The podcast, episode two

Trying a different approach this time, focusing on three stories:

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, put this URL into your telephone. (There’s a mic change / audio issue at around 7:45, I’ll try and do better next time)

The Google Fiber rumors ARE true

EDIT: yep, it’s legit. Go let them know you want it.

You’ve probably already heard about Google’s cryptic “save the date” notice, which mentioned a Durham event scheduled for Thursday. Many took this as an indication that a fiber announcement was imminent, and now none other than the Wall Street Journal is confirming that this speculation is accurate.

Don’t run out to cancel your cable just yet, though; according to the WSJ:

After announcing plans to enter a city, Google typically takes more than a year to build out its network to reach homes and businesses in the area. The company gauges demand by neighborhood, only building the network in places that express sufficient interest.

I don’t know what metrics they use to determine demand, and it’s impossible to say when/whether any particular neighborhood will get the service at this point. We’ll presumably learn more on Thursday.

Where I live the only options are TWC’s “high speed” cable service and Frontier’s low speed DSL; we have no fiber option at all. I’d love to see the end of the TWC monopoly on high speed service.

The American Tobacco Trail is great, at least for well educated middle class dudes

The ATT bridge over I-40 is coming up on its one year anniversary next month. The bridge was the final component of the Durham segment of the ATT, which now runs all the way from downtown to Southpoint (and beyond).

The project presented an opportunity to study the trail, both before and after completion, and a report from NCSU shows some interesting results (PDF). The researchers monitored ATT usage at similar times in nearby areas both before and after the bridge was completed, and they also asked trail users to complete a survey.

The number of trail users increased following the completion of the bridge; by their count, by a whopping 80.1%. This is not surprising, considering that there are a lot of residential neighborhoods just north of the bridge and a lot of retail just south of the bridge. The nearest way to bike or walk across I-40 before the bridge’s completion was the (terrifying) Fayetteville Road vehicular bridge, so there was undoubtedly a lot of pent up demand for an alternative in this area.

What is surprising, at least to me, is the demographic break down of trail users; per the report:

Demographic information from pre-bridge surveys shows that the typical trail user was male, 26-54 years old, had an advanced degree, and a household income between $60,000 and $119,999. Those surveyed post-bridge exhibited similar demographics.

Looking at their data, a majority of all trail users had an advanced degree. Durham does have an impressive percentage of residents with advanced degrees, so this is plausible, but that rate is much greater than the city as a whole. I’m personally inclined to take the survey data with at least a grain of salt, since there may be sample error at play here. [Edit: the survey locations being near relatively affluent areas may be a contributing factor, as well].

Here are some interesting points the researchers observed:

    • Although all trail uses increased with the addition of the bridge, cycling increased the most
    • The gender breakdown is 55% male versus 45% female
    • The proportion of children using the trail went up from 8.9% to 9.9%
    • The trail is overwhelmingly used for recreation, both before and after the completion of the bridge. It looks like under 10% of those surveyed were using it for transportation.
    • The bridge has had “an estimated annual impact of 43 jobs, $1.3 million in employee compensation, and $4.9 million in total business gross revenues.“I tend to be sceptical of precise monetary impact numbers like this, because it takes a lot of extrapolation to get them, but it does seem likely that the bridge is earning back at least some of its investment cost already.

Although I think the ATT is a real point of pride for the city (and the bridge makes it even better), I’m a little discouraged by that demographic breakdown. If accurate, the study seems to indicate that the ATT is underutilized by low income people, and that the trail is infrequently used as a form of transportation. Do people have safety concerns that prevent them from using the trail in certain areas? Does the trail not connect up with other pedestrian or bike friendly infrastructure? Or is the study’s methodology simply off the mark?

The new data on the ATT bridge reminded me of Durham’s other notable pedestrian bridge: the $2.2M bridge which spans the Durham Freeway. The bridge links two neighborhoods which were separated by the construction of the Durham Freeway (the Freeway project resulted in the destruction of numerous poor neighborhoods).

I’ve always wondered whether the Durham Freeway bridge was more of a token gesture (and a fancy display piece to show people driving into town) than a useful piece of infrastructure designed to meet the real needs of citizens. If the ATT bridge (which links miles of trail on either side) is basically just used for recreation, how are people using the Durham Freeway bridge, which connects areas that don’t even have proper sidewalks yet? I’d love to see some kind of study done on that bridge, too.

Cocoa Cinnamon named seventh in Buzzfeed coffee shop listicle

So, OK, Buzzfeed isn’t exactly an authority on… things… but a stopped watch is right twice a day, and this day Cocoa Cinnamon received a well earned nod. I’ll be honest, this is mainly an excuse for me to mention that I agree: Cocoa Cinnamon is pretty danged neat. You should probably check it out, if for some reason you haven’t yet.

Also, if you have a kid, the super secret Old North Durham Park is right behind the coffee shop. In addition to featuring a full sized soccer field, it’s also got some pretty decent climbing structures for children to play on tucked away behind the school.

For our part, we try really hard to convince our kid that OND park is the best park in town, mainly because it gives us an opportunity to grab an Americano from Cocoa Cinnamon when we go there.

Duke cancels call to prayer due to “credible threats”

Earlier this week, Duke announced that they would begin broadcasting an Islamic call to prayer from the bell tower on Fridays. When I read about this I thought: “well, that’s no big deal” and didn’t think it was worth any comment, figuring it was a complete non-story.

Boy, I was wrong.

Groups such as Christian Evangelicals and Fox News had a field day with this one, and a social media shitstorm ensued. I figured Duke would ignore the trolls and stick to the plan, since this was a no-win scenario from a PR perspective.

Again, I was wrong.

Last night they pulled the plug and canceled the call to prayer. The announcement initially lacked specific details, but over night it has come to light that, according to The Washington Post:

Omid Safi, director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center, said Thursday evening that the call to prayer was scaled back because of “a number of credible threats against Muslim students, faculty and staff.” The school, he said “is treating this as a criminal matter” and that the threats are “external.”

It’s fascinating to watch this story unfold. There’s a lot of commentary from Duke students on the Chronicle article, and the “hottest” post currently on the anonymous, region-specific social network Yik Yak currently is:

Muslim students have been urged not to identify themselves on campus tomorrow b/c of threats. Please, guys, let’s go to the chapel at 1pm and support them. Keep our classmates safe

Now before you rush to try Yik Yak yourself, thinking that it’s the place to go for discussion of Duke’s handling of complex issues regarding faith and terrorism, you should be advised that the second hottest post on Yik Yak is:

high guy: What if water has the craziest taste ever but we just can’t taste because we’re water ourselves

Wise words, high guy, wise words. Cause if you stop wondering whether water has the craziest taste ever, you let the terrorists win.

Changes are coming for the light rail plans

Perhaps you’ve seen a video flyover which demonstrated the path of the proposed TTA light rail system. If so, you should forget all about that now, because there are major changes coming.

The tl;dr version of events is that the NC Railroad Company isn’t playing ball with its corridor, so the maps are being drawn to work around the problem. From Indy Week:

“You’ve been nimble to move out of the North Carolina Railroad corridor,” Councilman Steve Schewel told Triangle Transit officials. “But we shouldn’t sugarcoat the pill. We’re doing this because of the recalcitrance of the North Carolina Railroad.”

The changes represent mostly shifting the new line slightly to the south of the current tracks, closer aligning with Pettigrew (and indeed sharing the current route Pettigrew takes in places).

The Herald-Sun has posted a link to a new map (in PDF form (on dropbox), (sigh)). The original flyover has been removed from the official TTA web site and a new one is supposedly forthcoming. The official maps on that site still show the old route as of the time of this writing, FWIW.

Based on my reading, the new route will necessitate the loss of a few buildings. Notably is the historic Cary Lumber Company building, which is owned by Duke and sits south of Buchanan (across from the Smith Warehouse). It also looks like this plan would nuke the Thompson Howard building just south of the current Amtrack platform.

Sam’s Quik Shop, though, appears to escape unscathed.

All of this stuff is obviously pie in the sky at this point, at least a decade out, but it’s worth thinking about it sooner rather than later. It’s already getting a lot of attention due to concerns over gentrification and affordable housing in the path of the project as well.

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.

Durham Co-Op Market is now targeting a Feb 18 opening date

DCM’s opening has been pushed back a few weeks, and the new target date of Feb 18 is still weather dependent (as we should all remember from last year, there are absolutely no guarantees when it comes to winter weather in Durham).

The DCM building itself looks pretty good on the outside now, but the parking lot is still just mud, and there’s a lot of work yet to be done. I’m not sure whether the city will have the intersection reworked before the store’s opening (the current Kent / WCH intersection is really odd and difficult to navigate; the shape of that intersection dates all the way back to the Durham trolley system). The neighboring office building, which is also a part of the “Kent Corner” project, isn’t as far along as the market.

The grocery store is also hiring for several positions if you’re looking for work.

Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

So, hey, it’s 2015! Congratulations everybody, another successful orbit in the bag!

After a much needed break, is back and better than ever [read: basically the same as ever], and we’re resuming normal business hours this week. First, though, I want to quickly mention a couple of noteworthy stories that happened while I was off the clock:

  • It looks like the protesters took a vacation too. Obviously the grand jury decisions are still on peoples’ minds throughout the country, but Durham has been fairly calm; whether or not that’s just due to the holidays is unclear.
  • Although the protesters stayed home, there were still some troubling developments related to the DPD. Two officers were shot at, although neither was injured. One officer was off duty and somebody shot into his home, while the other was on duty in the projects near NCCU. Although Lopez claims one of the attacks was “an attempted assassination,” I haven’t seen any evidence to back up that claim yet.
  • Councilman Steve Schewel wrote a lengthy and well considered response to the recent protests, and I’d urge everybody to give it a read.

Also: I’m looking for ideas on whether to do another podcast and what it should be. I’ve got a couple ideas I’m kicking around for longer, single topics rather than the odds and ends, which I’m not sure worked so well. Just hit me up with a reply on the blog or shoot me a tweet if you’ve got any thoughts.