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February 28, 2008

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Jonathan Jones

"Neckdowns" -- gotta love gov't-engineer-speak-gobbledegook

Having never driven down Anderson south of campus, am I correct in assuming that you're talking about curbs that come out into the shoulder/roadway in order to narrow the street?

Dave W.

The only thing that will slow down car speeds (and the inevitable pedestrian killings that occur yearly) is returning the road to two way travel as it was designed for.

Restoring interconnectivity and slowing speeds would return these roads to neighborhood roads as opposed to the suburban commuter freeways they have become.

Until then anything that is done is pissing in the wind and wasting time and money.

If we had a strong city council, they would be pressuring to get the East end connector built and doing whatever is necessary to re-route funds to provide a maintenance budget for these roads. Instead it is far more common to hear of zonings being changed to allow more suburban sprawl and create more infrastructure demands (extended sewer and water lines, more roads to maintain) which the city will never keep up with.

GK

Of course the best way to both slow speeding cars on Duke or Gregson and minimize distance-traveled-to-destination would be to convert both roads back to their original two-way traffic design. The pair of 2-lane one way roads is designed to maximize speed over distance - with the idea that if you maximize speed, you will overcome loss of distance efficiency. All of these other engineering/legal condiments are suboptimal, because they don't change the basic design intent of the road. By implementing them, we are trying to hold two contradictory aims in hand - reducing speed on the road while preserving a design that maximizes speed.

GK

GK

Whoops - that's what I get for slowly typing a comment over 10 minutes - I agree with Dave W.

GK

C

A neckdown is a curb extension at the corner of an intersection used to slow vehicles and give pedestrians a shorter distance to cross.

Mike Woodard

Can't let Dave W.'s comment go without a comment. Weak or not, your City Council is working *very* hard on getting the East End Connector built ASAP. This is the number one road priority in Durham's NCDOT division (which includes Orange County and northern Chatham County). Mayor Bell and I met with NCDOT officials Monday afternoon and pressed them again to fund the EEC.

The funding of state roads is a very political process, and Durham has frankly come up on the short end of the stick for quite a while. Durham's influence in the Legislature and with NCDOT has waned. We need to keep working to build up our influence with folks in Raleigh.

The EEC will be a state road, not a City road. The City submits its request, and NCDOT agrees to fund it or not and sets the timetable. State roads, such as the EEC and even Duke/Gregson, are maintained by the State. As a result of this, it's not the City's call, as Dave suggests, to shift City tax dollars around, say from water needs as he suggests, to build or maintain these roads.

Rest assured that your Council will continue to push for the EEC.

Mike Woodard

Mike

Where's the Durham Police Dept? Can you say speed traps? Frankly they are some of the biggest offenders of speeding on Duke and Gregson St. I see them everyday zipping along at over 10 miles per hour. No joke, it's really sad to see them braking the law and not enforcing it.

John Martin

We once had a traffic calming system on Gregson and Duke, as well as Mangum and Roxboro: it was called synchronized lights. The lights were timed so a car traveling 35 miles per hour hits green lights. A car going faster gets stopped at the next red light, and then the next red light, and then the next red light. . . Even the dumbest Skinner-rat of a driver pretty soon gets conditioned to drive 35 mph. What do we now have instead? Lights changing unpredictably; people speeding up from 45 to 55 mph to get through the next amber light; traffic that piles up at red lights.

I have asked knowledgable people in the city government why these lights used to be synchronized, and now they're not. I just get shrugs. No one seems to know. But it ain't rocket science, not even for Durham.

barry

Kevin - i asked city Transportation to run some numbers last year for DPNA on Roxboro (between Knox and Markham where it's two-way), and Avondale, between Markham and I-85.

I'd have to dig around for some exact figures, but as i recall, both the median and 80% numbers were reasonable. The 80% number was around 38.5 mph for both roads, and the median number was between 36.5 and 37.2 or so. As far as the engineers are considered, these figures are acceptable in a 35 mph zone. Personally, i'd prefer to see both of these residential roads lowered to 30 mph, and would put up with a 33 mph 80% figure, but that's not going to happen. The most interesting this is that on both roads, there was at least one vehicle recorded at 50 mph+ every hour of the day. the highest recorded speed on Roxboro was around 65-70, while the highest recorded speed on Avondale was 92.

That suggests to me that enforcement has a strong role to play in lowering speeds on these roads.

BTW - i've posted some thought on this over at my place.
http://dependableerection.blogspot.com/2008/02/traffic-calming-tag-team.html

Dave N.

Gosh, I guess I stand alone as a person who believes the good people of Durham are voting with their feet (on the gas). It seems perverse to designate these roads as THE core north/south thoroughfares through the heart of our city but then work to figure out how to slow these routes so that they work even less efficiently than they do currently.

These are not "residential streets." These are thoroughfares with pre-existing residences alongside. No owner on these streets woke up yesterday to discover a sleepy Gregson turned into a "major thoroughfare" (as designated on the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Urban Area Thoroughfare Plan).

Throughout the country folks choose to live in urban settings. For those who made that choice along Duke and Gregson, they had to understand as they sat at the closing table, that these roads were the high volume connector between Downtown Durham and all parts north.

Dave W.

Mike: Thanks for sharing. I'm very heartened to hear that this on Mayor Bell's radar in addition to yours which I've been aware of (and thankful for!). From my experience in clamoring for two way roads not many on city council seem interested in doing the pressuring work to make EEC happen, or interested in seeing bi-directional travel restored to the one way roads. I certainly hope I'm wrong.

I was not trying to imply water funds should be moved around to fund maintenance of road issues; was trying to point out building new roads, or widening roads to support suburban sprawl developments make it only that much more difficult to attack the problems and street maintenance that have already been neglected for quite some time. (I shouldn't have included the water and sewer lines as that "muddied" the point)

The DOT has said they will relinquish state control of the one way north south roads to the city (and allow two way travel) so I keep waiting for the city to take them up on it. It would seem like a high priority to be able to control these roads rather than be subject to the DOTs often misguided priorities.

Please do let ordinary citizens know what they can do to help pressure DOT. I shared my feedback with them on all their recent public review processes (and also do the same once or twice a year with a phone call); but I get the sense the DOT doesn't pay much attention even if a healthy number of individual citizens and neighborhood groups clamor repeatedly...annually... so I hope the city council is able to figure out how to make results happen on this issue.

Barry

Dave N. - i'm sure if you dig a little deeper you'll find that the residences on these roads predate the thoroughfare designations, which were made to reflect the reality that there's no other way from parts north to the downtown.

Now, if the folks who choose to live in parts north would respect the speed limits, there would be less of a problem with co-existing with the folks who live along these roads. If downtown were the destination for most of the vehicles on the road, that might be acceptable as well. But for many drivers, the destination is RTP or Raleigh via NC 147. Duke, Gregson, Avondale, Mangum, and Roxboro therefore end up serving as de facto on-ramps or off-ramps for the Durham Freeway. And that creates a situation which, regardless of how the roads are designated, is no longer acceptable for the residents of these neighborhoods.

The East End Connector will relieve some of this volume. I suspect that the bulk of those vehicles diverted are also the ones who are doing 45 or 50 mph on what are, your semantic argument to the contrary, residential streets, that is, streets along which people live, often with frontages less than 50 feet from the roadside.

There are conflicting needs at play here. For the past 40 or so years, the need to move vehicles more rapidly from one part of town to another has taken precedence over the need for livable communities. That is no reason to assume that it should, or that it will continue to take precedence.

Now, as it happens, i don't live on any of these "thoroughfares" although i live near them, and have to cross them, on foot or in a vehicle, daily. In their current state, they don't contribute to a livable community. Whether or not that situation changes is part of the political process, which is the same process by which the designation "thoroughfare" was acquired in the first place.

Dave W.

Dave N. These are indeed residential streets.

I think you are half right though, in that they are also thoroughfares. But those two things can easily coexist and it shouldn't be seens as winner takes all.

Neighborhood or residential streets can also be thoroughfare streets with a high volume traffic; they just don't need to become 40-45mph one way freeways that create a slew of problems.

Many people in Durham are interested in these becoming saner streets, not just the folks that live along side them or the neighborhoods they go through. And saner has to do with speed and interconnectivity issues, not just volume.

High volume is not the problem but overly high velocity; a severe lack of inter-connectivity (and efficiency on that issue); and recognition of surrounding usage (neighborhoods with people on foot and bicycle in addition to car traffic heading in a variety of directions not just north or south).

The roads could easily and efficiently still move commuter traffic to RTP pre EEC. Being forced to go 10 miles an hour slower and hitting one or two more lights in the 2-3 miles between Club and 147 would mean all of a 4 or 5 minute delay at most.

I think that might be the point. People don't like spending time on long commutes - so they speed. I don't think encouraging speeding, and having speed trump other issues is the answer but the DOT disagrees and seems to rule the roost and the city suffers with some boneheaded traffic engineering that affects many things negatively.

JDC

I live on Duke Street and my one and only window is about 10 feet from the asphalt. It's a constant "whoosh" as cars speed by. Of course I've learned to drown out the noise and, yes, I knew what I was getting into when I purchased this home. I can't help but think that if Duke Street were a two-way road, that the volume of the whooshing would decrease along with the speeds of passing vehicles.

Anything else I would add has already been said by Dave W. or Barry. I believe these particular streets, as they are currently configured, do good for nobody except motorists who don't live in the area.

KeepDurhamDifferent!

I have to disagree that these streets only benefit motorists who don't live in the area. I live in between Duke and Gregson, and I love that my commute to RTP takes mere minutes instead of the slog from N. Raleigh. The problem is the speeding, not the volume. I often hit the school zone from 8-9am south of Trinity, and it is no problem to maintain 25mph because the traffic is always moving.

The stretch south of Main before 147 is 25 mph all the time, with well-marked pedestrian crossings for Brightleaf. Again, no problem because the traffic is always moving.

In other words, what Dave W. said.

RWE

I have lived on Gregson for ten years. I'm at Demerius on the long, traffic signal free section between Club Boulevard and Markham Ave. I feel very strongly about this topic, but I'll try to keep my rants brief.

Duke and Gregson were long ago established as thoroughfares, and I don't think those of us who choose to live on these streets expect them to be magically converted to 'sleepy' lanes. We can deal with the traffic noise, the trash and cigarette butts tossed in our yards, the booming base outside our bedroom windows, and the dirty looks and gestures we get as we attempt to turn into or back out of our driveways. Expecting these issues or the thousands of cars using these roads every day to magically vanish would be unreasonable.

But I strongly disagree with Dave N.'s statement that these are not residential streets. We live here - and several of our neighbors were here well before the Durham Freeway or Northgate Mall and its interchange were built. I think it is reasonable to expect to be able to safely park in front of our homes or to cross the street without breaking into a dead sprint. After moving into this house in 1998, I was fully prepared for the volume and noise of the traffic, but I was shocked by the utter disregard most people have for residents as they whizz by at speeds upwards of 50 and 60 miles per hour. I've lost count of the number of times I've called 911 to report a collision in front of my house, many involving totalled parked cars, and one that left an overturned vehicle on my neighbor's front porch.

On any given Friday or Saturday night, an officer stationed in front of my house could write a ticket for reckless driving practically every time the light turns green at Northgate Mall. We had a horrific pedestrian death at Duke and Englewood just over a year ago that resulted in a token and brief gesture of increased enforcement that has since waned. I rarely see any police presence on Duke or Gregson other than those cars whizzing by with or without lights or sirens. I know Durham's finest have bigger fish to fry, but it would not take a tremendous amount of manpower to establish these corridors as speed traps.

The implementation of the traffic calming measures that the Martin Alexiou Bryson study recommended is essential. The fact that people will drive as fast as they feel comfortable driving is a fundamental and proven tenet of traffic engineering. One way to make speeding drivers less comfortable is to physically and psychologically narrow the travelway - the neckdown approach. When it's done properly it works, and there are all sorts of precedents for it. The ineffectiveness of poorly designed traffic calming measures on Anderson Street is not a legitimate reason to reject them on Duke and Gregson.

"Good" lighting on these streets is not going to slow anyone down. The old inefficient lighting should be replaced as a matter of policy to avoid glare and night sky light pollution, but packaging that as a traffic calming 'bone' to throw us in lieu of the neckdowns is ridiculous.

Converting these streets back to 2-way just ain't gonna happen. That would be a tremendous undertaking, requiring costly reconfiguration of the interchanges at 147 and I-85, and a major re-working at Northgate Mall on private property. Who's going to pay for that? I would rather see the patchwork pavement replaced, the crumbled sidewalks repaired, the failed storm drainage system addressed (and not just with a sign that says 'High Water'), and the East End Connector built. Besides, sight distances for vehicles crossing Duke and Gregson are poor enough only having to look in one direction. Ever tried to cross Buchanan at Knox in the daytime? Without a glimpse of oncoming headlights between the huge oak trees to give at least some warning, it's basically a crapshoot.

Increase enforcement. Fund the traffic calming measures that the traffic study recommends. Fund the East End Connector.

ChrisV

I live between Duke and Gregson and have had more close calls, some while pushing a stroller, than I care to recall. But I wonder how feasible enforcement really is. Think about how a speed trap might work on Duke or Gregson. When a cop clocks a speeder, he has to fire up the cruiser from a dead stop and merge into the traffic to pursue the speeder. By the time a cop got onto the road and caught up to the speeder, the speeder would likely have reached Club Blvd or Main St or the Durham Fwy and vanished. It's difficult to catch speeders on these streets because of the volume and density -- and of course the speed -- of the traffic.

Likewise installing more traffic signals might backfire. I have heard conflicting anecdotal data about it, but in general I hear that the annoyance of more frequent lights (or 4way stops) causes passers-through merely to speed up *between* the lights/stops.

The real solution seems to be the combination of a better commuter option (the EEC) and some kind of speed discouragement. Whether that is a couple more lights or a few neckdowns is hard to say. Making both streets 2-way is better than lights and neckdowns but it sounds like the city has to take the maintenance expense for the roads to do this or anything else. So perhaps the best move for citizens is to exert political pressure on the city to take these roads, aligned with the timetable of the EEC. We would have to sell to voters, presumably, the taking on of this expense.

Or else take the roads and then don't spend the money to maintain the roads and let the potholes be our speed enforcement.

KeepDurhamDifferent!

I'd just like to say that using potholes for speed enforcement is a fine idea. It works very well in New Orleans and New York. Cheap, too.

Of course this raises the problem of city liability for pothole damage, but the way to get around that is to patch it rather than resurface (like they have done on TW Alexander in RTP for the past decade). The resulting bump will slow traffic as they have to swerve around it or "suck it up".

When coming north on Duke in the afternoons, the speed limit lowers to 25 at the bus station and there are potholes so big it rattles my poor miata to pieces (and this is before the RR tracks where everyone slows down anyway). It works great and I love it.

Steve G

Enforcement is absolutely essential to solving the problem of speeding through our neighborhoods. Many people will not slow down until they are hit with a hefty speeding ticket. People are basically selfish, some more so than others, and will not slow down until it's in their best interest to do so.

Utilize two officers in cruisers. The first is parked in an inconspicuous location with a speed gun, calling out the speeders and their speeds to the second officer. The second officer is two or three blocks up the road, waving over the speeders and writing tickets. This will have an immediate effect, and may also catch scofflaws wanted for more serious offenses.

Speed trailers, mannequin officers parked along the road, Durham Pace Car... all of these are absolutely useless without enforcement. Nobody will obey the law if their are no consequences for breaking the law.

Dave N.

To better refine my point, Gregson and Duke are high-volume thoroughfare connectors. We all agree on this. What we also need to accept is that high-volume thoroughfares need to move at a rate of speed that is going to be far in excess of what a neighborhood of residences will find comforting. "Traffic calming" is anathema to "major thoroughfares." (Admit it. Consider the major thoroughfares of any city with which you are familiar: 45mph is not "excessive" for such conduits.)

There are two possibilities then:
1) Designate an alternative path as the north/south connector; or
2) Give up on trying to slow traffic on Gregson & Duke.

1) Has been defeated at every turn by local and state politics.
2) Will continue to have a negative effect on traditional residential uses along these roads. The reality is that longterm these lots will be converted to zoning designations and uses more appropriate for property bordering a major thoroughfares.

Ironically, calming measures like neckdowns, roundabouts, and speed bumps are in no small measure becoming more popular to deter cut-through traffic truly racing along inappropriate routes because drivers are seeking alternatives to the true thoroughfares that do not have the capacity and efficiency to carry their intended traffic loads.

Heck, I'm all for the two-way traffic concept. Choose either Duke OR Gregson as the route for our major thoroughfare going forward. The thoroughfare choice gets improved, widened, and made two-directions. Access to this route becomes limited. While residences along this route will be lost, the other road gets preserved and returned to the character it knew in the 1950s.

I'll let y'all fight out which road gets saved, and which is changed forever.

Mike

ENFORCEMENT ENFORCEMENT ENFORCEMENT People will slow down when they know police are present and are writing tickets.

barry

"(Admit it. Consider the major thoroughfares of any city with which you are familiar: 45mph is not "excessive" for such conduits.)"

Ummm, yes it is. Roxboro St. is not the FDR Drive, nor is Gregson. St the Garden State parkway. From I-85 to NC 147 is about 1.5 - 2 miles. The difference between 35 mph and 45 mph on that stretch is about a minute or less.

I think most people behind the wheel should be able to deal with that.

After that, we can start talking about our east/west thoroughfares, like Hillsborough/Markham, and Club. How much did we just spend on traffic calming in the Oval Dr. Park area? Wouldn't if be a whole lot easier and cheaper if people just slowed the fuck down and didn't think that being behind the wheel of a car gave them all kinds of special privileges?

mike

I'm with ya Barry. Just slow down folks. I love driving the speed limit and watching the folks in my rear view mirror getting all pissed off. Then they pass me and we meet up at the next traffic light. I just turn to them and laugh. It's even funnier when I do this on my bicyle.

Carol

Mike and Barry, My traffic calming scheme is similar to Mike's. I do the speed limit and don't budge. I don't live in that neighborhood, but can't stand to see idiots flying down Duke Street. No respect for others....

RWE

Apparently Dave N. studied at the Robert Moses school of urban planning. Although both Duke and Gregson are clearly used as thoroughfares (due largely to the geniuses who ran the government here in the 1960's), they were not designed as such. These roads were platted and built in the 1920's as part of a residential grid. Gregson and Duke were no different from Watts, Green or Trinity until construction of the Durham Freeway and I-85 interchanges dramatically altered their function and character.

There are a whole host of reasons why even 35 mph can be too fast for these streets. Topography and huge trees right at the back of curb restrict sight distances, leaving a tiny window of opportunity for us to back out of our driveways or shoot across from a side street. Several blocks of both streets are labeled as school zones, but I have never seen anyone being ticketed in them in my ten years living on Gregson.

I think most neighbors can live with high volumes of traffic - which the East End Connector should eventually help reduce. I couldn't agree more with Barry. We just want the drivers using these RESIDENTIAL STREETS to slow the f--- down so we can get out of our driveways. Or we could follow Dave N.'s vision and trash a historic neighborhood that serves as a gateway to Brightleaf and downtown Durham so that residents of Treyburn can get to their jobs in the park 30 seconds faster.

KeepDurhamDifferent!

Ten years and you've never seen someone being ticketed on Gregson? I've been back for three years and I see cops at the school zone about once a month, usually on the left side before DSA. The other spot is north of the new Trinity Design/Build building, where they can aim the radar up the street and pull cars into the parking lot.

When I lived at 1422 Gregson back in the 80s there was an "Evil Knievel" (motorcycle cop with radar gun) at Trinity and Gregson quite frequently, talking to the crossing guard and writing tickets the whole time.

Barry

i've been here 15 years, and except for a couple of times when i saw speed traps set up at Club and Oval Dr., i've never seen a concerted effort to enforce speed limits. i've seen the occasional ticket being written for egregious violations in front of a police cruiser, but that's about it.

Compared to other places i've lived, like Phoenix, AZ, which had a police officer at every school zone during opening and closing hours enforcing the 15 mph limit, Durham's speed limit enforcement, especially on residential streets, is non-existent. And the problem is not confined to the thoroughfares, although those are the streets where enforcement is both possible and would have a magnified effect. I live on a cul-de-sac, (yeah, i know, hard to believe), and even with a "No Outlet" sign at the head of the street, we still get 15 - 20 cars a day on the weekend cruising to the end of the street looking for a shortcut to Avondale or the freeway. And many of those folks think 35 or higher is just fine. I know i can't ask to have my block patrolled for this. But if enforcement was a higher priority on other streets, there's a greater chance that the cultural change necessary for people to start slowing down a bit would begin to take place.

And don't even get me started on educating drivers that pedestrians have the right of way in a cross walk. Anyone who's lived in any of the western states knows what i'm talking about. When someone steps into a crosswalk, you stop and let them cross the street. That just doesn't happen in Durham, except at those places (Brightleaf, 9th St) that have clearly marked signage. I'd be very curious to learn how many tickets have been written in the past 5 years for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Even money says it's fewer than 10.

KeepDurhamDifferent!

Given a finite amount of police resources, I'd rather see them stopping the current crime wave in TP than writing tickets. It's not quite gangland mayhem, but it's close.

I predict that the most we get will be a light at Knox, and it will help slightly. The improved lighting, however, will speed up the traffic more than enough to compensate. But hey, at least it will help with the burglaries.

Dave N.

"Although both Duke and Gregson are clearly used as thoroughfares (due largely to the geniuses who ran the government here in the 1960's), they were not designed as such."

They not merely "used as such" they are officially designated as such. (Check with Wesley Parham.) You are absolutely correct, they were not "designed for such" but that merely begs the question, "Why not?" Why haven't Duke and/or Gregson been drastically redesigned in the form and function of "major thoroughfare"?

As mentioned in my earlier comment, one or both streets or another route needs to be designed to better accomodate the traffic for which they are designated (and needed). This is how neighborhoods get protected longterm.

For us to merely cry for more signage, more enforcement, and more anti-thoroughfare calming measures is to advocate for the exact opposite of what is needed - an efficient north/south connector. Does this need to be done in the Robert Moses style of straight lines and elevated highways? Not necessarily. Respect for the existing community needs to be considered and all alternatives that would provide for a car-based connection between North and South Durham should be on the table.

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