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.

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