Revived neckdown plan could make West Club Blvd a nightmare for cyclists

In 2001*, somebody had a plan. A plan to “calm” traffic on West Club Boulevard.

That plan called for neckdowns. Neckdowns (also known by many other names, my favorite of which is probably “elephant ears”) are curb extensions that intentionally narrow a road. These extensions are intended to cause motorists to slow down, and they also reduce the width of road which pedestrians must traverse when crossing to the other side of the street.

The plan was created in response to a request from the Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood Association (WHHNA) to make the street safer for pedestrians.

At no time were the needs of cyclists considered in the process, nor was making the road safer for cyclists ever an objective. To be fair, there were fewer cyclists on Durham streets 13 years ago, and cyclist needs weren’t very well considered back then in general, so if nothing else it’s unsurprising that they were excluded from the design.

For whatever reason, things got delayed, and eventually the funding for the project disappeared. The plan stalled out in the mid 00′s.

But that’s not where Durham’s neckdown story ends.

No, based on the observations of that initial study, neckdowns seemed like just the ticket in another part of town with traffic woes: Anderson St. Although there wasn’t any funding to do a proper study of the impact on Anderson, there was funding for construction (!), and the city figured the findings for Club were good enough.

So they necked that sucker down. They necked it down real good.

If you look at Anderson these days, the remnants of that decision are still visible, but the street has been entirely reworked since the original deployment.

See, as mentioned above, cyclists were never considered in the original design for Club. Anderson was, even 7 years ago, a very heavily used cycling route. It had street parking on both sides of the road, but the parking was seldom fully utilized, and the wide street was a relatively safe connector for cyclists. The plans for Anderson, the designers realized, had to include some kind of concession for cyclists.

The concession chosen was to leave gaps between the neckdowns and the curb, through which cyclists were expected to ride.

Well, the plan was implemented, and it was pretty much a disaster. The foliage in the islands promptly died, the gaps proved too narrow for cyclists to navigate (and quickly filled with debris besides), and average speeds dropped by less than 1 MPH. Cyclists had to swerve into and out of the travel lane to pass through the neckdowns, a maneuver which is fraught with peril and a cause for a great deal of concern for anybody wishing to ride the road.

Basically, the Anderson project was a complete failure, and many of the neckdowns were eventually removed (at great expense) in 2009. At the time, Kevin Davis broke down the situation on his blog, Bull City Rising.

Anderson in its current incarnation does take the needs of cyclists into consideration; the remaining neckdowns are no longer placed directly across from each other, and proper bike lanes have been added to most of the street. Due to the staggered design, there’s enough room for cyclists to avoid the neckdowns while remaining within the lines of the bike lane. It’s still unclear whether the neckdowns actually do anything to calm traffic, but at least they aren’t actively pushing cyclists into cars. The foliage is still dead too, but whatever.

In light of the Anderson experiment, imagine my surprise when the original Club plan rose from its slumber – unaltered from the original vision.

The man with that plan is Mark Ahrendsen, Director of the Durham Transportation Department. Ahrendsen is now blazing ahead with the decade-old scheme, and rumor has it that the WHHNA is all aboard. Here’s an image from the 2013 draft plans for the project (you can peruse the entire document if you have access to the BPAC yahoo! group):

 

 

This shows the intersection with Alabama, and the plan calls for similar structures at a total of four intersections. There will be no bike lanes, and street parking will be maintained on both sides.

It’s pretty obvious that there’s no room for cyclists in this plan to do anything but swerve out into the middle of the travel lane, right at the point where the street is at its narrowest on both sides. Unlike Anderson, there’s no pretense of allowing cyclists to ride to the right of the structures (look at the extra curbs on the corner), and even worse they’re on both sides of the intersection, squeezing cyclists down twice per cross street.

Now, do you know the greatest irony? In 2006 (five years after the initial study of Club) Durham adopted a comprehensive bicycle transportation plan which makes note of the fact that Club is a major cycling route and actually specifies that Club should have bike lanes. And yet, this zombie plan from the early 00′s (hey plan, have you heard that sweet new Postal Service album yet?) is back from the dead and overriding subsequent, more considered approaches to transit.

What, exactly, has come over the city here? Why do they want to do something to make Club, a road that they’re supposed to be improving, actively hostile for cyclists? Why has the plan not been modified in light of the similar implementation on Anderson, which failed to even achieve the desired calming results?

Way back in 2010, when this project bubbled back to the surface, the BPAC drafted a letter in opposition to the current plan which it sent to Ahrendsen. The BPAC letter provided some well considered constructive criticism, and it suggested several ways that neckdowns could be implemented without harming cyclists.

That advice was ignored.

So, this is the part where I defend the WHHNA, just a little bit, because although they’re apparently on board with this plan, they’ve not been given much choice. At this juncture the plan is being presented as the only option, and the WHHNA has been waiting over a decade for something to happen. Apparently, this is a “use it or lose it” scenario: the choice is to either take the plan that Ahrendsen has placed on the table, or take nothing at all. Having waited so long, I can understand why they’d just take what they can get.

To his great credit, a WHHNA representative reached out to the bike and ped mailing list, and has proven very receptive and sympathetic to the (many) concerns BPAC members have with the project. But reading the tea leaves, it seems unlikely to me that the WHHNA is going to change its mind on this one. They want something done, and by god, this is something.

What I’m kind of perplexed by here are the actions of Mark Ahrendsen and/or other city representatives who have decided to continue this project. Why has Ahrendsen chosen to revive this project without accepting any input? Why has he not considered the objectives of the comprehensive cycling infrastructure plan? Why did he not respond to the BPAC’s objection? Why has he presented this as the only possible plan? And, if this isn’t coming from him directly, where exactly is it coming from?

Erik Landfried, chair of the BPAC, has invited Ahrendsen to the August 19 meeting of the BPAC to discuss this issue.

As of now, it’s unclear as to whether Ahrendsen plans to attend.

 

* NB: Some of the exact chronology is uncertain to me. Most of these details come from my own memory and accounts on the BPAC mailing list, so there might be some inaccuracies.

The Open Durham Indiegogo campaign is almost over

I imagine most of you have encountered Open Durham at some point, but perhaps you aren’t aware that there’s presently an Indiegogo campaign in the works to help the project out. The site, which is the work of Gary Kueber, is used to document the history of structures and parcels throughout Durham county (and, at times, beyond). I’ve linked to it several times here, and it’s a really valuable resource which I call upon weekly (if not more).

Before he started Open Durham, Gary maintained the Endangered Durham blog (which is, at least at present, seemingly defunct), but found the blogging platform too limited for the scope of his work. The bottom line is that Gary does a lot of the content, but he pays people for their work on hosting and development, and there are several remaining features that need to get done. They won’t pay for themselves, apparently, and hence this campaign.

At the time of this writing, you’ve got about 40 hours left if you’d like to contribute. If you chip in $50 or more you can snag some physical rewards (starting with a keychain, with T-shirts at $100), but at any reward tier you get the satisfaction of knowing you contributed to a really crucial project to preserving Durham’s history.

Monuts is moving to the old Magnolia Grill building, Pizzeria Toro is re-opening this week

Well hey, I guess things are going well for Monuts, as they’re moving to a much larger building! The structure on Ninth St. that used to house Magnolia Grill (and which was damaged by fire earlier this year) will be their new home.

I’m personally a bit bummed to see Monuts leaving downtown, but it’s great to see that they’re expanding, and I’ll gladly ride the few extra blocks to get my bagel sandwich fix. It also sounds like they’re planning to keep something going downtown, at least for a while. According to the H-S:

Monuts still has three and a half years on the East Parrish Street lease, and Gillespie said they have a few ideas for how to use the location, but haven’t decided yet.

Also from the same article, the H-S confirms that Toro is reopening “by Saturday.” Not much to add at this point, beyond… well, welcome back, guys.

Durham News Odds and Ends SUMMER VACATION 2014 EDITION

Well, what can I say? DNO&E has been busy enjoying a well earned summer vacation. I hope you guys didn’t miss it too much!

Due to the time off, we’ve got a bit of a backlog to work through, so hold on tight…

UberX hits Durham

and several other NC towns too. Uber started service in Raleigh several weeks ago, and at the time they mentioned they’d be coming to Durham soon. Well, now is soon:

Today at noon, uberX is hitting the streets in Durham and Chapel Hill along with four additional NC cities: Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville and Wilmington.

I’m not an Uber shill or anything, but I’m all for some disruption in transportation around here. It’s great to have some additional options while we wait (probably decades) for light rail to come to the area.

Take your guns to town, son

Quick bit of news for firearm owners out there in Durham county: you no longer need to register your handguns with the sheriff’s office. The measure passed both the House and Senate (and was backed by most everybody). The original law, as described by WRAL, was such that:

Durham County residents have 10 days from the purchase of a pistol, handgun or certain other types of weapons to register it with the clerk of Superior Court. The clerk does not digitize those records or make them available in any other format than paper files kept in filing cabinets.

Up until the repeal, persons who possessed unregistered guns could be charged with misdemeanors.

I’m having trouble finding confirmation from sources online, but the current conversation holds that the 1935 law was originally passed to restrict gun ownership among blacks. The idea was that there would be little awareness of the legislation, so a vast majority of gun owners would be unknowingly violating it; then, your local racist sheriff or deputy could go and apply the law selectively against people of color to prevent them from owning weapons.

The bill to repeal the law was sponsored by our own former councilman and present state Senator Mike Woodard during the 2013 session. Although it passed the Senate way back then, it got lost in the end of session shuffle, and the House never got around to it until now. The House’s action last week during the short session has sealed the deal, and the change doesn’t require McCrory’s signature, so it took effect immediately.

So, good riddance to this odd historical baggage, I reckon.

FOOD NEWS: Pizzeria Toro slated for July re-opening, Dashi gets location, Fullsteam on TV

A couple of downtown restaurant odds and ends for ya:

First up, following many months idle and with little fanfare, Pizzeria Toro has announced its return:

You can make that two wood-fired pizza options come late July, when the outstanding Pizzeria Toro, closed by a fire in November, is slated to reopen.

Toro’s been closed for months following a kitchen fire, and its return is definitely welcome.

By the way, I’m also pretty well impressed with Pompieri (from the BCBB crew) which opened during Toro’s absence. More better pizza options are good for everybody – now one of you guys needs to start delivering!

Next, Dashi – the upcoming noodle bar which is a joint venture of Toast’s Billy and Kelli Cotter and the Cookery’s Nick and Rochelle Johnson – has a final location. The restaurant will be near Rue Cler on W. Chapel Hill St, near the intersection with N. Mangum.

And finally, Fullsteam is going to be featured in this week’s episode of “Brew Dogs,” which airs tonight (Wednesday) at 9:00 p.m. on the “Esquire” cable network (or, alternately, whenever you feel like it on the Internet).

DPD releases details on Huerta case, CCB plaza suicide by cop, and shooting of knife-wielding suspect

The DPD this week is bringing back a few of blasts from the past, wrapping up some old cases.

First up is the Huerta case, which you guys should all have heard about by now, wherein a DPD officer brought in a teenager who subsequently shot himself while in the back of a DPD cruiser. The department found that the officer failed to search Huerta properly, and additionally he failed to properly activate the cruiser’s video system. The penalty? A week’s unpaid leave. This is, for what it’s worth, following many (how many? unclear to me – but more than a few) weeks of paid leave, so the penalty for screwing up seems to be a really long paid vacation followed by a shorter unpaid one. From the Indy Week:

Duncan apparently failed to discover Huerta’s gun during a standard pat-down during the teen’s arrest.

Duncan, who been with the police force for 16 months, also failed to re-activate the cruiser’s in-car video system after he detained Huerta. He was suspended without pay for 40 hours and given remedial training in transporting and handling prisoners

The DPD took a lot of heat for how all of this went down, and they’ve slightly modified their policies in response. The in-car cameras should now automatically re-activate (so presumably under the new policy we would have had footage of the incident) and the DPD will provide reports to the city manager within five days following officer-involved shootings or deaths.

Next is the 2013 case of Derek Walker, who wielded a “gun” downtown and goaded police into shooting him. The big news on this one is that the “gun” in question was not, in fact, an actual gun – just a pellet gun – and that Walker had actually talked about suicide by cop to a friend earlier. This is the first I’ve seen those two facts reported (though who knows, maybe I missed them earlier…)

This really removes any doubt that Walker was looking to end his own life when he engaged the DPD, and it’s a real tragedy that it couldn’t be avoided. The officer involved in the shooting was determined to have acted appropriately.

Also in the same H-S article is the followup report regarding the shooting of Jose Ocampo, who was “lunging” at a DPD officer while wielding a knife. The debate centered on whether Ocampo was trying to surrender the weapon when he was shot, as some witnesses claimed, but the DPD ultimately found that Ocampo was an apparent threat and the officer was justified in the fatal shooting.

My feeling is that, of the three, the Huerta case still stands out as being problematic, and one week’s suspension of the officer doesn’t really send a strong message to me that the DPD sees it as a big deal.

Council approves 2014-2015 budget

After much discussion, the budget is a done deal. Highlights:

  • Property taxes are going up by 2.37 cents / $100 assessed value to 59.12 cents / $100; that’s an increase of about 4.17%
  • The median price of a home in Durham county (as of February) was $172,000; the tax hike would equate to an extra $41 in city taxes for such a home.
  • The tax hike will cover, among other things:
    • salaries of some police officers and firefighters whose positions lost Federal funding
    • 6 parks and rec employees who will help maintain parks and greenways
    • capital needs of the garbage collection fleet (formerly paid for with a $1.80/month fee rather than a tax)
  • The total budget is $389.9M, up 3.4% from last year
  • Yard waste (brown bin) fees will go up by $1/month
  • Water and sewer rates will go up by 3%, stormwater rates will go up by 7.5%
  • Budgeted in the Capital Improvement Plan are:
    • $44M for a new police HQ
    • $7M for fire equipment
    • $4.2M for park upgrades
    • $20.5M for water and sewer infrastructure
    • $815,250 for sidewalks, “web 2.0″ (really guys?), and to cover the funding gap caused by the legislature’s ban on business license fees.
  • Pay raises are in store for city employees, up 3% for those classed “general pay plan” and 3.5% for police and fire.
  • $500K for deferred maintenance
  • $1M for street repaving
  • $6M for fleet vehicles
  • $1.7M for “arts and culture”

The preliminary budget is available on the city web site. The final budget doesn’t seem to be online yet.

Not really a lot of surprises here, at least at first blush. If you see anything especially interesting or concerning, let me know in the comments.