BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for October 5, 2010
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for October 6, 2010

Walk to School Day highlights difficult pedestrian routes in urban neighborhoods

Update:  Dale McKeel has written BCR to inform us that this section of Washington Street is under contract for a sidewalk addition.  A sidewalk will be added outside the current curb on the west side of Washington St.  Unfortunately, this sidewalk will not address the excessive width of Washington Street, a factor that discourages pedestrian activity.  Also, because this sidewalk will be on one side of the street, residents on the east side of Washington will be forced to cross the street to travel on the side walk and then cross again to head to Club Boulevard Elementary.  The sidewalk should be in placed by May 2011.

Today marks the celebration of International Walk to School Day, a day in which local governments encourage school children to walk or ride to school.  The movement is a public health intervention that has several aims, the first and most obvious being the re-introduction of physical activity into the lives of children.

It may not seem like much, but a simple half-mile walk twice a day may be the only exercise that most children will get in a day.  With childhood obesity rates rising with each passing year, walking to school could be an effective way to get children some form of daily exercise.

Not to mention other ancillary effects, such as the community cohesion that will come from walking and talking with your neighbors five days a week.

It does not appear that Durham Public Schools is participating in today's event at a district level, but three schools do have events registered on the Walk to School Day website.  One notable example is Club Boulevard Elementary, which is having all bused students dropped off two blocks from the school so that they can finish their commute by foot.

The goal of the walk-to-school campaign is a good one, so I decided to see just how easy it is for some Durham families to walk to school.

~~~~~

Barry Ragin introduced me to two moms who walk about a half mile to Club Boulevard Elementary each morning, and we decided to tag along and observe the trip.  The walk is a quick and seemingly easy one, at least by looking at a map.  The walk, which is of the length targeted by walk to school campaigns, consists of a few blocks up Washington St, and then a few blocks over on Club.

 

2-freeway

The first thing that becomes apparent is that Washington St is an intimidating road.  Despite the fact that it is a local street, as it makes no direct connections to any freeway, it has lanes wider than those you find on any interstate.

 

 

1-blind-turn

With a total width of at least fifty feet, Washington could see the addition of striped parking spots and bike lanes in both directions and still meet the minimum criteria of an interstate highway.  These wide lanes encourage speeding and other reckless behavior like passing in the same lane.


3-smallpath

Despite the wide lanes on Washington, there are no sidewalks present.  This forces the foot-powered school bus to use a small, muddy path lined with trash and poison ivy.  Usually the trash consists of fast food packaging, but at times parents are forced to field questions about discarded prophylactics and other items that are difficult to explain to a elementary-aged child.


5-other-obstacles

Other obstacles make it a tight squeeze and necessitate a reminder to the kids to stay out of the road.  These tight maneuvers must take place next to a road traveled by cars with an average speed of at least 35 miles per hour, although some passing cars were clearly going faster than reasonable.

4-curb

Then, of course, come the obstacles that I wouldn't realize.  After seeing how difficult it is to get a jogging stroller up the curb, I can only imagine the impossible challenge that obstacles like these pose to those with limited mobility.  If you're stuck using a walker or simply have a bad hip, this walk will never happen.


6-noisy-bridge

Other barriers don't have a tenable solution, such as the noisy walk under I-85.  Note that the pre-schooler is being carried by his mom-- he was not a fan of the noise.


7-homeless-encampment

Another reason for the carry could have been the general unease caused by the sight of a homeless encampment.  I don't really want to broach the subject of homelessness and its causes and solutions today, but it is worth noting that this bridge is only a mile away from Durham Rescue Mission's Good Samaritan Inn.

 

8-bike-rack

The ultimate indicator of how pedestrian unfriendly the Club Boulevard Elementary walk zone is was the bike rack in front of the school.  We arrived right on time for classes, at a point when many other families had already arrived.  Only two bicycles were present in the bike rack in front of the school.

~~~~~

The main challenge posed by this walk is Washington St.  The street is simply too wide to be a local road, and there is no excuse for a lack of sidewalk when, with 25 foot wide lanes, space exists in the current right-of-way.  Washington connects downtown with Club Boulevard and beyond, and it makes sense for this street to be a bike and pedestrian thoroughfare for those heading to and from the Central Park district.

One would think that the road is the pedestrian route of choice over Mangum or Roxboro due to the presence of two-way traffic and one lane in each direction.  The wide lanes, however, encourage speeding.  It's easy to forget that you're on a local road when you have more space than when you drive on I-40.

Washington is in serious need of traffic calming and pedestrian facilities.  Unfortunately, so are many other roads in Durham.  Plans to improve pedestrian access on Washington are perennially delayed, with summer-time announcements that the project is 'just a year away' something you could likely calibrate your calendar with.  A recent focus on asphalt conditions is warranted given the deteriorating nature of many city streets, but it does leave many Durhamites to question the city's priorities when it comes to pedestrian traffic.

 

Comments

Jim

I'm guessing that Washington hasn't received much attention because of its proximity to the greenway. You can pick up the greenway at Trinity, near the Washington St. intersection, cross over Markham and Green, and end up on Club right at Washington St. Aside from dodging the occasional cyclist and being careful crossing those two streets, it's an easy walk. Of course it doesn't do you much good if you live on Washington or east of it somewhere north of Trinity because you would need to go out of your way to get to the greenway.

Mike

To be fair Kevin I believe that photo of the bike rack is from Tuesday. I can tell by where my son parked his bicycle yesterday. Today however the rack was full when I rode in with my son.

George

Thanks for the article. This problem is really distressing, and seems to be endemic in Durham. The situation is similarly terrible near LaSalle/Campus Walk/Morreene. With no sidewalks and wide lanes in a largely residential community, I've seen far too many close calls with cars not seeing small children or people in wheelchairs (who have no choice but to be in the road).

I think the worst effect is not the risk of accidents, but rather the inhibition of the development of a real community. When people are afraid to walk the the next apartment complex over, they're sure as hell not going to make friends over there. I suspect the difficulty that pedestrians have in the area is one of the big reasons that it hasn't developed into a robust student community (as would make sense, being so close to Duke). Instead, we have a substantial portion of students and employees choosing the live in Chapel Hill - and we all know that's not ok.

Another Jim

As a counter-example to your anecdotal evidence, I often see parents walking their kids in from the Braggtown direction where there are plenty of sidewalks and no homeless encampments. The lack of bikes is more likely due to the fact that Club is a magnet school with students from all over Durham. Hence most kids are either bussed in or driven in by their parents.

Btw, the bike rack was full today.

Lindsay

I'm glad to hear the bike racks were full on walk-to-school day. But I think the point the article is trying to make with the picture of the empty rack is that a full rack is hardly the norm.

Mike

Sure Linsay on any given day there is usually only two bicycles locked up to the rack. What you don't know is that atleast four of the teachers also ride bicycles to school. They just happen to keep them indoors or locked up out back.

I wonder what would happen if DPS went back to neighborhood schools and actually gave kids an option of biking or walking to school. The way it works now the only "easy" options for parents is the bus or car. I mean seriously who would want to ride or walk from S. Durham to Club Blvd? Answer noboby.

susan

Thanks for another great article Kevin. I just wanted to point out that when we ride our bikes to Club, we use the bike rack at the back of the school closer to the boys' classrooms, as do many fellow bike riders.

walk zone lies

Oh the irony of Club Blvd. participating in this farce! Club Blvd. Elementary is a short walk down the ellerbe creek trail from my home (.48 miles from door to door), yet I am told that I am not in the .5 mile walk zone for the school because my address isn't on "the list". When I spoke to Donna Hudson at DPS about this she at first claimed that I wasn't in the zone because "google says so". When I told her I measured it myself with several pedometers, and that google was wrong, she told me I wasn't on "the list". I insisted that the walk zone was defined by the schools as 1/2 mile, not some list. So she said she would walk it herself and get back to me, which she never did, presumably because she knows we're in the zone, but just hoping we'll go away. So on this "walk to school day" I suppose those of us within the walk zone, but not on the "list" will have to walk the 5 miles down I-85 to Glenn Elementary!

Ackbar

I love "walk to school day" because there is so much less traffic and the lines are shorter when I'm dropping my kid off for school!

JNB

Ditto to Walk Zone Lies' comments! We have come up against the same issue and cannot get our child into Club even though we have emailed anyone who would listen to tell them we would be walking to & from the school every day. Instead, DPS would rather have cars driving in from all over the place vs. the families who WANT to spend time with their child every day getting some exercise & spending some quality time together while also getting to know their neighbors/neighborhood better.
Thanks for the article, Kevin.

Michael oehler

Kevin,

Thanks for highlighting Walk to School Day.

At my son and daughter's school, EK Powe, this was our second Walk to School Day, and I know the students really enjoy it. I believe that Watts also has Walk to School Days.

Powe's number of walkers and bike riders has been growing, but not due to better sidewalks in OWD, WHHN, or than around Club. Our walking and biking numbers at Powe are up because more upper middle class neighborhood parents are choosing to send their children to Powe. (We too do the two block walk for the bus riders) More children at Powe now have parents that have the time to walk or bike their children to school. At Powe, we have three bike racks that are full every day.

As Another Jim already pointed out, Club Blvd. is a magnet school, and children come to Club from all over Durham. That is their choice. I'd be very curious to know if those people you were walking with are in the walk zone for Club or if they won the lottery to attend Club. I believe that most of Duke Park neighborhood is zoned for Glenn. How about taking a walk there? The simple fact is that most of DPS children don't live close enough to their school to be able to walk even if they wanted to. The location of Durham's schools as well as Durham's system of neighborhood schools and magnets creates a much bigger barrier than sidewalks.

But probably the biggest barrier, even if the children lived close enough to school to walk, is that most children in DPS do not have parents that can take the time between working one, two, or three jobs to walk them to school, a very time intensive activity. It would be nice if everyone had a mother or father or caregiver that could push a stroller to school with their school age child. The reality is, that most DPS students do not have this option (or am I making excuses for people's lazy behavior and lack of personal responsibility?)

On a personal level, a drive to Powe from my house takes about one minute, a bike ride about ten, and a walk about twenty. I am fortunate enough not to have to head off to work, but the reality is that if I did, the walk/bike to school would probably not happen.

While I sympathize with the trash and lack of sidewalks, if we really want to help bring down obesity rates in ALL Durham's children, we need to have longer PE classes, healthier food in the cafeteria, and parents who are willing to turn off the TVs and video games for their children. If more people are willing to get out on our streets like these two brave women, we'll eventually get our sidewalks. Keep it up, guys!

Michael Oehler

Michael Oehler

@Mike,

DPS has neighborhood schools. You might not like how the lines are drawn, but that doesn't change the fact that students are assigned to schools based on where they live.

Club is a magnet, so it, like the other Elementary magnets excluding the three year round magnets, has a 1/2 mile walk zone. Initially, the 1/2 mile walk zone was established to help with the buy in for the proposed magnet school. However, as this thread shows, I think it is time for DPS to end the 1/2 mile walk zone for the magnets. The individual magnets are more than able to stand on their own merits, and those magnets like Club, Watts, and Morehead serve a walk zone that does not need such a leg up on Durham's more needier students.

Michael

walk zone lies

...serve a walk zone that does not need such a leg up on Durham's more needier students...

Well, I'm not sure who you are to make that kind of decision for the children of Durham, but you're completely misguided about the purpose of the walk-zones (at least from a common sense perspective). If it is to give a "leg up" to the low income neighborhoods where they are located, then it is severely limited and grossly unfair. Most of those neighborhoods extend well beyond a half mile from the schools. 1/2 mile is a lot shorter than you obviously think. It seems a "walk zone" would be just what the name implies: a zone where children who really will walk to school live, based on location, not socioeconomic background. If that was just a smokescreen for creating a list of who someone thinks is more deserving or not based on perceived economic status, then it is a complete sham. If that is the desired end, then change the policy to exempt low income families from the lottery. But as "walk to school day" demonstrates, there is a benefit from having children who live close to a school walk instead of drive or ride a bus. And economic background, or values of houses (many of which in our neighborhood are rentals, whose families aren't as rich as the property values would suggest), shouldn't have anything to do with it.

Todd Patton

Washington Street is included in an ARRA (the federal stimulus plan) sidewalk project, per the DurhamWalks! 2010 update. This includes a mile of sidewalk from Glendale to Urban. See page 14:

http://www.durhamnc.gov/durhamwalks/pdf/status_report0210.pdf

It is included in Public Works project SW-25, which involves sidewalks on 6 streets:

Dearborn Drive
Hillandale Road
Hillsborough Street and Markham Avenue
Hope Valley Road
Washington Street
University Drive

http://www.durhamnc.gov/departments/works/project_SW-25.cfm

I don't know the status of the entire project, but the Hillsborough Road portion is under construction now.

Dale McKeel

Good news – a sidewalk on Washington Street sidewalk has been designed and is under contract for construction. The sidewalk will be built between Markham and Club (and also along Washington Street on the north side of I-85 to connect to the roundabout at Glendale).

The sidewalk on Washington is bundled together with other sidewalk projects on portions of Dearborn Drive, Hillandale Road, Hillsborough Street/Markham Avenue, University Drive, and Hope Valley Road. Work is already underway on the first four projects listed above.

Construction of the Washington Street sidewalk will be underway by spring of 2011 and is scheduled to be completed by May 2011 (subject to delay depending on winter weather). Information about project SW-25, including construction plans, is on the city's website at:

http://www.durhamnc.gov/departments/works/project_SW-25.cfm

Dale McKeel, AICP
City of Durham/DCHC MPO
Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator
919-560-4366. ext. 30421
dale.mckeel@durhamnc.gov

Mike

@michael

You mean we had neighborhood schools until the magnet system came along. I'm sorry but a school seven miles away from my house is not in my neighborhood but the school a mile away is. If Club went back to a neighborhood school it would serve large numbers of disadvantaged students who live within 3 miles. Instead we send them on a 30 minute bus ride.

David McMullen

Regarding the walk zone: The answer that I was given about the greenway is that DPS does not consider the greenway a "walkable path". Yes, please feel free to roll your eyes as much as you like at that particular bit of nonsense - I walk my son to school on that path almost every morning. We didn't bother trying to appeal because we're 0.62 miles from the school even using the greenway, and then we got in through the lottery anyway. But I feel your pain.

I'll second the need for sidewalks on Washington St. Additionally, the time for the "Walk" lights at the Club/Washington intersection could stand to be increased by a second or two. It can be tough getting across that intersection in the allotted time with a five-year-old in tow. I can only imagine how the moms in the pictures (both of whom I know) manage it with their younger children.

Cormoran

Hope valley road school needs side walks badly. The Side walks in University and Hope valley, both roads with heavy traffic but also many pedestrians are really needed. There are small sections with side walks but changes from side to side of the road and they are really badly preserved. Most areas do not have them.

This side walks will link the areas with more pedestrian friendly sections like the Durham-Chapel hill boulevard. Sidewalks on the section from 15501 from University/James st crossroad to the overpass of Chapel hill road would be a great improvement too

Michael Oehler

@Mike,

That last sentence of mine was less than clear.

What I was trying to say was that the 1/2 mile walk zones surrounding magnet schools should be done away with. They serve no purpose anymore, and at some magnet schools like Morehead and Watts, and to some extent Club, they provide an exclusive neighborhood school for those within a half mile.

As to neighborhood schools... I'll leave that discussion up to the Wake County School Board.

Michael

JHB

When the first election came along after I bought my house in Rockwook, I decided I'd walk over to the school on Cornwallis and vote. Doing that at night with no sidewalks was very scary. Insane really. Needless to say I've driven those two blocks for the last eighteen years when it's time to vote. If I had to do that every day to drop of a child who lived that close to their school, I'd be pretty outraged.

Randy Chambers

On a related note, there's a 210 foot segment of Duke Street just north of Dacian Avenue that does not have any sidewalk. Dozens of DSA students (yes, a magnet, but with some local students) and faculty/staff walk down Duke Street everyday to DSA.

But for that missing segment, you can walk down Duke St. from Durham Regional Hospital to Forest Hills all on sidewalk.

On this small missing segment, the walker has two gruesome choices -- walk through mud/dirt/weeds/vines or walk in the street on a segment of Duke Street where the rise is blind coming up to the hill that peaks right at Dacian Ave.

Seems like the city could solve this problem with a few thousand dollars of labor and concrete, which they should have done with a previous sidewalk and paving bond. It would also create a more walkable community to Brightleaf Square, West Village and downtown Durham, now that there's lots of great eating and activity options in those areas.

Frank Hyman

It sucks that Durham doesn't have more sidewalks, but it's a symptom that helps illustrate Durham's history.

The short version of Durham's recent history is that it's gone from being a working-class-town to becoming a middle-class-city. If you've been here at least since the mid 80's you know what I'm talking about.

Like many working class towns, there wasn't enough wealth and therefore not enough tax revenue to pay for sidewalks everywhere. And in a slower era, many people walked on the streets in their neighborhoods and didn't care about sidewalks (same as in my hometown of Beaufort, SC), esp. since the policy only called for the city govt. to pay part of the cost and for the property owners to pay part.

Hence more sidewalks in wealthier neighborhoods and few in poor neighborhoods or on some thoroughfares where few people walked even in the good (bad) old days.

We Could catch up and get sidewalks on every street right away. IF we decided to cut spending on, say, transit or affordable housing or police, etc.


Freddie

Great reporting on this issue Kevin! I live near the Club Blvd school and riding my bike through there can be frustrating...

it wasn't until recently that one of the our local citizens noticed there wasn't any school zone signs showing to slow down the speed limit during the school designated times...Durham soon after went ahead and installed those signs you see now...

Another problem that happens there for us Colonial Village or Northgate Park residents that commute by bike is that cars fly by Club and hardly ever leave us any space while riding...makes me want to do something I seen this one guy do in Cary...I was driving though there to see this guy on his bike sticking his hand out with a screwdriver in hand sticking out...I thought that was pretty ballsy but imagined how much crap this guy has gone through with ignorant drivers to conform to this solution...

One of my neighbors and his wife ride their bikes with their son and thought it was awesome that they got to live so close to their kids school to be able to do that...

Dale McKeel

@ David McMulllen

The "walk" time on all four pedestrian crossings at the Club-Washington intersection has been increased.

@ Cormoran

The City is currently designing a sidewalk on the south side of University Drive between Old Chapel Hill Rd (near Durham Academy) and Hope Valley Road. This will improve access to Hope Valley Elementary.

Dale McKeel, AICP
City of Durham/DCHC MPO
Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator
101 City Hall Plaza
Durham, NC 27701
919-560-4366. ext. 36421
dale.mckeel@durhamnc.gov

The comments to this entry are closed.