Durham launches Open Durham (no relation to Open Durham)

Well, now there are two things named Open Durham.

The new kid on the block is a web site which houses all sorts of data about the city. You data nerds out there go have fun with this, I’m sure that you can find all kinds of interesting trends. Like, check out this crime map for example. It seems like it could be a pretty useful tool.

A lot of you probably already know of the original Open Durham, created by Gary Kueber as a followup to Endagered Durham as a facility to document the history of the city’s architecture.

The city better get on that SEO to optimize its brand and avoid consumer confusion. Gary’s site pre-dates the new service by several years, so he’s got quite a head start. I guess there’s room in the world for multiple open Durhams, just be careful in your googling to make sure you find the one you actually want.

New Belgium’s “Tour de Fat” hits Durham this weekend

Tour de Fat is another weird one. Not, like, Beaver Queen Pageant weird, but it’s up there.

New Belgium (which is a brewery that is mostly in the business of making beer) operates a travelling show which is about bicycles (and also, of course, about New Belgium beer). The event is located in and around the DBAP, with various activities for all ages thereabouts.

The show itself is free, but if you’re so inclined you can cough up some cash to help support local non-profits.

Another white bicycle

There was yet another hit-and-run collision which resulted in the death of a cyclist this past weekend.

The suspect collided with the cyclist, Isidro Razo, early Sunday morning on Angier Avenue. The suspect then left Razo to die in a ditch, and Razo’s body was discovered several hours later.

WRAL has posted surveilance video that may show the suspect driving erratically after the collision. The last official word from the DPD, however, is that they are looking for a dark colored SUV (which would be a different vehicle than the one shown at WRAL).

Adam Haile wrote to the Durham bike and pedestrian mailing list with the following note:

By national averages, a town our size should expect a cyclist death once every two years.  This morning’s fatality makes four in a year.

I have not directly researched that statistic but I find it plausible. It appears to be very dangerous to ride a bicycle in Durham.

The city seems to be incapable of or unwilling to respond to these safety concerns. There have been a few bike lanes added over the past several years, but almost all of them were funded by the DoT (which was resurfacing or restriping the roads anyway; this allowed simple lane adjustments without the city having to spend any money of its own).

The 15-501 “road diet” (which now seems likely to be approved, at least) is such a project. I’m glad that project is happening; I’m disappointed that the city doesn’t make projects like it happen.

Vehicles should not be required for safe travel, but in Durham they sure seem to be.

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.