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Watch for Me NC in Marion

  • Watch for Me NC participant since: 2015
  • Population: 8,000
  • Lead agency: City of Marion

The City of Marion sits at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is both the county seat and largest city in McDowell County. Although relatively few residents commute on foot or by bike, the city’s Main Street Historic District receives considerable foot traffic from both residents and tourists, making their safety a critical issue for Marion.

The City of Marion partnered with the Marion Police Department, Active Routes to School, the McDowell County PTA Program, and the McDowell Health Coalition. Leveraging the existing networks of these partners has allowed Marion to effectively disseminate the Watch for Me NC message. The Health Coalition and PTA Program in particular have helped Marion to reach many people. They have also worked closely with downtown businesses, some of which have heard complaints from customers that walking downtown is dangerous.

Education and Enforcement Activities
Marion has undertaken a variety of outreach and enforcement efforts with the Watch for Me NC program. Marion took advantage of high profile local events, such as the annual Mountain Glory Festival, to distribute Watch for Me NC materials. The city has also fit bicycles with lights at the Mountain Glory Festival and distributed reflective armbands to those participating in the Mountain Glory 5K. The Marion Police Department and city staff held a bicycle safety training and group ride on the Catawba River Greenway to encourage safety and proper bicycle etiquette on the greenway.

Education and enforcement has been carried out in conjunction with Walk to School Days held at two area elementary schools and one middle school. City staff and elected officials were on hand to walk students to school from designated locations adjacent to high-volume intersections and provide tips about walking safely, while police provided enforcement. Around 160 students in total participated in the Walk to School Days. Children who participated in the Walk to School Days received Safe Routes to School T-shirts, flashing lights, and bumper stickers.

To reach the general public, Marion has issued press releases and created a public safety announcement video about pedestrian and bicycle safety. Additionally, the city handed out posters to businesses downtown where there is significant pedestrian traffic. In the future, the town staff plan to work with downtown restaurants to put Watch for Me NC information cards at tables to prompt conversations about pedestrian and cyclist safety. Additionally, the Marion Police Department has used patrol cars to distribute materials to pedestrians, joggers, and cyclists.

The Marion Police Department conducts a few enforcement operations each year. Some enforcement activities were planned to coincide with Halloween to help promote safety in neighborhoods that are overly popular with trick-or-treaters.

Key Outcomes
Marion’s participation in the Watch for Me NC program has helped support area school’s participation in Safe Routes to School. In terms of policy outcomes, Watch for Me NC is mentioned in Marion’s 2016 Comprehensive Bicycle Plan as a key program recommendation for complementing infrastructure upgrades. Furthermore, participation in the program has contributed to conversations among town council members about implementing a sidewalk ordinance.

Lessons Learned
Participating in the Watch for Me NC program has involved much of the same work associated with coordinating community engagement activities. It is helpful to start small, have a plan, draw upon existing resources, and learn from other communities as you aim to fully implement a comprehensive program.

Thanks to Allen Lawrence of the Marion Police Department and Heather Cotton of the Marion Planning Department for their work on the Watch for Me NC program and for the information presented in this community profile.