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.

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.

As Google Fiber looms, TWC scrambles to remain relevant

TWC is putting out press releases talking about their sweet new service:

“With ‘TWC Maxx,’ we’re essentially reinventing the TWC experience,” said Darrel Hegar, regional vice president of operations, Time Warner Cable. “We will boost Internet speeds for customers up to six times faster, add to our robust TWC WiFi©, dramatically improve the TV product and set a high bar in our industry for differentiated, exceptional customer service.”
Ooooh I’m so excited! Give me the deets!

TWC noted that customers now receiving standard Internet service (15 Mbps) will receive up to 50 Mbps.

“Extreme” service customers (30 Mbps) will receive up to 200 Mbps.

“Ultimate” customers (100 Mbps) will receive up to 300 Mbps.

Wait, now I’m not excited at all. The service you call “ultimate” is 300 Mbps? That’s a mere 30% of the bandwidth provided by Google Fiber.

TWC had actually announced its intention to upgrade service already, but the news media is giving it some play now. Note that TWC’s upgrade is planned for “later this year,” so it’s not like you can go out there and buy it right now. I suspect they’ll scramble and beat Google Fiber to market, offering some pretty attractive lock-in contract prices to early adopters to slow the bleeding as much as possible.

While TWC clearly can’t compete on service, they may still be relevant for budget conscious consumers.

Oh hey, in other ISP news: do you guys remember RST Fiber, which made grand promises for providing gigabit to residential customers in the summer of 2014? How’s that working out, then?

Forced to relocate due to the DPD HQ move, Bull City Ciderworks turns to Kickstarter for funding

I’ve mentioned the new DPD HQ site near Golden Belt a few times now, and as that plan moves forward the existing tenants will need to move on. One such tenant, Bull City Ciderworks, has launched a kickstarter project to fund its own move away from the site.

The Ciderworks has developed a solid following, and prior to the DPD HQ site decision they appeared well positioned to anchor a general revitalization of the area. It’s not clear where they intend to relocate, only noting on the Kickstarter project page that they’ve already targeted several locations.

Again, I’ve got to give a wag of the finger to the city for the selection of this site for the DPD HQ. There was a lot of potential for creative reuse here, and businesses like the Ciderworks could have just been the tip of the iceberg.

In more DPD HQ news, councilman Don Moffitt is encouraging consideration of the project’s impact on the streetscape as the city prepares to hire an architectural firm. Faceless government facilities tend to really stifle surrounding development, and given that the DPD HQ is coming, it’s at least somewhat reassuring that the council is thinking of ways to integrate it into the site in a minimally disruptive way.

[Insert something about snow]

I’ve lived near the triangle my entire life, and the worst snow I’ve ever seen was back in 2000 when I lived in Raleigh. 20 inches in one day according to that thing (although I don’t remember it being that much).

Anyway, now we’re staring down 8 inches overnight. That’s a lot of snow in such a small period of time, maybe even more per hour than the snow in 2000. So it’s pretty much safe to say that schools (which close when the roads are wet) will be closed, like, forever.

For a long time I laughed at how unprepared the state was to deal with snow and how quickly everything shut down. The last couple of weeks, though, have stopped being funny. Let’s hope that spring decides to show up soon.

I think I’m going to order some Heavenly Buffaloes tonight, because god knows when the snow will melt and I’ll get another chance.

The state of the city…

… is cold.

Mayor Bell gave his own “State of the City” speech last night, and there isn’t really much for me to discuss from its contents since they’re mostly things I’ve written about before. There was one minor surprise, though: the mayor’s ability to drop thirty year old cultural references.

Accolades that show that Durham’s future is bright…so bright, in fact, that we just might need shades.

Way to keep it hip with the youths, Mister Mayor. Mitt Romney would be impressed.

Hey parents, it’s time to play the DPS lottery!

That’s right, the DPS Magnet lottery is back! Registration runs through January 30th, and you can do it all on that there web site.

This is my first time actually playing the lottery, although I did write a bit about it last year. The long and short of it is that Durham has a number of pretty well regarded magnet schools with limited space, and for most people the only way to get in is via a lottery process (the most notable exception to this is for students who live in a “walk zone” near certain schools, who get either priority or automatic enrollment depending on the school).

The most coveted prize of all is free preschool, which is available at Watts and Morehead. If you happen to get into one of these schools, your preschooler wins taxpayer subsidized child care for 9 months (a prize which, I can tell you from personal experience, is valued at upwards of $10k).

Some people are interested in changing this, and personally I’d like to see some kind of needs based test to determine how much (if any) subsidy kids should be getting. The current system effectively creates incentives for parents to move into the “walk zones” near these magnet schools, and I’d argue that many e.g. Trinity Park residents aren’t so hard up for cash that they need taxpayers to foot their day care bills.