Let’s go on a road diet

There are some roads in Durham which are just plain harrowing, for no good reason.

One such road is Duke Street, which recently killed a 14 year old boy who was trying to cross it. Erik Landfried wrote a guest column in the N&O about the tragedy, which I encourage you to read.

City roads should not be optimized for maximum vehicular speed at the expense of the safety of other users. This mentality leads to things like Duke St. and Gregson St., designed to function as high volume, one way roads that slice through city neighborhoods and practically invite motorists to race through them as quickly as possible. It also creates bizarre solutions like the downtown loop, which reworked city streets into a veritable moat of concrete.

It’s time to abandon this sort of thinking. Cities are places where people live, and city roads need to serve the people who live near them – not just people driving through them. It’s not worth periodically killing people on these roads to slightly increase traffic volume.

One of the most effective ways to fix overbuilt city roads is something called a “road diet” – that is, reducing the number of vehicular travel lanes and reallocating that space for other uses (often bike lanes, sidewalks, on street parking, and other streetscape improvements).

There’s a happy confluence of events that may make such a project possible sooner rather than later on business 15-501, as the DoT is planning to resurface the road next year. The current configuration of the road is especially nonsensical, with five vehicular travel lanes, no sidewalks, and no bike lanes.

Why is the road so large? Who knows? It has never needed to support that kind of volume. Residents of nearby areas have been frustrated by the lack of walkability, and the current configuration does no favors for businesses either (retail and restaurants typically see boosts in sales when roadways are made more friendly to pedestrians). Foster’s outdoor seating, for example, would be a lot nicer without vehicles barrelling by just a few feet away from the dining area.

There’s a meeting about the potential business 15-501 reconfiguration project tonight at 6:30. You might want to check it out.

Also: there’s currently a bill in the Senate which would require the direct approval of the Board of Transportation for any such projects on state roads. It’s unclear why the Senator who proposed the change feels it is needed, but it would make “road diets” more difficult to implement should it become law.

Duke is playing a basketball game tonight

In case you somehow missed it, Duke is in the men’s basketball championship tonight. The game starts at 9:18 p.m., at which time access to West Campus will be restricted to persons affiliated with the university. Students can watch the game in Cameron, if they so desire.

If you’re looking for a place to watch the game, I see that The Cookery is doing a special thing. If you plan to stay home and avoid the crowds, I’m guessing this will be a pretty big day for Heavenly Buffaloes, so if you also intend to order wings you might want to order early.

Also: people around here sometimes like to set things on fire after basketball games. Plan accordingly.

The city has completed the purchase of the new DPD HQ site

This isn’t really much of a surprise, but it’s notable since the transaction had been delayed previously.

I’ve already mentioned that I’m disappointed in this plan, which will result in the demolition of several buildings that were prime candidates for creative re-use in a district that seemed poised to take off.

At least one of the tenants being displaced has a bit of good news, though: the Bull City Ciderworks Kickstarter was successful.

What’s going to happen to the downtown loop?

Durham’s most infamous traffic feature is probably the bizarre “downtown loop,” a series of distinct roads which were fused into a large one way route encircling the city center.

The loop was was originally constructed to keep factory workers out of a busy downtown as they commuted to and from their jobs. Unfortunately, the loop didn’t help for long, since people started fleeing for the suburbs and the tobacco industry started winding down shortly after it was completed.

Ultimately, the city was left with a huge moat of asphalt diverting drivers around a ghost town.

Downtown has obviously taken off again despite the loop, and there has been a lot of talk about how best to correct the traffic pattern in recent years. Now, it seems like there’s some progress, and the Herald has an op-ed in support of the project.

Although the benefit of making downtown more accessible (via foot or vehicle) is clear, there are other benefits; a redesigned streetscape would allow for additional development opportunities. A rendering of how reworking the loop could impact downtown was created by Cleveland and Church Partners and posted to the BPAC mailing list:

The biggest challenge with reworking the loop is, unsurprisingly, funding. According to the Herald, a streetscape improvement project would require $30M in funding, and it’s difficult to imagine the loop bumping off several other higher priority projects. According to the DDOT, simply converting the roads back to two-way and not doing other improvements could be accomplished for a more reasonable $12M.

The loop is a tricky problem. Downtown is a prominent success story now, and making it more appealing holds a lot of value to the city’s image. But how much money is the city ready to spend here, when downtown is clearly getting by well enough with things as they are? Are we better off working to improve less visible infrastructure in under-served parts of the city first?

I’ve always hated that damn loop. I definitely want it gone. But I can also see why it might not be perceived as the best bang for the buck right now.

NC legislation threatens Durham’s budget

The legislature is in session, and the biggest potential issue for Durham so far is SB369, which was introduced yesterday under the delightfully euphemistic “Sales Tax Fairness Act” title.

Currently, a portion of the state sales tax ($.02 per dollar) is earmarked for “local” spending. Of that, 75% ($.015 per dollar) is allocated directly to the county where the tax was collected, while 25% ($.005) is distributed across the state to counties based on their population.

SB369 aims to change this by treating all $.02 per dollar the same, and allocating it purely per capita with no funds earmarked for the location in which they were raised. This would effectively redistribute money from the cities (who raise much more sales tax revenue per capita) to rural counties. According to WRAL, this will result in a 9% hit to Durham County’s annual revenue.

From what I’ve read so far, this bill has a tough road to hoe due to some potential opposition from the house. Even though the primary goal is to take money away from big cities, it also nails rural tourist destinations like¬†Dare County, so expect some interesting allies on this one.

This potential change follows a hit already poised to take effect in July: last year’s law which removed the ability of cities to collect “privilege license” taxes. According to the Herald, the city is already poised to lose $5.7M due to that legislation.

How will cities make up for the lost revenue? There aren’t many tools at their disposal, so you can probably expect property tax increases to help compensate for these gaps in the future.

The Durham Co-Op Market is OPEN

Although construction was delayed due to all the winter weather, opening day has finally arrived for the Durham Co-Op Market. IMG_20150318_083717

Here are a couple of panoramas (click to embiggen).

Exterior:

PANO_20150318_123406

Interior:

PANO_20150318_122657

I didn’t need much, but I definitely needed this: IMG_20150318_084827 The interior of the store is nice, with a lot of light coming in from those windows. It’s not a big store – I feel like it’s a bit smaller than the 9th St Whole Foods original size – but they’ve got most of what you’d expect (including a prepared food counter, coffee shop, and a deli). Prices seem to be about in line with Whole Foods.

It’s also a great place to stalk local radio personality Frank Stasio, who was making the rounds when I stopped by.

I’ve posted about the DCM a few times, and it’s really exciting to see the project come to fruition. The building is located at 1111 West Chapel Hill St. (at the intersection of Kent and WCH, near the cemetery).

The Durham Living Wage project aims to improve pay for low income earners

The People’s Alliance Fund (which is apparently related to but independent from the Durham People’s Alliance PAC) has founded the Durham Living Wage initiative to increase the pay of traditionally low income workers.

According to the Herald, they’ve got 28 businesses on board. I can’t find the full list yet, but they dropped some names you’re probably familiar with: Monuts, Fullsteam, Cocoa Cinnamon, etc. The criterion for being a member is:

Our living wage rate is tied to the livable wage rate of Durham County and the City of Durham, which is updated annually. Our 2015 wage rate is $12.33 / hour for individuals without employer-provided health insurance or $10.83 / hour for employees with employer-provided health insurance, or employees reimbursed for at least 50% of their cost of health insurance.

The fund is currently raising money to support the project.

I imagine it’s a difficult line to walk: trying to keep overhead low enough to survive in a competitive industry, while also trying to maximise the benefit you pass on to your employees. I’m reminded of an interview with Monuts co-founder Lindsay Moriarty in the Duke Chronicle in which she discusses (among other things) trying to grow a small business while keeping the well-being of employees in mind from the beginning.