Speaking of Gregson St., it's been almost exactly a year since the N.C. Board of Transportation voted to partially fund neckdown devices on Duke and Gregson St. as a method to hopefully slow down through-traffic to speeds better resembling, you know, the posted speed limit.
(On my own commute down this morning, between Knox and Morgan I was passed by no less than six cars, when I was merely going the 35 mph posted speed limit. One car was traveling about 45 mph -- far too fast for a residential street.)
While that deal with the state was underway, however, the City installed neckdowns on Anderson St. south of the Duke campus. And, boy, did those neckdowns create a hubbub around the Bull City.
Bicyclists protested those neckdowns, which were implemented on a popular (and signed) bike route, and which made life much more hectic for the two-wheeled kind of commuter. At the same time, the City's evaluation of these neckdowns -- which was the technique's first implementation in Durham -- showed a very small impact: an average speed reduction of only about 1 mph.
All of which brings us -- if not quite back to stage one -- at least to stage one-and-a-half.
Of course, the neckdowns proposed for Duke/Gregson would presumably have the added benefit of sheltering cars parked along the street, which should in turn create more friction on the road and reduce speeds.
Still, based on the results at Anderson, City staff are reluctant to proceed with a full-scale neckdown plan of the form proposed earlier this decade in the city-funded traffic calming plan.
I had a chance (full disclosure: as a board member on the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association, and traffic calming committee co-chair) to sit down with Mark Ahrendsen and his staff to talk about the neckdowns.
One of my first questions: is the City changing its mind on this from an engineering/results perspective, or because of the hue and cry of bicyclists -- the latter a group that, based on my impression from conversations I had with a few Durham Bike/Ped Commission folks after the Anderson debacle, would not stand opposed to the Duke/Gregson plan.
Mark's answer: It's everything to do with the former, and nothing with the latter. Frankly, had I been told this answer from just about anyone else in the city, I'd be wary that politics and not outcomes were the cause. But my past dealings with Ahrendsen and his team and the positive things said about Transportation from other elements of City government have led me to implicitly trust him as a stand-up guy and straight shooter.
Which leads back to a dilemma: How to slow and calm traffic on Duke/Gregson? These roads are maintained by NCDOT, which will not permit traffic calming on their thoroughfares. The City could always take over maintenance of the road and slow the speeds -- but then picks up a repaving cost estimated years ago to be $500,000 per decade, and likely higher now with rising petroleum costs.
Ahrendsen and his staff will be bringing their thoughts on the issue to the March 5 neighborhood association board meeting, scheduled for 7:30pm at the George Watts elementary school media center. (These meetings are open to the general public.) Expect the City to bring a "package" approach to traffic calming on these streets, to include:
- Some (but fewer) neckdowns, possibly in the form of extended crosswalks/pedestrian refuges;
- An increase in number of marked crosswalks and/or improved crosswalk markings
- Possible traffic lights at Duke/Knox and Gregson/Knox, if warranted by traffic conditions
- Increased speed enforcement
A suggestion some of us in the neighborhood have made is for the City to also look into purchasing speed limit signs that incorporate built-in radar guns/actual speed display signs -- a device used with some success, reportedly, in other cities.
During the same meeting, the City will also be bringing forward a proposal to re-do the street lighting on Duke/Gregson between Club Blvd. and University Dr. This would involve replacing the open-faced 100 watt fixtures with "cobrahead" fixtures that direct light more particularly on the street, and which would be increased to 250 watts.
According to the City, this would reduce the number of unlit zones on the street, improving pedestrian safety as well as better-highlighting cars parked on the streets (which could reduce parked-car collisions.) There could also be a crime/safety impact from better lighting on the street, and there would be a reduction in light pollution due to focused light fixtures.
Of course, there's always the fear that better lighting would only serve to increase speeds -- the very thing the neighborhood is concerned about. Duke Street north of I-85 has these new lights, as does Guess Rd., and we know how fast traffic travels on those streets (though I suspect the NCDOT's thoughtful 'freeway lite' design has more than a little bit to do with that.)
Reportedly, Mangum St. through Old North Durham has the same type, strength and density of lights proposed for Duke/Gregson/Vickers; I'd be curious to hear from folks in Old North Durham and Duke Park what if any impact they've seen from the new lighting.
The City notes that it would only plan to go forward with this lighting work if it meets with the neighborhood's approval.
Expect quite a bit of discussion and debate to ensue on both these issues at next Wednesday's meeting.