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.

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

One Durham man really does not like ghost bikes

The city has a policy about citizen placed memorials within the right of way: you can put them up, but if there’s a complaint – a single complaint – they’ll be forcibly removed 45 days thereafter.

One Durham man has decided to use this process to eliminate every ghost bike from Durham (ghost bikes are bicycles painted white placed at the sites where cyclists were killed in traffic; they serve both as memorials and as reminders that some roads can be especially dangerous for cyclists).

Here’s a conversation this man had with a city official:

Good morning [redacted],
People have been asking me about the removal of this
ghost bikes through out the City. Are we suppose to email you the
location, contact Durham one call, or have your staff been educated
about the ordinance and will remove the ghost bikes?
I have been inform of two locations that the bikes
have been located there for a long time.
 1. Hillandale Ave before crossing the over pass for 85
 2. Chapel Hill and W. Chapel Hill meets.
 Thanks
  [redacted]

These two locations mark the spots where Seth Vidal and Kent Winberry were killed, respectively.

I’m not going to name [redacted], but I think it’s important to highlight that any single person has the power to remove every right-of-way memorial in the city. I think that’s problematic, and so do the partners of the slain cyclists in question.

I don’t know if there’s an ideal fix for this policy. The irony is that (to my recollection) the policy was instated after the city’s removal of Jesus Huerta’s memorial, and it was intended to prevent the premature removal of such displays. I think the intent is sound, but the barrier for removal – one citizen’s email to the city – seems very low to me.

There appears to be an interesting loophole here: the person who placed the bikes can remove them before the time period expires. After that 45 days, they can place a different bike in the same spot, and it seems like this would be considered a new memorial. At that point [redacted] can make his complaint again, but there will be yet another another 45 days grace period within which the new memorial can survive.

EDIT: there’s now a petition at change.org calling for the city to reevaluate this policy.

Joe’s Diner has closed

I only ate at Joe’s a few times, and now I really regret not going more often. The H-S has an article with more details.

Joe’s was an exciting addition when it opened on the corner of Angier and Driver five years ago, and it seemed like it could have been an anchor for revitalization in the little commercial district. In the intervening years the city completed an overhaul of the streetscape, a project which improved outward appearances greatly but apparently caused a drop in customers during construction.

The good news is that Joe himself is sticking around, and he’s expanding his commercial kitchen business into the diner space. According to the Herald, if things go well, maybe the diner will be back again some day.

Need a condo? Cause we’re getting more condos.

I guess it shouldn’t really be a surprise, but 92 more luxury condos (starting in the mid-$200,000s) are on the horizon near downtown. This project will sit directly north of Central Park on a .9 acre plot bordered by Foster, Corporation, and the vestigal Roney St. In addition, 10,000 square feet of Central Park itself are being sold to the developer for $41,788.

This location, you may notice, is directly across from the former site of the Liberty Warehouse, which was itself demolished… to make room for apartments. So if you want to live near Central Park, I guess you’ll have no problems finding a place.

The Indy griped about the approval process, which seemed to happen quickly and without much public input. I suppose they take issue with the fact that the initial discussions were held between the park’s governing body (the Durham Central Park board) and the developers. It doesn’t seem clear to me that this was actually any kind of problem, because the project still had to get approval of the council; something it did by a margin of 6-1. Moffit dissented, and it seemed like he mainly had concerns over whether the city should be handing over its land so readily.

I can’t personally muster much of an opinion about this project. There’s nothing especially wrong with it, but it doesn’t really excite me either. It does seem like a missed opportunity for some street level retail on Foster Street to kick things up a notch on that streetscape, or for something a bit more to be done with Roney (which will be improved and made a proper pedestrian through-way, but it feels like they could have put some shops or something back there too). The renderings (PDF) of the park-facing side of the structure look attractive enough.

These are going to be “luxury” condos, which always bring about concerns over affordable housing. Short version: there won’t be any. My own take: when the real estate bubble bursts due to all of these goddamn apartments and condos being built at once, all of these units will end up being affordable housing.

Max the steer has passed away

If you have a small child and live in Durham, at some point you’ve likely met Max the steer, who up until this weekend lived at the Museum of Life + Science.

Max has been at the museum since he was three months old, back in 2007. He passed away of unknown causes. My daughter is definitely going to miss him.

Note, and this is very important: Max was a steer, not a cow. Please be aware that milk does not come from steers. Try explaining this to a four year old, though; my daughter still attempts to “milk” the highly anatomically correct Major the Bull in disturbing ways.

Google Fiber is (still) coming

You may have heard that Google Fiber is beginning honest to god construction now.

What does that mean for you? Not a whole lot – yet. The first homes will probably start coming online within a year or so, but it will most likely take several years for the rollout to complete.

If you haven’t already, you can put your address into this web page (as if Google doesn’t already have your address somewhere…..) and they’ll let you know when you can buy this thing.

The Business 15-501 Road Diet has been approved

And it passed by a whopping 7-0 margin. Kevin’s got more details about the council meeting (which also included approval of the condos around Central Park; more on that later).

The opponents of the road diet did not present data to support their opposition, and their arguments mostly boiled down to the appeal to tradition fallacy or the Nirvana fallacy (or, in some cases, outright incorrect information).

My big takeaway from all of this is that there’s a lot of pent up demand for improving Durham’s streets. It’s easy to imagine a world where the concerns of a few business owners might have killed this entire project, but the sheer volume of community support was impossible to ignore. This was in no small part due to the efforts of Bike Durham, which organized the change.org petition (which received over 1000 signatures), and as always thanks to the efforts of the BPAC.

Mayor Bell seemed a bit miffed by the outcome, and he grumped that “phase 2” (sidewalks and further upgrades) wouldn’t happen in his lifetime, but that didn’t stop him from voting yes anyway to make this unanimous. I suspect that this vote is an indicator that well considered streetscape improvements will be approved by the Council in the future.

Well, assuming that they’re free, of course. If the city has to actually pay for them, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game.