City, regional and state transportation officials spent nearly two hours briefing the InterNeighborhood Council on foot-, bicycle-, bus- and car-related matters Tuesday evening.
Transportation planners, looking ahead to 2035, estimate that by then the Triangle will be home to 2.6 million people, twice the amount who lived here in 2005. In the last 20 years, the region has seen significant growth in road delays, and that trend is expected to continue.
As a potential solution, planners continue to call for what they characterize as a balanced transportation system — one that features mass transit, bicycling and walking, not just private automobiles.
None of the officials who spoke Tuesday were in any position to promise an overnight revolution, of course. But here’s a selective summary of some developments area residents can expect, starting with the near future and looking ahead a decade or more.
Below the jump, we'll survey what's new and news -- including changes to DATA and regional bus service, more traffic calming devices on Duke/Gregson and other urban Durham streets, and a glimmer of hope that the Duke Beltline rail corridor may in fact come back in for future urban trail use.
DATA route changes: Triangle Transit, which manages the DATA bus service, has proposed a series of service changes aimed at increasing the service’s on-time performance. Public comments on the proposed changes, which Triangle Transit wants to put into effect this August, are being accepted through April 15.
Also, the transit agency is in the middle of holding meetings and surveying users to help plan a new set of route changes to be implemented in the summer of 2012.
Details on both route revamps are available at data.gotriangle.org.
Smarter buses: Riders will soon be able to consult their computers and cell phones to find out when the next bus will arrive. Triangle Transit and all its partner agencies, including the DATA, Chapel Hill and N.C. State bus services, are installing GPS locators on all buses.
Come summertime, estimated times of arrival for every bus in every location should be accessible at every bus stop and on every Internet-connected device. The information will also be available by text message.
“Having it all integrated is something that’s very innovative and something that is really not done anywhere,” Jennifer Rogers, a planner with Triangle Transit, told the group of about 30 neighborhood representatives Tuesday. “This is very exciting to have this kind of collaboration.”
New gadgets: Triangle Transit is also installing other electronics on its rides. A growing number of Triangle Transit buses feature free WiFi. About half of DATA service’s buses will get automatic passenger counters by the summer, which should allow a more comprehensive analysis of where riders are getting on and off vehicles.
City street repaving: “The smell of asphalt is going to be in the air pretty soon with all the resurfacing work that’s going to be going on with the $20 million bond referendum,” said Mark Ahrendsen, the director of the city’s transportation department.
The work has been divided into four contracts. The city maintains an interactive map of the work on its Web site.
Curb extensions/traffic calming: The city installed a curb extension on Gregson Street and now plans to put in seven more on that street and four on Duke Street. They should go in this year.
These extensions will have the corner ballooning almost to the edge of the travel lane. Not only should they slow down cars that are making turns, they should allow pedestrians and motorists to have better views because they prevent vehicles from parking on the corners. Also, the extensions cut down on the length of road that pedestrians must cross and, in some cases, help them get a safe view of oncoming traffic that would otherwise be obstructed by trees.
The city is currently engineering curb extensions for four streets where they cross the western end of Club Boulevard. Contracts could be signed for the work this year, although it may not be completed until 2012.
More work on the ever-sticky Markham/Mangum/Roxboro intersection is also being planned. A curb extension is expected to go in to slow drivers turning right from northbound Roxboro onto eastbound Markham.
Speed humps: The city suspended its speed hump program in 2009 due to financial constraints, but it may be restarted during the next fiscal year. About 50 locations have been identified where humps could prove useful in persuading vehicles to stick to speeds of lower than 30 miles per hour, said Wesley Parham, the city’s assistant transportation manager.
Railroad crossings study: The state Department of Transportation is taking the lead in a planned traffic separation study that will look at the North Carolina Railroad corridor between Neal Road and Research Triangle Park. The goal of the 18-month project, which should start shortly, is to identify crossings that can be improved and closed.
A focus of the study will be pedestrian crossings between Chapel Hill and Roxboro streets.
NCDOT will pay $140,000 for the study, to be conducted with Kimley-Horn and Associates; the city, Triangle Transit and Norfolk Southern will each contribute $20,000.
Two-way traffic on the Downtown Loop: The city completed a traffic study early in 2010 that found converting the downtown loop to two-way traffic a feasible option, and the state has agreed with the assessment.
What’s needed now to make it happen? Some $20 million to $25 million.
The project will likely be included in a future bond issue, Parham suggested.
Duke Beltline rail/trail: Norfolk Southern, which balked about five years ago when asked to surrender its interest in this rail bed, has begun the abandonment process. The city and state intend to purchase the corridor for future rail use, with pedestrians and bicyclists being given free rein of the line in the interim.
Light rail and commuter rail: Planners have identified a light rail route connecting the UNC and Duke medical centers, which would terminate on Alston Avenue.
They also envision a commuter rail — focused on morning and afternoon service — anchored in the north by West Durham and in the south with a Johnston County terminus. Stops in between would serve downtown Durham, RTP, Cary, N.C. State, Raleigh and Garner.
These concepts, along with future changes in bus service, will be discussed today from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Durham Station Transportation Center, 515 W. Pettigrew St.
During a Q&A session, Ahrendsen was asked when the Triangle will get a rail link. “I don’t have a crystal ball for that,” he replied, adding that it could happen in a decade or two.