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'Road diet' coming to Sixth Street; plan would make it safer for pedestrians

A road diet is coming to Sixth Street later this year, promising relief to pedestrians who struggle to make it across from Crystal Towers to the bus stop and other places on the south side of the street.

What’s a road diet? It’s when highway officials reduce the number of lanes on a road in hopes of improving safety.

Sixth Street has four lanes in between Spruce and Spring streets. Under the plan, Sixth Street would be reduced to three lanes in that stretch, with a central turn lane most of the distance.

An exception will be in front of the Crystal Towers public housing tower. There, a concrete island will provide a place for pedestrians to pause while attempting to cross the busy street.

“As it stands right now, some of these cars are heedless,” said Samuel Grier, a resident of Crystal Towers. “A narrowing of the road will help.”

Grier and other residents of Crystal Towers went to a meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council’s Public Safety Committee last December to appeal for traffic relief. Residents have formed their own group, Crystal Towers United, to advocate on issues of importance to the residents.

One of those who spoke, Deborah Watkins, uses a wheelchair. She talked about the challenge of making it across four lanes of speeding traffic.

“They don’t stop, they don’t even slow down,” Watkins said, speaking of the auto traffic. “At any crosswalk, they don’t pay attention to you. The people in that building don’t know how to get across the street. They have to really duck and dive to get to the bus stop. It is really scary.”

A crosswalk crosses Sixth Street directly in front of Crystal Towers, but it has no signal to stop traffic. If residents want to cross with a signal, they have to walk a block east and cross at the intersection of Sixth and Spruce streets with West End Boulevard.

Crystal Towers provides public housing to the elderly and people with disabilities. Some residents use wheelchairs or have other mobility issues that limit their ability to make a speedy crossing.

“Crossing that street is a problem,” resident Sarah Middleton told the council in December. “I walk with a walker. We have to act like we are on an expressway. They won’t stop for you. They speed up.”

The approaches to the Crystal Towers crosswalk have yellow warning signs that a pedestrian crossing is there. More recently, the city installed new signs immediately beside the crosswalk telling motorists to yield.

Part of the problem is the slight hill that Sixth Street crosses to the immediate west of Crystal Towers. It delays the time for drivers to see pedestrians and for walkers to see if a car is coming.

The island planned for the crossing should help, officials said.

The work can take place later this year because the reopening of Business 40 as Salem Parkway should eliminate the need to have four open lanes of traffic on Sixth, said Jeff Fansler, the city’s assistant transportation director.

In addition to the road diet, the work is expected to allow for the creation of bike lanes for Sixth, Fansler said.

Close to 6,000 cars a day use that portion of Sixth Street, city traffic counts taken before the Business 40 closure showed.

“Analyzing capacity, we determined that we don’t need four lanes on Sixth Street once Business 40 reopens,” Fansler said. “This is an effort to do a better job for pedestrian needs in the area.”

They integrated the women's dorms at Wake Forest. The four returned to the university Sunday.

Trailblazers. Leaders. Fighters. These are some of the words used Saturday morning to describe the women who integrated the female dorms at Wake Forest University in the 1969-70 school year.

Speaking at a panel in the school’s Brendle Recital Hall to commemorate the occasion, Deborah Graves McFarlane and Beth Norbrey Hopkins described what it was like being the first two black women to live on Wake’s campus after enrolling in the fall of 1969.

“I came from a totally African American, black, experience, and this was my first experience living in a white environment,” McFarlane said. “It was very unique for me.”

The two women were joined a semester later by Awilda Gilliam Neal and Linda Holiday, who had previously been day students, as the only four black women to live on Wake’s campus at the time. A fifth woman, Camille Russell Love, enrolled in the spring of 1970 as a day student. The group became steadfast friends with one another, describing the relationship as family-like. The friendships were necessary, they said, because of the environment on campus.

“(White students) weren’t accustomed to black people like us,” Hopkins said. “They were accustomed to black people who worked for them. … One student offered to show me how to use a toothbrush.”

Neal said her experience with white students was mostly polite, but said she felt she constantly had to prove she belonged at the school academically.

“They did try to look at my test grades when I received them to make sure I wasn’t here on affirmative action,” Neal said, drawing laughs from the mostly black crowd.

For the most part, McFarlane said the roughly 30 black students on campus kept to themselves out of necessity, and because, frankly, they were all friends with one another.

“We really segregated ourselves as well,” McFarlane said. “We ate together and we partied together. Whenever you saw one, you saw a group.”

Because she wasn’t a traditional student, Love had a different take on her college experience than her four friends. A Winston-Salem native, Love had a 5-month-old daughter at home and said the school probably wouldn’t have offered her admission had they known.

Further, her four friends received significant financial assistance and scholarships from Wake Forest in exchange for their attendance. Love said Dr. Frank Forsyth, and his wife, Anne Reynolds Forsyth, paid for her education out of their own pocket.

“Doctor and Mrs. Forsyth impressed upon me the importance to show black students could sit next to white students and that they could perform,” Love said.

Tensions, the five agreed, were high on campus. Nevertheless, they found time to enjoy their college experiences.

“Don’t you feel too sorry about us when it came to partying because we worked it in,” Hopkins said.

More than anything, the women preached a message of perseverance.

“If something doesn’t go your way, look for another way to go,” Hopkins said.

After reflecting on their time at Wake Forest, Hopkins, McFarlane and Love were joined on stage by four present day Wake Forest students to compare and contrast the experience of being a black woman on campus in the early ’70s and now.

The consensus, as McFarlane put it, is: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Bria Johnson, a senior and a residence assistant, said she’s had the police called to her dorm room just for hosting a game night. Teary eyed, Johnson said she wouldn’t have gotten through her time at Wake without the support of her friends and fellow students of color.

Neicy Myers, a senior, also spoke about the importance of community at Wake Forest, saying she found hers by seeking out the places also seeking her, such as her sorority.

Taylor Fowlks, also a senior, echoed Myers and Johnson but said one of her goals senior year has been to seek out people who don’t look like her.

“We have to be uncomfortable in order to get comfortable,” Fowlks said.

Sophomore Leilani Fletcher is from Manhattan, and said coming to Wake Forest exposed her to blatant racism for the first time in her life.

“Last spring it was just very, very tense among the student body,” Fletcher said, referencing the controversy surrounding racist social media posts that advocated building a wall between Wake and Winston-Salem State.

Both the current students and the alumna lamented the lack of white students at Saturday’s panels, saying their apathy is part of the problem with race relations on campus and a microcosm of the world.

“What you’re experiencing here at Wake Forest now is not going to change when you get to the real world,” Love said. “Learn how to stand on your own two feet in confidence. Know that you’re here because you’re supposed to be here.”