate transportation (which out in the county includes riding or driving horses), wider shoulders would provide all of us a much safer drive/ride.

    I also like the idea of clearing out the bushes, vines, etc that block the view around corners, etc. Jordan property does a good job most of the time, but I think some of those thick bushes might be better replaced with a low chain link, wrought iron or picket fence and some low flowers. Maybe we could move those lovely old bushes to the new cultural history museum? it would be a great way of keeping the greenery in the town, and make the roads safer. (BTW- The house on that blind curve NEEDS some kind of barrier at the street. Esp as it is so close to the road. the Reason those bushes are there is to protect the inhabitants of that house.)

    I’d also like to see some place for the folks who live in town to have a dog park of some kind. Right now the kids and the dogs are using the same space. Since some dog owners are not cleaning up after their critters like they should, the kids are getting the short end of the stick. It might also help to have some trash cans/composting cans located in strategic locations to encourage the poop picker uppers. 🙂

    BTW- Heather and Tom, have You’ll talked to the leadership at Sax UMC about using their parking lot to park for Sat in Sax? It’s just a short walk across the bridge, and it might help w/ the parking issues. (after all some Walmart parking lots are bigger than our entire town).

    🙂 Mel

    • 7 pomocomo October 10, 2009 at 9:28 pm

      Thanks, Mel. Good point about riding/driving horses! Lots of modes represented out here in the country. There’s also slow-moving farm equipment – cars have no choice but to slow down for them.

      I see your point about the bushes in front of the house on the inside of the curve up Swep-Sax from the intersection. However, it’s exactly there that I have to stare hard between the bushes and the low limbs of tree and guess whether I think a car is coming before turning left toward the dam. Very scary. You’re right, the Jordans managers are great. I called them a while back when the bushes were getting shaggy and they responded immediately by pruning down. Ultimately, another solution with clear visibility needs to be sought. It’s not just the few residents turning there, but river boaters, boy scouters, people fishing, and our beloved dam-keeper.

  4. 8 Mel October 10, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    I keep thinking of the fencing solution they came up w/ for the mill. Wrought Iron is pretty, allows for great visibility, but still offers protection from speeding cars or rolling balls. I wonder what it would take to talk the Jordan’s into installing something similar at the house on Sweps-Sax? Maybe we need to put a bee in Mac’s ear (or John’s). Hmmm.. I think I see a conversation happening after church tomorrow. 🙂

    mel

  5. 9 Debbie Cook October 11, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I was thinking the first step might be making the speed limit lower. I would like to see it drop to 35 within the signs marking Saxapahaw. Right now it is still 45mph. That’s fast… and most people speed. Then I would suggest it drop to 20mph from the upper mill to the bridges. People need to first SLOW down and drive aware of the surroundings… not their cell phones and text messages — even in the parking lots. Perhaps if we got a speed limit drop the police could monitor the area for awhile, too. I want everyone safe and comfortable, too.

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  1. 1 Map of things past « Honking In Traffic Trackback on October 30, 2009 at 9:20 pm

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