Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard could shrink from five lanes to three | Durham County | Indy Week
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Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard could shrink from five lanes to three 

Whatever you do, don't call it a "road diet." That implies drivers are being deprived of something like total dominance over the road ways. Instead, let's just say we're sending a part of Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard to a spa for sculpting and contouring.

Under a new plan, this summer the portion of the Boulevard from Hardee's, past Foster's and on to James Street will be liposuctioned from five lanes to three, and include on-street parking for 21 cars, plus bike lanes.

"I use this corridor daily, and it's treacherous," Councilwoman Diane Cattoti said at last week's work session.

About 14,000 cars travel the Boulevard each weekday; for comparison, roughly 16,000 cars pass through the intersection of Ninth and Broad streets during the week.

However, motorists drive faster on the Boulevard, routinely 45–50 mph in a 35 zone, according to traffic data. The hope is a narrower road will become a slower—and a safer—one.

Traffic data shows the non-fatal crash rate is three times the national average of similar roads in the United States. From 2009 to 2014, there were 157 recorded crashes on this one-mile stretch, resulting in 54 injuries and $750,000 in damages.

"Do we stay with the status quo and make everything about cars?" Jennifer McDuffie asked Durham City Council.

Yes, according to several business owners, including Lee Barnes, director of M.M. Fowler Inc., which runs the Family Fare convenience stores and gas stations. (There are two within a half-mile on the Boulevard.) "This is a purely commercial thoroughfare," he said.

Some University Drive residents also worry that some of the traffic will spill onto their street, although it's certainly not a quick cut-through. (May we suggest pampering yourself with a lovely suburban cul-de-sac?)

At a city-sponsored public presentation last month—which admittedly was poorly organized, and thus it was hard to fully suss out the sentiment—opponents complained that the traffic congestion would deter people from shopping on the Boulevard. (Although, arguably speeding by at 50 mph doesn't favor shopping, either.) They preferred the installation of a traffic light at the Hope Valley Road intersection to control traffic. A 2012 traffic study validated that change, but the project is unfunded.

However, many people—including many on City Council—support the project: bicyclists who've near collided with passing cars, pedestrians who must cross from one weedy bus stop to another, drivers who prefer not to be T-boned or rear-ended by someone on a Guglhupf sugar high.

"I drive this three to five times a day," says Meredith Stewart, who lives nearby in Tuscaloosa-Lakewood. "I've been rear-ended while turning; I've seen people running across five lanes of traffic."

Unfortunately, sidewalks aren't included in the plan because they are "outside the scope of the resurfacing project." (Those of you walking in the long grass, buy extra Benadryl for chigger season.)

The N.C. Department of Transportation maintains the road; it will require repaving and re-striping, at no cost to the city. The Council is scheduled to vote on the project June 1.

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