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.

NC legislation threatens Durham’s budget

The legislature is in session, and the biggest potential issue for Durham so far is SB369, which was introduced yesterday under the delightfully euphemistic “Sales Tax Fairness Act” title.

Currently, a portion of the state sales tax ($.02 per dollar) is earmarked for “local” spending. Of that, 75% ($.015 per dollar) is allocated directly to the county where the tax was collected, while 25% ($.005) is distributed across the state to counties based on their population.

SB369 aims to change this by treating all $.02 per dollar the same, and allocating it purely per capita with no funds earmarked for the location in which they were raised. This would effectively redistribute money from the cities (who raise much more sales tax revenue per capita) to rural counties. According to WRAL, this will result in a 9% hit to Durham County’s annual revenue.

From what I’ve read so far, this bill has a tough road to hoe due to some potential opposition from the house. Even though the primary goal is to take money away from big cities, it also nails rural tourist destinations like Dare County, so expect some interesting allies on this one.

This potential change follows a hit already poised to take effect in July: last year’s law which removed the ability of cities to collect “privilege license” taxes. According to the Herald, the city is already poised to lose $5.7M due to that legislation.

How will cities make up for the lost revenue? There aren’t many tools at their disposal, so you can probably expect property tax increases to help compensate for these gaps in the future.

The Durham Co-Op Market is OPEN

Although construction was delayed due to all the winter weather, opening day has finally arrived for the Durham Co-Op Market. IMG_20150318_083717

Here are a couple of panoramas (click to embiggen).

Exterior:

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Interior:

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I didn’t need much, but I definitely needed this: IMG_20150318_084827 The interior of the store is nice, with a lot of light coming in from those windows. It’s not a big store – I feel like it’s a bit smaller than the 9th St Whole Foods original size – but they’ve got most of what you’d expect (including a prepared food counter, coffee shop, and a deli). Prices seem to be about in line with Whole Foods.

It’s also a great place to stalk local radio personality Frank Stasio, who was making the rounds when I stopped by.

I’ve posted about the DCM a few times, and it’s really exciting to see the project come to fruition. The building is located at 1111 West Chapel Hill St. (at the intersection of Kent and WCH, near the cemetery).

The Durham Living Wage project aims to improve pay for low income earners

The People’s Alliance Fund (which is apparently related to but independent from the Durham People’s Alliance PAC) has founded the Durham Living Wage initiative to increase the pay of traditionally low income workers.

According to the Herald, they’ve got 28 businesses on board. I can’t find the full list yet, but they dropped some names you’re probably familiar with: Monuts, Fullsteam, Cocoa Cinnamon, etc. The criterion for being a member is:

Our living wage rate is tied to the livable wage rate of Durham County and the City of Durham, which is updated annually. Our 2015 wage rate is $12.33 / hour for individuals without employer-provided health insurance or $10.83 / hour for employees with employer-provided health insurance, or employees reimbursed for at least 50% of their cost of health insurance.

The fund is currently raising money to support the project.

I imagine it’s a difficult line to walk: trying to keep overhead low enough to survive in a competitive industry, while also trying to maximise the benefit you pass on to your employees. I’m reminded of an interview with Monuts co-founder Lindsay Moriarty in the Duke Chronicle in which she discusses (among other things) trying to grow a small business while keeping the well-being of employees in mind from the beginning.

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.