Durham, don’t fear the 15-501 road diet | News
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Monday, June 15, 2015

Durham, don’t fear the 15-501 road diet

Posted by on Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 8:07 AM

For the nine years that I have traveled Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard, I’ve wondered how Foster’s customers could possibly relax in those Adirondack chairs, the ones on the lawn facing the busy road. It must be the same crowd who enjoys the infield at the racetrack.

About 14,000 cars, many of them traveling 50 mph in a 35 zone, zip along the five-lane boulevard every day, making it a dangerous, hostile traffic experience for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. That is to say, every one.

Tonight City Council is scheduled to vote on a (needlessly) controversial plan that would reduce the number of lanes to three—one each direction, plus a turn lane and a bike lane—in hopes of curbing the number of crashes and creating a more humane street. This would be accomplished by having the state transportation department re-stripe the road when it is repaved later this summer. Cost to the city, nada.

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Alas, there’s a uh, serendipitous, hitch, courtesy of the state legislature, which loves to overreach into local governments’ business. Today, senate lawmakers are scheduled to vote on House Bill 44, which, among other intrusive measures, would require cities and towns to get approval from the 19-member Board of Transportation before reducing a road’s number of car lanes to install bike lanes.

Why must the state make everything so damn difficult? State Sen. Mike Woodard of Durham, proposed an amendment to remove the road diet language from the sweeping “Local Government Regulatory Reform 2015,” but because we can’t have nice things, it failed.

OK, back to local concerns, this being a local issue: More than 700 people have signed Bike Durham's change.org petition supporting the plan, but several businesses along the Boulevard oppose it, for fear slower traffic will mean less traffic, which will translate into less business.

Not to worry, Shrimp Boats, people will still stop by for a party chest (10 trout, pint of slaw and a dozen hush puppies for just $25). And Happy China, no road will come between you and fans of the crispy intestine with spicy peppers.

In response to business concerns, the City Transportation Department offered several studies from other cities, including Charlotte, showing that after road diets were enacted, businesses reported either an increase in sales or “no detrimental impact.”

The proposal also calls for 21 on-street parking spaces, which could be a negotiating point for opponents who worry they could interfere with sight lines. Since so many businesses have their own parking lots, and Guglhupf is expanding its area, perhaps the on-street parking will be ditched—and dare we hope?—a sidewalk could some day be installed?

Stay tuned on House Bill 44. If it passes the Senate, it will go back to the House for concurrence.

Tonight’s meeting begins at 7 p.m., at City Hall, although another sticky wicket—whether the city should sell or grant easements of Durham Central Park land to a developer—is earlier on the agenda. So bring an Adirondack chair. It could be a full house.

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