Downtown Walkability

Valerie Wilson, executive director for the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce – along with other city officials – is looking forward to a project more than 10 years in the making that will see a pedestrian/bicycle path stretch along Matthews Branch in the Friendly City.
The path, which is made possible with an $862,560 grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation last year, will run along the branch from the area of Southern Bowling Lanes on South Main Street past Petal City Park, near the Petal Family Branch YMCA.
“It’s going to increase our walkability score; it’s going to be a complete addition to what we already have available,” Wilson said. “It’s going to make downtown so much more available for people to walk from Point A to Point B and that kind of thing.

“It’ll allow people to walk safely in downtown Petal. It’s not a new idea; I’d say it’s been floating around for a minimum of 10 years.”
Walkability scores are typically seen as good if the number is 70 or above, and many real estate search sites, such as Trulia and Zillow, feature walk scores prominently. Petal’s current walkability score is 42. A 90 or above is considered a “walkers paradise” where no car is needed, and most daily errands or activities can be accomplished on foot.
If all goes according to plan, work on the new route will begin in approximately a year.
“The way I understand it, it will almost connect with Central Avenue,” Wilson said. “So it will be an excellent way for kids to get to the YMCA, to get to the upper elementary, to get to the ball fields, and to not be on the street.
“I think it’s going to be extremely well-used; it’s a beautiful walkway. But it’s not just a nature trail; it makes accessibility to different places available to anyone that lives in downtown Petal. I feel certain that different groups are going to want to add maybe benches to sit – even some public artwork along the way.”
The path was approved at a recent meeting of the Petal Board of Aldermen. The upcoming route will take the place of a previously-approved sidewalk that would have run from West 10th Avenue and South Main Street down Morris Avenue near Petal Middle School.
That idea was taken off the drawing board based on information provided by city engineer John Weeks, which saw the project had a high potential of cost overruns and deadline issues.
“One of the things … that I didn’t like (about the original plan) was that it wasn’t going to be business-friendly,” Mayor Tony Ducker said. “It would have possibly put at least one business out of business, and shut businesses down during the construction phase.
“When you get around Ace (Hardware), up in that area, those folks don’t have a lot of land to give; a couple of them actually use that for parking. (Also), we already have some sidewalks on the other side – that we need to do some work on, admittedly – but this actually opens up an entire different part of town.”
Ducker said the Matthews Branch route will give officials fewer issues with land and property owners, as there is no land in that area that is buildable.
“We’re not going in and taking land that’s currently being used by anyone,” he said. “We actually run our sewer down Matthews Branch as it is, and we maintain that area by cutting the grass so we can have access to our sewer infrastructure through there.”

Graphic provided by Drew Brickson