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.