It may seem a very unlikely place for urban placemaking. But when the new chair of the Triangle Transit Authority, Sig Hutchinson, laid his Raleigh greenways map over his map of the region's rail corridors, one place they crossed—and it's a stone's throw from downtown—was just west of Capital Boulevard, the city's ugly duckling of a road. Then Hutchinson, who is also the city's leading exponent of open-space protection and former chair of the Triangle Greenways Council, discovered that the spot he was looking at is also on the city's new plan for bikeways.
"The concept is just too awesome!" Hutchinson says. "Imagine taking your bike to the streetcar downtown. Connectivity throughout the region and using the greenway system to help sell the transit system. You can be home and you never even thought about getting in your car—now that's a plan."
So what kind of place could this "place" be? It could be as dense as downtown, actually. The rail corridor itself is a freight route that goes into the Glenwood South district and all the way to Franklin County and points north. It was part of the original TTA commuter-rail plan way back when it was going to be 35 miles long and have 16 stations, including a station farther up the corridor at Highwoods Boulevard. The Special Transit Advisory Commission is giving the whole idea a fresh look, as well as the alternative of transit-bus service on Capital Boulevard itself. STAC's corridor planning has been long-term so far (out to 2035); but short-term, an urban "center" could be established where the greenway system crosses the rail line near Atlantic Boulevard, Hutchinson imagines. The fact that it's in an old industrial area with little development yet is an asset, not a liability, when it comes to transit-oriented development, he says. "We really would have an opportunity to do it right, because we haven't screwed it up yet" with sprawl, he says.
Another cool possibility: Between that intersection and Peace Street, where downtown now begins, is the site of the old Devereaux Meadows baseball stadium, where the minor league Raleigh Capitals played. It's now a weedy parking lot used by the city's sanitation trucks and police cars. But according to Mayor Charles Meeker, the city plans to sell it for development in two or three years—urban development, presumably.
That's music to the ears of Bob Mulder, a former Raleigh Planning Commission chairman and neighborhood activist who lives farther up the Capital Boulevard corridor in Brentwood. The Northeast Citizens Advisory Council is studying the corridor's redevelopment possibilities in anticipation of the comprehensive plan process, he says. On the one hand, the road itself is "an 800-pound gorilla" even for bus service, Mulder thinks. On the other, the rail corridor has several locations that might be "ideal" as future transit stops.