Sendolo Diaminah is literally phoning it in

You remember him, right? School board member elected in 2014? He’s not making it to the meetings:

By the time the board voted to approve $90 million worth of capital projects it will ask voters to approve in a Nov. 8 bond referendum, Diaminah had disappeared from the conference call.

In an earlier H-S article:

Since January, Diaminah has missed nine of 16 board meetings or board work sessions, according to meeting minutes available on the Durham Public Schools website.

I briefly met the guy when he was campaigning. He seemed personable, earnest, enthusiastic, and I’m sure he’s got good reasons to miss these meetings. Yet… at a certain point, showing up is the job. If you can’t do that, regardless of your circumstances, you have to ask if the public would be better served by somebody who can.

Site update!

I’m switching how the site is hosted, which may cause various issues for the next few days.

Also, I’m still busy! I won’t make any promises about post frequency, but maybe I’ll have a chance to pick up a bit in the coming weeks. We’ll see!

This is the last day to enter the DPS magnet school lottery

Hey you guys!

I’ve been busy, so you’ll have to excuse my hiatus, but I’m back and I’ve got something important to tell you: there are just a few hours left to enter the DPS magnet lottery.

School board member Matt Sears published the following PDF on his facebook account, and with it you can get a sense of the odds of winning the magnet lottery. The key things to look at there are “AP” versus “AS” – number of applicants versus number of assignments.

I’ve heard it suggested that enrolment will down this year, due to some additional hoops that are involved in the process. Those with children entering DPS now have to bring proof of identity and residence to their districted shool or to the central office to pre-register their child before submitting an on-line magnet application. This was not the case in prior years.

I wrote a bit about the lottery a few years ago and it’s mostly still relevant. If you’re playing along at home, good luck!

Several proposed “priority” bike/ped routes get price tags

The N&O has the story on these proposed routes, which would cost a total of $5.4M if they are all approved. There’s a pamphlet (PDF) which has a map of the proposed trails and a better description than the N&O blurb.

The key takeaway for me seems to be a prioritization of utility over recreation (with the exception of the Ellerbe trail). Note that the majority of the length of these routes is not actual paved greenway surface; North Ellerbe seems like it would be “natural surface” (which I read as “packed dirt”), and many of the other projects include the addition of sidewalks and bike lanes along current roadways.

Here’s my read on these proposed trails:

  • Pearsontown Trail extension (2.3 miles, $1.2 million) Think of this as linking the ATT near Elmira Park with NC Central, Grant Park, and the Haytai Heritage Center near the Durham Freeway. About half of the route is an “on-street extension” (read: sidewalks) along extant roads between these points, but it looks like there will be a proper greenway constructed through the abandoned low rises just north of NC Central which will connect campus and the Haytai Heritage Center. This should improve pedestrian access to the Golden Belt / new DPD HQ area from points south of 147. One seemingly large omission here is the “gap” between this route and the currently way underutilized “Blue Bridge,” which would presumably be addressed in the future by another trail (not listed here).
  • Bryant Bridge/ North Good Creek West Trail (1.8 miles, $1.3 million) This seems like a logical companion to the first trail, on the opposite side of 147, linking the north entrance of “The Blue Bridge” to nearby neighborhoods via mostly sidewalk and bike lane improvements. There’s also a greenway component that would run from Eastway Elementary up to Drew Street. Taken together, these last two projects create a much more walkable north/south route that parallels Alston on either side of the freeway.
  • Sandy Creek Trail extension (1 mile, $917,600) This one is a greenway extension, which connects the existing Sandy Creek Trail (which currently ends at Pickett Rd) up to Cornwallis along the water easement. This dumps you out a short walk from Duke’s Al Buehler trail, which has an entrance on Cornwallis on the other side of 15-501. This should really improve the pedestrian route from the Pickett Rd area to Duke’s campus (and to locations adjacent to campus, since campus itself is of course quite walkable). The Al Buehler trail, while technically bikeable, is steep packed gravel, so the route won’t be ideal for casual cyclists (although this should be a good alternative for more experienced riders). Sadly there’s no connection from Sandy Creek Park to points south of 15-501 (i.e. the Super Target / Southgate area), so the current trail remains recreational only.
  • North Ellerbe Creek Trail (5 miles, $1.3 million) This is described as a “natural surface walking trail” through mostly public land in the watershed. To me this seems like one of the least useful from a transit perspective, given that it runs through mostly undeveloped land, but it’s a potentially big recreational win due to its connection to the ECWA Glennstone Nature Preserve and its more isolated nature.
  • Third Fork Creek Trail extension (1 mile, $937,600) A continuation of the existing trail. Currently the trail mostly parallels Hope Valley Rd., starting at Woodcroft in the south, but its use as a connection is limited since it terminates at Southern Boundaries Park near MLKJr. This extension gets it to Cornwallis, which is a bit closer to (but still not close enough to, IMO) the ATT and should help connect some difficult to reach parts of South Durham to the trail system.

I’d be happy to see any of these projects completed, and most of these recommendations seem pretty sound to me. Of course, they don’t quite get all the way to where I’d want them to go, but hopefully some day we’ll be able to bridge those gaps.

I think my biggest disappointment with this list is that the Blue Bridge remains linked to nothing on the south side. I’m glad the infrastructure north of the bridge is in this list (and the northern side is indeed worse off at the moment), but the south side of the bridge is also a pedestrian no-man’s land. You can see where pedestrians have blazed unofficial trails through the brush because there aren’t any maintained paths to walk on. I’d love to know why addressing this issue is considered lower priority than e.g. the Ellerbe Creek extension, which to my mind will not be nearly as useful as the other projects on this list. EDIT: in the comments below, John Goebel indicates that these projects are NOT being placed in front of the connecting infrastructure south of the bridge; rather they’re being added to the list after that project and the West Ellerbe extension (connecting up near Costco under I-85) which are already further along in the planning phase.

Also, during my hiatus you may have heard about the sexual assaults on the Ellerbe Creek Trail. Although a greenway system is a big win for both recreation and transportation, it will do little good if people feel too unsafe to use it. I do have concerns that some of the proposed trails (most specifically the North Ellerbe route) run through remote areas that have some real potential for safety concerns. As we think about expanding our trail system, it’s important to consider how we plan to how to keep it safe for users.

Tuesday is election day! Go vote!

Yes, it’s election day! I’ve been so busy that I completely missed the early voting window myself, so I’ll be in line with everybody else tomorrow. Well, probably not in line, the municipal primaries aren’t exactly the biggest draw…

Here’s a table with the endorsements of several local groups; you get to pick three council members and one mayor. Have fun!

durham.io Indy Week Durham People’s Alliance Durham Committee Friends of Durham
Mayor Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell
At Large Council Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel
At Large Council Robert T Stephens Jillian Johnson Jillian Johnson Ricky Hart Ricky Hart
At Large Council Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Mike Shiflett Mike Shiflett

To replace my earlier pick of Azar (who didn’t make the cut) I’ve given the nod to Stephens. I feel like he’s a strong proponent of improving infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

And now for a brief program note: you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been scarce lately. This isn’t for lack of desire to keep posting or anything! I’ve been incredibly busy with other projects. A lot of that is wrapping up and I do hope to even out my posting schedule a bit going forward.

Today is your last chance to vote in the 2015 municipal primary!

Yes, it’s election day! I tried to remind you to get out to early vote, but in case you didn’t get a chance, it’s not too late.

Here’s a table with the endorsements of several local groups. More background is available on my prior post.

durham.io Indy Week Durham People’s Alliance Durham Committee Friends of Durham
Mayor Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell
At Large Council Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel
At Large Council Philip Azar Jillian Johnson Jillian Johnson Ricky Hart Ricky Hart
At Large Council Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Mike Shiflett Mike Shiflett

The 2015 municipal primary early voting is open! Here are the endorsements!

I, um, meant to have this out a while ago, but life kind of caught up with me. You’ve got until Saturday to early vote – go get to it, you guys!

Quick background: Durham’s elections are heavily influenced by three local PACs. The most liberal PAC is The Durham People’s Alliance. The Durham Committee is the African American PAC. The most moderate PAC is the Friends of Durham, which tends to place a slightly greater emphasis on business development.

I include Indy Week in the list below because the publication is omnipresent, and it’s one of the few media outlets that even bothers with local politics. The PACs all do community outreach, but casual observers or newcomers are far more likely to grab the Indy while waiting for a latte than they are to seek out the endorsements of local activists.

durham.io Indy Week Durham People’s Alliance Durham Committee Friends of Durham
Mayor Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell Bill Bell
At Large Council  Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel Steve Schewel
At Large Council  Philip Azar Jillian Johnson Jillian Johnson Ricky Hart Ricky Hart
At Large Council Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Charlie Reece Mike Shiflett Mike Shiflett

Yes, this year I have my own endorsement list! Here’s why I chose these people:

  • Mayor Bell. I chose Bell because, as usual, he doesn’t have any real competition. I have some problems with Bell’s debbie downer attitude towards bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, but he’s the mayor we’re going to have (I mean, he’s even pre-announced that he’ll retire after serving the term he’s still running for).
  • Steve Schewel. He’s got a proven track record, and he has been quick to respond to concerns. He wrote a really good response following the Huerta incident, and he was supportive of seeking a compromise in the Club Blvd redesign. He lists sidewalks and bike lanes as priorities on his web site.
  • Charlie Reece. He wants to reduce enforcement of pot offences. Well… he used to anyway (it looks like he updated his site to remove any pot-specific language, but he still talks about reduced enforcement for minor offences generally). Minus points for no mention of bicycle infrastructure. Plus a lot of points for his adorable, color matched family. In case it disappears forever from the Internet, here’s what Reece’s site used to say about weed:

The Durham Police Department spends far too much time, energy, resources and money charging people with low-level marijuana offenses. These criminal charges clog our courts, they disproportionately impact young people of color in Durham, and they do very little to make Durham safer. If I am elected, I will work to make misdemeanor marijuana offenses the police department’s lowest level enforcement priority, and to refocus more resources on making the people of Durham safer from violent crime.

  • Philip Azar. He’s got an emphasis on bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and he’s been active in neighborhood groups.

This year, everybody is talking about affordable housing and the police. Understandable concerns. But not everybody is talking about transportation, and they need to be. Affordable housing is useless if you can’t actually get to where you need to go from it. With the huge influx of new housing there will be a lot of people who need to move around town, and we need to make it possible for them to do so more efficiently.

The State budget aims to block light rail

Here are some details from the N&O:

House and Senate Republican leaders agreed Monday that the state should not contribute more than $500,000 to any light-rail project.

That provision in the newly released state budget could be a lethal blow to the planned 17-mile Durham-Orange light rail line, projected to cost as much as $1.6 billion.

I don’t expect many are surprised by this, but it’s clearly not good news for people hoping to improve the transportation infrastructure in Durham and Chapel Hill.

Of course, light rail is a long way off, and I’ll be curious to see whether this will have any practical impact on the project in the near term. We were already looking at over a decade for the line to be finished, and there’s a lot of planning to be done before any construction even begins. A budget passed in 2015 may not hold much relevance in five or ten years, and it’s impossible to guess how the NC political landscape might shift in the interim.