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Back to the future: Regional transit planners show Durhamites the future of travel

INC briefing lays out transportation timeline for road, transit, pedestrian needs

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

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. 



Where is the discussion about cycling friendly routes, and how to link communities this way?

Will Wilson


Durham has a great bicycle plan! See the maps in chapter 4 of:

Now all we need is the $100 million to implement it (that's the number I recall from discussions at the time).


Nothing about sidewalks and other pedestrian needs like crosswalks and pedestrian traffic lights?

Will Wilson


I don't know much about this one:

John Martin

One of the unresolved issues is that Durham simply has a schizophrenic approach to automobile speeds. On the one hand, commuters complain that their drive times take too long, that the roads are "congested," and that the traffic moves too slowly. On the other hand, people who live on or near these roads, complain that there is too much traffic, it goes too fast, and it endangers children, pedestrians and bicyclists. The "solution" to the first problem is to widen roads and increase speed limits, and the "solution" to the second problem is to narrow roads (now called "road diets") and decrease speed limits. Both of these solutions go on simultaneously with no apparent sense of the incongruity of it all.

The ultimate example of this absurd policy is the Alston Ave. widening decision adopted by the City Council Monday night (and unfortunately not the subject of a story by BCR.) The City Council voted to support the widening of Alston Ave. to 82 feet, which is as wide as Fayetteville St. is at Southpoint Mall. (By contrast, Roxboro St. at Main St. is only 58 feet wide and 15-501 at Guglhupf is only 70 feet wide.) Since even to Council members this seems to be a bit wide for a residential neighborhood with an elementary school, they simultaneously voted to ask NCDOT (which will actually do the project) to stripe the road for only one traffic lane in each direction with a center turn lane. So what will be done with all that extra width? It will be parking lanes and bicycle lanes. The mayor actually said that he supports widening because Alston is "congested." But if that's your object, why support a widening that doesn't provide any more traffic lanes? Because the nearby neighborhoods don't want a eight-lane divided thruway. So why not just rethink the whole project? Because 25 million dollars will be spent on the project, as one councilman said, and Durham has got to get that 25 million dollars. So we widen it and simultaneously put it on a diet, and another councilman calls that a "win-win" solution.

If that's "win-win," I hate to see what losing looks like.

Matt Dudek

Here Here. Mr. Martin. I completely agree.

Che Kilombo

More middle-class, neoliberal capitalists coming into our neighborhoods and exploiting our workers with costly, trickle-down transportation plans. Paving these roads, building these sidewalks, and constructing light rail here is a slap in the face of those working hard to make and re-make their lives on their own terms, rather than appealing to an outside force for concessions to better their lives.

You should spend more of your energies self-organizing communities with the collective and democratic capacity to determine their own future and connect with others, and less energy simply connecting the neoliberals to their middle-class jobs, elite schools, and restrictive recreation destinations. It is clear that these transportation plans contribute to the process of marginalization centers around gentrification, in which our communities are deemed “dead” and in need of “revitalization.” Pointing this out places a lot of us in uncomfortable positions—certainly large real estate speculators who consciously live off of this process, but also many people who do not consciously mean others any harm. It is not easy to hear this; it is easier to ignore or lash out at us or others who have pointed this out and to continue playing the role of sleeping beauty, than to live up to the responsibility we all have of creating viable communities along with all of our neighbors.

As our mentor, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, has said: “We declare that we will make a collective network of all our particular struggles and resistences, and intercontinental network of resistance against neoliberalism, and intercontinental network for humanity. This intercontinental network of resistance will strive to find itself in other resistances around the world…This intercontinental network of resistance is not an organizing structure: it has no central head or decision-maker; it has no central command or hierarchies. We are the network, all of us who resist.”


@Cormoran | Yes, sidewalks and other pedestrian needs were discussed, they just weren't covered in this article.

@John Martin | There's definitely conflict in these policies. Can you tell me where the issue has been raised and remains unresolved? I'd like to weigh in.

@Che Kilombo | Huh? Were you even there? Or is this just trolling and I don't get it?

Steve Graff

John, I agree completely that the Alston widening just doesn't make any sense. Grabbing for the money just because it's offered seems foolish. This whole project strikes me as causing damage similar to that done to Hayti by the Durham Freeway project.

John Martin


I don't know all of the places where these issues are still being debated, but last night's session was most enlightening. The Transportation Department staff highlighted several places where traffic calming measures have been introduced: W. Club Blvd in Watts-Hillandale, Gregson St. in Trinity Park, and Anderson St. in Duke Forest. I understand they are also planning a "road diet" for W. Main St past Duke East Campus and extending to Hillsborough Rd. in the Old West Durham neighborhood. Hmmm. See a pattern? No? Try this: road widening has already occurred on Elizabeth St/Fayetteville St. in Cleveland Holloway, Golden Belt, and Edgemont. Road widening is also proposed on Alston Ave. in Golden Belt, and East Durham. Now ask yourself, what similarities do the "calming" neighborhoods have, and what similarities do the "widening" neighborhoods have?

Despite what happened Monday night, a lot of us believe that Alston Ave. is not over. It can and should be an issue in the upcoming Council elections, and candidates who talk out of both sides of their mouths on this issue should beware.

Rob Gillespie

I was really, really enjoying your posts for a good while. Now that you've simply repeated yourself (several times now, I believe) I'm just bored of you.

Your beloved Delegado Cero has written over 200 essays and 20 books. Surely you could pull out some new content for your posts.

John Davis

The last thing Duke and Gregson needs is traffic calming devices. These are major roads into Durham. I would support widening Duke and Gregson over Alston Ave.

John Davis

I would like to add that Duke and Gregson are suppose to be bike routes. The City wants to narrow the lanes below what is a confortable norm. You can't have it both ways.

Matt Dudek

@John - If the commute to work is killing you, it would be great if you moved to one of the neighborhoods downtown. That way you'd have the short commute you want, and no one's neighborhood would have to be destroyed to shorten your commute.



I think Gregson and Duke are two of the best biking roads just like they are and, though bikers mere presence may frustrate some, we do a pretty good job of calming traffic, especially when the speed limit is 20-25, cause that's about what a biker can do comfortably when drafting cars.

One man's opinion: Durham has outstanding urban biking.

Synchronize Durham's stoplights, which is now mindlessly wasteful and inefficient.

Tyler Farrar

There was a program talked about years ago to synchronize the streetlights.

Does any one know whatever happened to making it happen? I supposed its on a shelf collecting dust along with the bike and ped plans. and the greenway master plan. and the sidewalk plan. and now the Loop conversion plan.

Make Duke and Gregson two way and slower speeds would be restored along with improved connectivity.

Making cops do their job and enforce driving laws would be helpful too. why doesn't this happen?

Sometimes the simple solution is the best one. Instead we are gonna get mediocre bandaids and bullshit developement like this Alston widening that don't get to the root of the issue or actually improve things.

If we had effective inspired city leadership the dog would be wagging the tail, instead the DOT does whatever the hell they want and our city govt. for the most part (5/7 usually) throws its hands up in the air and defeatedly says "what're you gonna do?"

John Martin


While I agree with much of what you say, I do NOT believe that it is correct to blame DOT for the Alston Ave. mess. DOT will not do anything that the City Council does not first approve. Rather, it is convenient for elected politicians to blame unelected staff at DOT when citizens get irate. ("It's not our fault. Our hands are tied. They made us do it.") This is nonsense born of the desire by many politicians not to take a stand that will offend anyone. So we get the circle-squaring resolution of Monday night that simultaneously calls for widening Alston Ave. while putting it on a diet.

It is your job and my job as voters to make Council candidates take real stands, particularly on controversial issues, and not just to feed us pablum. I hope we can do that in 2011.


Re: Alston Ave. "Widening" - The main friction points for traffic is at the Angier/Main/Liberty/Holloway intersections. Three lanes and a single right turn lane at the intersection would allow traffic to flow smoothly w/o increasing speeds significantly. It should be more about traffic flow vs. speed anyway.

Basically, the Council is trying to swing bike lanes/ on-street parking out of DOT without considering those streetscape improvements. I think it is a legitimate compromise but we should still be able to decide whether traffic reached a point to add the additional lane striping at a later date.

Re: Transportation - I just hope we link all these great transit and walkability plans to corresponding development patterns. Some of our mixed used developments have historically not been too walkable.


@ John Martin --- Exactly .... You said it so well. DOT is certainly not perfect but it is also not the devil that makes local officials pursue projects that don't work for the communities that they affect. Hwy 147 was a project that was selected by the city council and even supported by the Durham Committee. Creating the Duke/Gregson Street one way paring was also a project that was endorsed by the council, as was the disastrous downtown loop. Local officials should be more knowledgable than state officials about how communities should develop and about how transportation can drive or hinder that development.

The DOT has incredible technical expertise and the pots of state and federal money to build transportation infrastructure. However, local elected officials and metropolitan planning organizations develop comprehensive transportation plans that drive these decisions. Rightly so given that they are directly accountable to local voters.

Good to see such local engagement at the INC around transportation planning.

John Martin


Please look at the actual proposals before you start endorsing them. In fact, at the request of the City, DOT eliminated many dedicated right-turn lanes from the original plans because we want to simultaneously 1) decrease traffic speed for the benefit of pedestrians and bicyclists even though the overall aim of the project is 2) increase traffic speed for the benefit of commuters. Magical thinking is masquerading as transit planning. The revised plans do NOT have dedicated right turn lanes at Alston and Liberty or Alston and Holloway. There are dedicated right-turn lanes only southbound Alston at Main, eastbound Main at Alston and northbound Alston at Angier. This last right-turn lane would come at the expense of the property of the Asbury Temple United Methodist Church, one of the most beautiful and historic churches in Durham.

The only other dedicated right-turn lane in this proposal is, inexplicably, southbound Alston at Morning Glory, which just happens to be the corner where the Morning Glory Senior Village is located. Morning Glory Senior Village is a group of 25 apartments for low-income seniors. So as these seniors attempt to cross Morning Glory to get to Los Primos, they'll risk getting run down by speeding drivers looking for a quicker way to get to East Main St, heading towards downtown.

@Chuck. The history is pretty dismal, isn't it? The transportation officials explained Monday night that undoing the downtown loop would cost twenty to twenty-five million dollars. The downtown loop was established in part to alleviate downtown "congestion." It sure succeeded. It helped turn downtown into a ghost town for several decades. I suspect Alston Ave. widening will do the same thing for Alston Ave: destroy the remaining businesses and turn the houses that border it into cheap rentals because no one who can afford better wants to live adjacent to a throughway.


Personally I think that Durham should try this option.


@Chris - that's awesome!


@ John - Next time I will be sure to preface my statement with IMO (In my opinion) when I post an opinion on here. If you haven't noticed...I don't come on here to argue but to express ideas. I leave the arguing and one upmanship to others on here. I've been pretty consistent check my record.

The proposal that you referenced...its not the last one. So why talk about it like it is the final design? I've actually seen at least 3 different DOT drawings for the project including the horrible 1st rendition. Your plight will be helped by recognizing progress and then discussing how the project can be even better and respecting the other ideas/ principles that are brought to the table.

Traffic Flow vs. Traffic Speed

Two different is more respectful of pedestrians/ bicycles than just auto-oriented. I think we all agree that the current Alston Ave. configuration is doing NO ONE justice.

Michael Bacon

Che Kilombo is having fun using big words he saw when he walked by a stack of academic articles once. He's not really sure what they mean, but things like "neoliberal" are fun to throw out even when it's in the embarrassingly wrong context.

They're not effective, they're not coherent, and they're not even all that radical, but using the big words is fun!!!

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