Bull City Connector: straightening out the "knot," shutting down earlier

The current design of the Bull City Connector's route resembles a string with a knot in the middle of it -- that is, the roundabout connection around Five Points, Chapel Hill St., and the like in order to reach Durham Station, the city transit hub.

It's not uncommon to watch visitors (and even residents) scratch their heads around Five Points, trying to figure out which stop they need to take in order to get on the bus.

While the route's path through the station helped keep DATA transfer riders in the mix, it likely also lengthened the route's time and impacted on-time performance.

Come August 15, though, the Connector is slated to become a more direct route, running more closely along the Main Street spine through downtown, and extending further west into the sciences district on Duke's West Campus.

Still, the changes have one other effect: curtailing 9pm to midnight service on Fridays/Saturdays, as closing time drops to 9pm across the entire route.

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On Ninth Street, and Durham's never-ending search free parking

I can't help but have a certain amount of cognitive dissonance when I read the fast-multiplying news headlines these past few days about parking in the Ninth Street area.

Mind you, I'm writing these lines while midway through a two-week business trip to China, in the sprawling Shanghai-Suzhou metroplex in China's fast-modernizing eastern provinces.

In the latter -- a New York City-sized metropolis that comparatively few westerners have ever heard of -- the shiny new Metro is practically clean enough to eat off of and, at about three dimes for a one-way ride, crazy affordable. 

Sure, cars flock to megamalls like the city's new Aeon complex on its eastern side, where a Chinese hypermart and an entire floor catering to neonatal and natalist young families sits cheek-by-jowl with a Burger King and the globally-inescapable, freakishly same-tasting Starbucks. But Aeon is also steps from a bustling subway system, with quick connections to buses that run with 10-minute headway.

The edge-city where my work is based also has 15-minute headways on an excellent, easily-parsed, cheap (16 cents/ride) bus system. The terminus of that system is the high-speed rail line, where electric bullet trains depart every few minutes for downtown Shanghai and its domestic airport and to other parts of the country. A few dollars can get you across 30 miles of congested, 25 million-soul metropolitan landscape in less 18 minutes flat.

Meanwhile, in Durham, it will take transportation planners, federal and state officials, and elected representatives twice as long to even get a half-assed aboveground light rail system through the design and planning stages. To say nothing about how long it will take to fund it. Or to build it - if it's funded.

Is it any wonder, then, that in a city as self-congratulatory as we Durhamites and Chapel Hillians can be, that we're still obsessed with keeping parking free and building as much of it as we can stomach?

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Shiflett to join Azar in bid for City Council at-large seat

In an announcement to a range of Durham listservs and residents tonight, Mike Shiflett disclosed his plan to run for one of Durham's at-large City Council seats in November's election.

Shiflett -- a longtime Northgate Park resident, PAC2 and Durham Businesses Against Crime activist/chair, and transportation/transit guru, among a long list of civic accomplishments -- is the second person we've heard to throw their hat in the at-large race ring.

INC president and former non-profit head Philip Azar has already signaled his candidacy as well.

Look for Shiflett to formally announce Tuesday at noon at downtown's Major the Bull statue.

(Disclaimer: I'm proud to consider both Mike and Phil friends, a point that's worth mentioning given the conflicts of interest a race involving acquaintances and friends will inevitably entail.)

As Catotti, Brown depart, who'll fill their big shoes?

One of the challenges I'm sure folks in government face is that, while everyone wants a piece of you when something goes wrong, everyone takes your work for granted when things are going right.

With last week's announcement that Diane Catotti is stepping down from City Council after three four-year terms -- coming on the heels of Eugene Brown's similar announcement a couple of weeks back -- Durham's City Council is about to lose two experienced, veteran leaders.

It's perfectly natural for Brown and Catotti to be ready for new challenges and some time off after twelve years on the Council.

But to those who've paid less attention to City happenings in the past few years than, say, in the early 2000s, it's easy to forget that the City's veteran legislature is undoubtedly one of the keys to the City's success. And in looking at the elections to come, will we come to realize we've taken experience for granted?

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Wexford, Durham.ID seek incentives for renovations and parking decks in special City Council meeting today

The front page of today's Herald-Sun neatly captures two items that are both newsworthy and, quite unintentionally, at odds with each other.

On the one hand, we have the arrival of Walk [Your City], a campaign with philanthropic backing to encourage downtowners to "park and walk" by reminding us all just how close so many of Durham's urban amenities are.

And then on the other hand, we have this afternoon's special City Council meeting, intended to get City Council approval for City economic and workforce director Kevin Dick to negotiate economic incentives to pay for the renovations, along with new parking decks. 

So how are we getting to Durham's future? Behind the wheel, or on foot (or bike, or transit)?

It's an easy and somewhat false dichotomy; for now, the iron-triangle between commuters, their employers, and property owners likely means new developments still need copious surface and structured parking. 

But, what's the role that local governments should or should not play in subsidizing downtown development, at this point in Durham's expansion?

And, with car interest on the decline and technological change looming, is a future that contemplates so much parking akin to hoarding scythes in the dawn of the mechanized combine age?

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Public and private: Who controls downtown Durham's agora, and its cool?

A couple of days ago, we tweeted out a link to an article by Matt Hartman, a Durham-based writer whose article on downtown Durham and gentrification appeared this week in The Jacobin.

The thesis of Hartman's piece is that downtown's "cool" is a cultural asset created by Durham pioneers and which, through its exploitation and marketing by developers seeking to revitalize empty buildings and vacant land alike, is being expropriated by capitalism.

Perhaps not a shocking thesis to appear in a magazine that describes itself as a socialist voice for the left. And not an uninteresting one; it's definitely worth a read, wherever your views sit on the political spectrum.

While his argument is an interesting one, I'm not sure I agree with all his conclusions. Still, Hartman's argument about the need to understand the nexus between public and private entities and to develop successful public spaces is certainly worth some discussion.

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N&O, H-S veteran Jim Wise announces retirement

It's literally the end of a Bull City era in print journalism: Jim Wise has covered his last City Council meeting.

JimwiseAnyone who's picked up a newspaper in Durham since, oh, the Reagan administration has had a pretty good chance of having read or been influenced by his work.

A dedicated student of Durham and regional history, Wise has always had the unique opportunity to take something out of the current headlines and tie it back to some other time in history -- even back to the 19th century hardscrabble founding of the Bull City, when needed.

And his voice will be missed.

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Council recap: Road diet win, BCBS hangs in, 539 Foster risin'

By the end of Monday night's City Council meeting, some of the dais-holders seemed nearly giddy at the prospect of a meeting ending three hours sooner than many had expected.

Indeed, the Council quickly dispatched with a number of controversial items -- with that expected to be most divisive perhaps, the 15/501 Business road diet, sailing through unanimously.

See how the sausage got made after the jump.

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The 15-501 road diet process: indigestion for advocates, businesses alike?

On the surface, a road diet for the segment 15-501 Business just west of University Dr. probably seemed to city leaders to be, if not a sure thing, at least a fairly low-risk discussion.

The process, intended to right-size roads that are two wide in order to reduce speeds and add features like parking or bike lanes, has been done on Main St., Chapel Hill St., and Erwin Rd. among others with little controversy. The traffic counts fit the pattern seen elsewhere. And from the City's perspective, it's a low-cost activity: NCDOT would cover the cost during a scheduled repaving of the road.

Ah, but what's that they say about the best-laid plans? Instead, the discussion has turned into a heated debate. On one side, nearly a thousand residents signing a petition for a change they fear could be lost to controversy. On the other, a petition that has drawn the signatures of many of the corridor's businesses, including the owners of popular locales like Nana's, Q-Shack, Foster's and the like. (Guglhupf stands as the most vocal exception.)

Neither side is sure which way the City Council will vote tonight. And ultimately, Council is in a tough position, with battle lines already drawn -- and one side seemingly guaranteed to go home unhappy.

How did a seeming gimme get so contentious?

Looking at the 15/501 road diet with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, two woulda-couldas loom: a gap in when stakeholders got involved; and, fundamentally, misgivings over whether a free solution is solution enough.

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DPD's Gunter named officer of the year, probably still wants more Lerts

The Durham Police Department has had, shall we say, not the easiest of times in recent years, coming under scrutiny and criticism on everything from an in-custody death, to whether enforcement is racially unbalanced, to the controversy over a new headquarters on East Main Street.

GunterYet it's hard to think of a Durham P.D. officer who is better beloved in many quarters of the community than District 2's Sgt. Dale Gunter.

Gunter -- who was recently named the force's officer of the year -- heads up his district's HEAT (high enforcement abatement team), which targets crime hot-spots and problem areas.  But he's better known to District 2 neighborhoods as DPD's friendly listserv representative, responding to "hey Sgt. Gunter" questions that pop up from time to time.

In the days since Gunter's award was announced, I've seen neighbors from all political stripes -- including some who've been very critical of the D.P.D. in recent years -- hurry forward to congratulate the popular sergeant on the award.

Sgt. Gunter always closes his emails reminding folks to "Be Alert... the world needs more Lerts!" Based on the community response to his award, we might turn this around and say, police departments need more Gunters.

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