Danville survey respondents want better streets, sidewalks
Two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey offered by the City of Danville said better sidewalks leading to the downtown area are “essential” or “very important.”
The online National Citizen Survey, which collected 521 responses during January, also showed that respondents’ ratings for some aspects of the city’s streets and sidewalks had declined since the last time the survey was used in 2015.
A question about the importance of sidewalk improvements was one of two “special topics” Danville included in the survey, which otherwise consisted of standardized questions asked of residents in more than 500 cities that participate in the survey.
Respondents were asked to “rate how important, if at all, connecting neighborhood sidewalks to Danville’s downtown is to the overall quality of life in the City of Danville.”
About 29 percent said it was “essential;” 37 percent said “very important;” 27 percent said “somewhat important;” and 7 percent said “not at all important.” Survey-takers who did not answer the question were not included in the percentage totals.
In the standardized portion of the survey, ratings of “excellent” or “good” for Danville’s streets and sidewalks went down in several categories compared to responses gathered in 2015:
• Positive ratings for “street repair” dropped from 34 percent in 2015 to 26 percent in 2018;
• “Street lighting” dropped from 63 percent to 44 percent;
• “Snow removal” dropped from 65 percent to 51 percent;
• “Sidewalk maintenance” dropped from 43 percent to 35 percent;
• “Traffic signal timing” dropped from 56 percent to 45 percent; and
• “Bus or transit services” dropped from 39 percent to 16 percent.
Danville City Manager Ron Scott said the city had no control over the geography of respondents this time around, because the survey was offered online, meaning respondents didn’t necessarily have to live in Danville in order to complete the survey. The 2015 survey was conducted via mail and determined to be statistically significant; the same is not true for the 2018 survey. Scott said while he acknowledges the limitations of the data, he still thinks the numbers are likely accurate because overall, they do not deviate too significantly from the 2015 numbers.
As far as addressing the apparent concerns for sidewalks and streets, Scott said Danville is already aware of those needs and is allocating money — in previous years, this year and likely next year — to make improvements.
Michele Gosser, chief financial officer for the city, said Danville City Commission has allocated around $200,000 in this year’s budget to repair the Second Street Bridge over Clarks Run; and has increased the allocation for street paving by $175,000. That increase has more than made up for cuts to funding from state municipal road aid, meaning Danville is spending $500,000 in all on its roads this year — up $100,000 from the previous year, she said.
And Danville has increased its budget for basic repairs such as filling potholes and sidewalk repairs to $125,000, growing that fund by about double, Gosser said.
Danville is pursuing a pair of “streetscape” projects for Main Street that would renovate the curbs, sidewalks and lights between Third and Fifth streets.
Scott said the project that would renovate Main Street between Third and Fourth streets is still pending and it’s unknown if the city will be approved. The city is seeking a transportation alternatives program (TAP) grant that would provide around $947,000. It was denied the first time it sought grant, but reapplied in October.
But Gosser said Danville has already set aside the approximately $250,000 the city would need in matching funds if it is approved. Scott said if the city is denied the grant again, Danville would pursue some improvements to the Third-and-Main intersection to make it safer for pedestrians using the funds it has set aside, then potentially proceed with elements of the streetscape project one at a time.
Danville received approval for a streetscape project on Main from Fourth to Fifth streets in 2012, but there have since been years of delays and red tape, Scott said. That project is estimated to cost around $350,000, with Danville contributing around $84,000 of that total as a match and the rest coming from grant funding.
Scott said City Engineer Earl Coffey got further assurances Wednesday morning that the city is close to having all of the approvals needed to complete that project. He anticipated bidding the project this month, and having construction start after the conclusion of the Great American Brass Band Festival in June. Construction could take a few months to complete, but would be done this year, Scott said.
Danville residents were also strongly in support of better sidewalks in 2015, when a similar question about sidewalks into downtown was asked within the National Citizen Survey, Scott said.
As a result of the earlier survey, Danville City Commission allocated more than $60,000 for additional sidewalk construction, he said.
Danville’s laws state that property owners are responsible for building and maintaining sidewalks on their properties, but Danville is among “more progressive” cities that are attempting to build sidewalks using general and other funds, Scott said. That can be tricky and sometimes a slow process, however, because residents have to give permission through an easement, he noted.
Scott held up Baughman Avenue as one example of a heavily-traveled road that also has a large amount of pedestrian traffic, but no sidewalks.
“In the past, the response from residents in that area has been very negative to granting easements or to building sidewalks,” Scott said.
Danville City Commission voted to “step up” its contributions to building new sidewalks last year, Scott said.
“The best we can do, possibly, is to continue that step up we made last year.”
SO YOU KNOW
The National Citizen Survey (NCS) is a standardized survey offered by the national Research Center Inc. and the International City/County Management Association.
Danville City Manager Ron Scott said more than 500 U.S. cities participate, many of them on a biannual basis. Those national results are used to create benchmarks that Danville’s responses can be compared to, Scott said. The participating cities have populations from above 1 million down to smaller than Danville, he said.
Danville last used the NCS in 2015, when it conducted the survey via mail. The 2015 survey was deemed statistically significant; Scott couldn’t say the same for the 2018 survey, which was offered online and wasn’t randomized.
There was also no way to be sure all the respondents live in Danville because of the online, opt-in format, Scott noted.
The survey cost almost $7,000 to complete.
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