Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Clearing the air on the Liz Hair Greenway

Liz Hair Greenway, near Carolinas Medical Center. Photo courtesy Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department
The cloud of cigarette smoke on the Liz Hair Greenway just below Carolinas Medical Center should be clearing up shortly. If you've walked or biked the narrow pavement of that greenway between Morehead Street and East Boulevard, you've probably gone past the smokers. They're mostly visitors or staff from the hospital, which forbids smoking on its property. The greenway is handy, and sometimes the hospital security guards even point it out to smokers.

But Tuesday, Mecklenburg County commissioners passed a new ordinance that makes most government buildings and most parks in Charlotte and Mecklenburg smoke-free. (In Charlotte, the Park and Recreation Department is a county, not a city, agency.)

As a compromise from the original proposal, six county-run golf courses and 18 parks that are considered "regional parks" are exempted. So you'll still have to choke on second-hand smoke in Freedom Park, Reedy Creek Park and other regional parks.  (A list of those parks is at the end of this post.)

The problem on the Liz Hair greenway stems from both the location of the hospital and the narrowness of the greenway between Morehead Street and East Boulevard. That section was built in 1988, back when many people here considered greenways risky spending. Today, it's one of the most popular greenways as it connects Freedom Park to the new, wider and more generously landscaped Little Sugar Creek Greenway near the Metropolitan development. It's narrow and crowded, and that means greenway pedestrians and cyclists are pretty much eyeball to eyeball, and lung to lung, with smokers.

An October 2012 article in the Charlotte Observer, by Michael Gordon, described the scene this way:

"For about 20 paces of shade beneath Medical Center Drive, Charlotte's health-conscious and not-so-muches squeeze into the same county-owned space. Neither is particularly happy with the arrangement. 'Generally, I hold my breath when I come through there,' says Collette Nagy, a Charlotte writer who biked under the bridge late Sunday morning, her dog Pepper riding in a knapsack on her back. 'But I feel sorry for them. I wish they'd get unhooked. I don't think verbal abuse will help.' "

Here's how Gordon described the scene: “At times, there's very little room for all the humanity to squeeze through. Around noon, about 10 smokers and their children were sitting or standing around the bridge, as a surge of greenway users – many with their children – dodged and weaved around them. There were near-collisions and some frowns. Even in the open air, the smoke under the bridge can be thick.”

The problem of smokers even drew a mention from a Portland, Ore., visitor, on the website Trip Advisor: “Hold your breath if you cruise past Carolina Medical Center at lunch time - the staff is out smoking on the greenway.”

Regional parks where smoking will still be allowed: