Hilton Head to pursue plan to turn Coligny Circle into pedestrian-friendly area

Hilton Head Island town staff members got a green light Tuesday to plan a more walking-friendly Coligny Circle area, with the possibility of the town taking over some state-owned roads.

The Town Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday to have staff pursue negotiations with the S.C. Department of Transportation to take over ownership of the following roads:

Taking over the roads would allow the town to narrow lanes and reduce speeds along Pope Avenue, making it safer for walkers. Curb extensions could be built to create pinch points to slow drivers. Crosswalks could be widened, and special pavement added to create an audible and visible element to warn drivers of pedestrian crossings. The town staff also envisions lighting for safety, and crosswalk "aprons" designed as mini-plazas with benches and planters.

The DOT typically frowns upon such projects on public roads, which it prefers to keep open to vehicle traffic, town officials say. Attempts Tuesday to reach representatives of the DOT district office serving Hilton Head were unsuccessful.

The area could be redeveloped without taking over portions of state-owned roads, but town officials fear creating a walking district -- which also would help local businesses -- without controlling the roads would present safety problems.

"For beachgoers unfamiliar with the area, crossing South Forest Beach along with motorists unfamiliar with navigating a traffic circle can be an adventure as well," wrote Mike Roan, urban design administrator, in a memo to Town Council. "If people can't easily cross the streets from our park to these surrounding areas, neither can their wallets."

Staff also proposed allowing people to walk through Coligny Circle, turning it into an amenity rather than an obstacle, by creating crosswalks between Pope Avenue and South Forest Beach Drive, between North Forest Beach Drive and Pope Avenue, and at Coligny Beach Park.

Redeveloping the area is one of Town Council's top priorities for 2010. The town spent $1.6 million in 2009 to redevelop Coligny Beach Park by installing new bathrooms, boardwalks, a fountain and other amenities.

Town manager Steve Riley said staff will move forward with the conceptual plans approved by the Town Council to create a master plan for the area, including soliciting feedback from area property owners.

Town officials were quick to add that no designs have been finalized for the area.

"This is a general recommendation. There will be many more discussions and details about what will happen in Coligny Circle," said Mayor Tom Peeples.