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A night of high drama — and scolding — in the Farrington Road rezoning case

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Like most people in City Council Chambers Monday night, Durham attorney Ken Spaulding was doing the math. After more than an hour of Council debate and public comment, a controversial rezoning case of 19 acres along Farrington Road would soon be put to a vote. At this point, there were three for, two against, and two unknown. 

This was Spaulding’s last chance to win over the two question marks on behalf of his client, developer Wood Partners. 

“I’m going to throw away my notes,” said Spaulding, who last week lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary. And with that, he also threw away his statesmanship.

In a tone reminiscent of a parent scolding a 12-year-old for failing to clean his room, Spaulding unloaded on Council. “It’s fine to say what fine developers we are,” he barked. “The goals of the city are the goals that we’ve met [on this development]. I’m speaking up because you’re trying to set a precedent in regards to placing a moratorium on development in Durham.”

Councilman Don Moffitt did not appreciate what he called Spaulding’s" bullying" tactics.

Earlier in the meeting Moffitt had noted that of any project he has considered as a councilman, and in six years as a planning commissioner, “I’ve spent more time thinking about this one.”

Moffitt was leaning toward a yes vote, but after Spaulding’s diatribe, he told him, “You’re making this really hard.” 

The case before Council was a rezoning of 19.5 acres at 5708 Farrington Road, near N.C. 54, from a low-density designation to higher density. This would allow Wood Partners to construct  a mixed-use development, including 500 to 600 apartments on four of those acres. 

The developer would spend $1.7 million on road improvements — although they really would only offset the traffic impacts of the development. The service level of N.C. 54 would remain “D,” which is defined as “speed and the maneuverability are severely reduced. Low level of comfort for the driver, as he must constantly avoid collisions with other vehicles.”

Last December, the planning commission had voted against approving the development; Council had continued the case from February, in order to hear a March 10 affordable housing presentation from city consultant Karen Lado. Council wanted to consider her findings because  the Wood development would be near a proposed light-rail stop — Leigh Village. And just 20 of the 600 apartments — 4 to 5 percent — would be affordable, and built in Phase 2. That falls short of the city’s goal of 15 percent of affordable units within a half-mile of light-rail stops.

Also, Leigh Village area will eventually be in a compact neighborhood tier, a designation that allows for greater density, but whose actual implementation is still at least three years, if not more, away.

Part of the problem was not a legal one, per se — Wood Partners had checked off all of the city’s boxes for a rezone — but an existential one. For at least the past year, both the City Council and County Commissioners have maintained that Durham, now an attractive place to live, no longer has to cave to developers’ requests, even reasonable ones. 

Councilman Charlie Reece, one of the no votes, restated that point. “I could have supported this had it not been in the transit zone,” he said. “We have to be willing, as hard as it is, to look developers in the eye and say, ‘This time and this place that doesn’t work for us.’”

However, Mayor Bill Bell, who voted yes, countered that, “We don’t need to penalize developers who’ve done what we’ve asked.”

Another part of the problem is that the city was unprepared for its own renaissance, albeit one that is leaving many people in Durham behind. In 2014, the city passed a resolution establishing a 15 percent goal for affordable housing near transit stops, but only now are planners and elected officials working in the economic thicket of what that means: public subsidies, selling city-owned land with stipulations for affordable units, density bonuses and the like.

“A lot of this is on us in terms of urgency,” said Councilman Steve Schewel. “The market changed really quickly around us. In 2007 and 2008 we were cutting planning staff; we weren’t thinking about this.”

Lado of Enterprise Community Partners, the city’s affordable housing consultant, pointed out two weeks ago, that a public subsidy — from the feds, the state, local funding — is necessary to fill the financial gap between what a unit costs and a lower-than-market-rate rent. Otherwise, a private developer can’t earn a profit.

The city has an affordable housing fund, fueled by a 1 cent levy on property tax rate, but even at $2.5 million a year, it falls far short of meeting the need. (The Farrington Road development would generate about $150 million a year in the property tax base noted Woodland Partners’ Deb Anderson, which would generate money for that fund.)

“Somebody has to pay for affordable housing,” Moffitt said. “It’s a basic economic issue here. To pay for affordable units, the rent goes up in all the other units, making them less affordable.”

Building affordable housing in the suburbs addresses the concern that not everyone can live — or wants to live — downtown. The Farrington spot is ideal for residents who work in Chapel Hill, the far South Side, or even RTP. (GoDurham bus routes 800 and the 805 service the area.) Affordable housing would help those in service jobs (or in the case of Chapel Hill, about any job) live closer to their workplace, especially if they don’t have a car.

“The concerns about equity are important,” Councilwoman Jillian Johnson said. “And I don’t want that to take a back seat.”

“These are the most critical areas,” Johnson went on. “We want to prevent the light rail from becoming a vehicle for displacement. Without our intervention these areas are likely to become very expensive, and without tools and incentives, [affordability] won’t happen. If we approve rezoning like this piecemeal, we can’t go back and do it over again.”

This brings us back to the original existential problem: Neither the city — nor anyone — can predict the future. Just as officials didn’t foresee the market shift, it’s difficult to know what would be built on these 19 acres under the current zoning. (The Morehead Hill neighborhood faced a similar quandary with the Greystone Apartment project in the historic district — aka, “It could be a lot worse.”)

“The danger is in denying this, the developer could put in single-family homes at  two homes an acre,” Schewel said. “And you can’t develop density next door when you have single-family homes.”

It was nearly 9 o’clock, and time to vote. 

The no votes: Jillian Johnson, Charlie Reece and Steve Schewel.

The yes votes: Mayor Bill Bell: “Unless council fills the funding gap we’re doing disservice to the people and the development community. We need to sit down with the development community and ask them what would it take to get to that affordable housing goal.”

Cora Cole McFadden: “When I go home I have to be able to rest, and know I made decisions based on my principles, and that they are fair.”

Eddie Davis: “I have concerns, but I’m voting in favor.”

And ultimately, in a difficult decision, Don Moffitt.

The rezoning passed 4-3.







Mayor Bill Bell: “We need to sit down with the development community and ask them what would it take to get to that affordable housing goal.”

What a novel idea.

Don Moffitt

One correction: the project will result in an increase to the tax base of $150,000,000, not that amount in new taxes. It should, however, generate something like $200,000 annually in new property taxes for the city and county.

Lisa Sorg

Sorry, Don, that's the point I was trying to get across. I'll clarify.

Will Wilson

This was distressing. The vote shows that developers, not the people of Durham, or the advice of the Planning Commission, determine Durham's direction. I sure hope the council listens to Durham's people in the many upcoming rezoning votes. The council seems confused: there is no right to rezoning even if "all the boxes are checked".

Rob G

And what did the development analysis say about the costs of the development? When you add 1 FTE fireman and 1 FTE police officer, you're already at $100k a year when you include payroll taxes and benefits.

I'm certainly not anti-development, I'm just wondering what leeway the city has for assessing impact fees. My gut instinct would be that they're against state law, given the bent of our legislature over the past several years.

Jeff Bakalchuck

I'm disappointed by this. The developers got a great windfall and from what I can see Durham got bupkis.

@Lisa and Kevin. It would make great reading if you could tabulate council members voting record on developer requests. Has Bill Bell ever met a developer proposal he didn't like?

Damian Smith

Once again a new development in Durham get's a pass on affordable housing. Four percent affordable housing is a joke.The Liberty warehouse development, the Whetstone, 605 Chapel Hill St, the West Village all got sweethearts deals. All have managed to get a pass on the affordable housing requirement. @ Jeff. Since moving to Durham in 2008, I can't recall Bell ever being against developer proposal. I'm happy to see higher density development, but potentially pushing the affordable housing out of downtown or surrounding the city center into the suburbs doesn't make sense.

I applaud Council members Reese, Johnson, and Schewel for drawing a line. Government shouldn't just lay down in the face a business threatening to leave. Reese hit it out the park with this statement, “We have to be willing, as hard as it is, to look developers in the eye and say, ‘This time and this place that doesn’t work for us.’ This wasn't the time or the place.


I would love to ask the Mayor what the "development community" is.


Folks wake up. The fix is in. There will be only token affordable housing anywhere along DOLRT. The real estate is too valuable. Same thing has happened in city after city and the bull city is no different. Light Rail does nothing for the people that depend on transit and makes traffic worse by forcing people to live further out. I would like to see the numbers on Don's imaginary 200K figure, I expect that this like most other residential development is negative in terms of revenue when all the services are added in.


Alex Cabanes

Interesting that our local leaders in Durham and Chapel Hill keep trying to justify DOLRT with TOD and increased affordable housing in proximity to the stations, yet they repeatedly accept http://smarttransitfuture.org/2015/12/18/myth-social/

Damian Smith

Alex, How about providing an unbiased source about the DOLRT? The opponents of light rail forget that it will allow Triangle transit to shorten and change certain routes so they can better serve existing areas and provide new service in other areas. The people living int Farmington road, act like it the only undeveloped area between Durham and Chapel Hill, but the areas has several new housing development along the road, the infill has already begun.
Light rail will alleviate some congestion and provide a safe and easy way to travel between the two cities, it doesn't solve everyones transit problems, but it's a move in the right direction. . Durham as a city needs it leaders to take a stand on the affordable housing and say no to projects which refuse to meet the 15 percent. 200,000 added to the tax rolls will be used up quickly. The developers are looking to make a quick buck, without any real investment in the community.


@Damian, How many more could be served by using the 1.8 *billion* transit dollars in a more responsible way? Beside being ridiculously expensive, LRT is quickly being obsoleted by new technologies (robotic vehicles) and economic forces (sharing and mobile economies).

I do not know your definition of "affordable" but my experiences in other US cities tells me that they will not be affordable to low income or even workforce families. Even the small portion that are will compare poorly to options elsewhere.

I am certain Alex can address the safety concerns and other misconceptions you seem to have, but I will say that the GoTriangle and LRT proponents are guilty of a much greater bias in their literature.

Bottom line; spend the monies in much more flexible and lower cost BRT technologies. Put the lines in areas that serve the development corridors that already exist. Use the funds left over to expand transit that will actually have an impact on the people that need and want it.

Rob G

The sharing economy will replace light rail? That makes zero sense at all. An UberX fare from Oldham Towers to UNC Hospitals is estimated to cost $37. Or, someone can hop on the light rail from the Dillard St station, less than 2 blocks away, and ride to UNC Hospitals for less than $5. Tell me how the $37 Uber fare replaces light rail.

Also, please explain how putting hundreds of more Uber's on the road is going to solve congestion. I would guess it would become much worse-- in addition to the active car trips, you now have Uber's shuttling between fares as well.

Jeff Bakalchuck

First a disclosure: I'm a strong proponent of transit.

We need to be real about the proposed Light Rail. The route is not designed to serve all of Durham. Look at a map and look at the racial make-up of the areas served and not served.
This is not transit for the people that depend most on transit.

Terry Rekeweg worked up an alternative routing that served East Durham much better. It also eliminated a few dozen dangerous grade crossings and would cost a few hundred million less. It has a lower environmental impact on New Hope Creek. It was rejected by GoTriangle. The same GoTriangle that recently changed the routing of the fare-free BCC to eliminate the single busiest stop(Durham Station) to add a stop near Duke. Extended west but not east. See a pattern here?

Perhaps it should be renamed the Durham Orange White Rail.


I love it when facts are hilarious. well done.


@Rob G, You show very superficial understanding of the sharing economy as it relates to transit. The sharing economy goes much further than Uber. Many changes are happening that are highly disruptive to the transportation model as it currently exists.

Beside that fact, if you think a train ride on DOLRT is going to cost $5, I have some prime real estate in Florida, a bridge in NYC and a candidate that is gong to make America great again, I'd like to sell you.

Think about how often a private car sits idle and how much in taxes, maintenance and insurance is paid and how that capital could be put to better use by the average car owner. In the not too distant future it will not make sense for individuals to own automobiles. They will be owned and maintained by fleets/car manufactures who will offer robotic transit that is customized to the individual. Both GM and Ford have already made moves in this area, acquiring tech companies. Uber itself may well be acquired by a manufacturer.

Another economic change that is already here is that fewer and fewer people are driving to fetch goods and services or driving to employment. The model has been reversed as goods and services are being delivered to the point of use ether by a service or electronically, and people work from home. This further reduces the need for personal automobiles. Although the recession also had a dramatic effect, this reversal in car dependency is reflected in the decline in the number of population adjusted miles driven:


For someone who lives in Oldham Towers, where rents are as low as $50 (and that's a struggle) there's no way in hell they are going to pay $5 to get from Oldham Towers to Chapel Hill.

The TTA fare at $2 is a stretch.

Cthulu '16

@ plurimus, Is it possible that the dip in total miles driven is driven (heh, sorry) primarily by the recession and not a long-term trend?

I ask because I regularly read a handful of auto-related blogs that touch on all the points you mention about autonomous driving, share-economies and the disruption of the auto industry. Anyway, in a nutshell, "miles driven" seems to be trending upward since the fading of the recession and the drop in gas prices.

Your other points on DOLRT are valid, IMO.

Ray Gronberg

Love it when people trot out Terry Rekeweg's "alternative" to the TTA routing. It's an armchair exercise divorced from reality. Exhibit A is its proposed use of the NC 54 corridor, in defiance of the fact on the ground that the NC 54 corridor, between NC 751 and I-40, passes through swamp -- and not just a wetlands-regulated swamp, but land owned outright by the US Army Corps of Engineers. You will never get a Corps waiver to use that, as the existing TTA plan has already shown the Corps another option.

Nor is CSX more likely to be cooperative when it comes to putting the line in its right-of-way in the NC 55 corridor than the NC Railroad has been about allowing the use of its right-of-way downtown.


@Cthulu (Great alias BTW), I acknowledge that some or even most of the drop in population adjusted mileage by people over 16 is indeed recession related, Sadly, FRED does not breakdown personal vs commercial , but looking at other data like the purchase of fuels (especially diesel) and truck tonnage over the same period seems to indicate that goods and services deliveries did not slow during that period and in some cases increased. Further, internet traffic and online sales continue to break records at the expense of brick and mortar establishments.

I understand that correlation does not equal causation, however I also recognize that auto-related blogs might also have some confirmation bias.

Whether this is truly a long term trend is anyone's guess. We still have not fully understood all the causes of the drop in labor participation rate, but some economic sea changes are definitely occurring and the transportation sector is in the cross hairs.

This leads me to one more point and that is the wholly regressive nature of the transit tax. It seems Orwellian (or at least Twain-ish) to me that the very people who need, but will not benefit from DOLRT are the ones being hit the hardest with this tax.

The fact is that DOLRT is NOT a transportation project. It is an economic development initiative masquerading as a transit project. Once people realize that there really is no mystery about who benefits.


@plurimus, Jeff Bakalchuck: "Needs transit most for social reasons" is not the same as "needs the most intensive transit capital investment." East Durham's transit needs are fairly diffuse (downtown, Durham Tech, The Village, Holton CRC, Walmart, etc) and not amenable to be served by a single straight line. And the streets aren't congested enough in that area that we need dedicated right of way.

Durham to Chapel Hill via 15-501, on the other hand, has most of the key destinations lined up in a nice straight line, and is suffering from continuously growing traffic congestion. That's the sort of corridor where you need light rail or high-quality BRT.

Building light rail in East Durham would be a waste of money because it doesn't need light rail for reliability or capacity reasons, and a single line and wouldn't comprehensively serve the community's transit needs. But Durham to Chapel Hill *does* need light rail for reliability and capacity reasons. (TTA 400 and 405 buses are getting later and later; DATA 6 and 10 buses are getting fuller and fuller.)

I don't think there's been enough bus investment in East Durham, but the good news is that building out the bus network in East Durham is a lot faster and cheaper than building a light rail in East Durham. We need to lean on the City Council to invest more in the bus system. Just being able to put an extra dozen buses on the street would make a massive difference in service quality. (Well, that and better sidewalks and shelters.) We *don't* need to crash the light rail project and start it over after already putting in five years of planning.


@James. I wish I could see it your way. However having watched this thing for a years, the cognitive dissonance is just too great for the following reasons

1) 1.8 Billion for a 17 mile train that will not serve the area in any meaningful way. (BTW neither Duke nor UNC are kicking in from their enormous endowments)
2) A technology that is obsolete before it is built
3) A regressive tax that hits the least well off the hardest and to add insult to injury funds something they will not benefit from.
4) Viable options, such as BRT that would greatly expand the scope and quality of transit for less monies are available
5) A thinly disguised economic development project draining transit funds for the benefit of developers
6) Trains that bypass new economic zones (e.g. Ephesus Fordham) and the medical offices on 15-501 At grade crossings that serve to snarl traffic and are downright dangerous (at the same time at grade crossings are being resolved on the Amtrack routes because of accidents)
7) A plan that likely increases traffic and reduces commuting options for people that will be displaced
8) A transit authority making decisions while not directly accountable to the voters
9) A transit authority that is spending 800K a month on consultants, but reduces service (Durham Station), because of “funding issues”.

All the above to solve crowding on TTA 400 and 405 buses? Building out East Durham would have already happened if the transit authority were not spending so much on consultants. Furthermore, park ‘n ride lots might still be free.

Now I am not powerful and I can’t crash this project, but if it were up to me I would. Spending five years and millions of dollars on such a folly is something that should be investigated. Throwing good money and effort after bad is not a good reason to continue.

Alex Cabanes

Interesting that our local leaders in Durham and Chapel Hill keep trying to justify DOLRT with TOD and increased affordable housing in proximity to the stations, yet they repeatedly accept less than 15% affordable housing.

If the intent is to promote Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) to help create walkable communities with affordable housing within 1/2 walking distance of the stations, then why did Durham accept < 5% affordable housing in Farrington? Or for that matter, why did Chapel Hill prefer the C2A route away from existing Meadowmont TOD to the other side NC54 highway (on the Durham side) tracks and at the same time permit construction of the Stancell car wash within 1/2 mile of Woodmont station that is supposed to support mixed-use TOD development?

The deeds and actions are inconsistent.

Is Durham doomed to become UNC's parking lot?

If the intent is social equity, why is DOLRT not going to Durham Tech or NCCU? Or BCC reduced service and bypass core Durham Transportation Center (and also not going to NCCU + Durham Tech)?

Recent in-depth demographic studies like: Transit Access and Population Change: The Demographic Profiles of Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods in the Washington, DC Area by BRIAN McKENZIE, U.S CENSUS BUREAU, SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND HOUSING STATISTICS DIVISION, SEHSD WORKING PAPER NO. 2015-023 DECEMBER, 2015 ...

… white workers are disproportionately represented in neighborhoods near rail stops. For the 2011-2013 period, 56 percent of workers living near rail stops were white, whereas 38.3 percent of workers who did not live near rail stops were white.

… a growing body of research examines displacement of low-income residents from transit-rich neighborhoods. One study examined the relationship between affordable housing and TOD, finding that barriers such as the high cost of land near rail stops present considerable challenges to developing and maintaining affordable housing within transit-rich neighborhoods. Another Washington, DC- based study found that the transportation-related savings associated with the most transit-rich neighborhoods are unlikely to offset the high cost of housing in these areas for low-income workers.

... The Proportion of Black Workers Declined in Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods. The racial and ethnic makeup of the Washington, DC region has changed notably over the last decade, but shifts in the racial and ethnic composition of neighborhoods are disproportionately reflected within rail-accessible areas. Within Washington, DC, between 2006-2008 and 2011- 2013, the proportion of Black workers declined from 32.9 percent to 24.1 percent within rail- accessible blocks, whereas the proportion of all other groups either increased or did not experience a statistically significant change (Figure 5). The proportion of workers in rail- accessible neighborhoods who are Black is about half that of workers with no rail access who are Black in 2011-2013, at 24.1 percent and 47.3 percent.


Los Angeles median rent prices for one-bedroom apartments jumped 46% along LA’s new metro line. “Previous studies across the country have noted how new public transit stops drive up nearby rental prices – we’re talkin’ 25-67% … Los Angeles may be especially susceptible to this type of increase, given we have the highest renter and lowest homeownership rate of all metropolitan areas in the country.”

I think a fundamental question is what problem are we trying to solve? GoTriangle makes explicit/implicit 'claims' without footnote or facts to support, across a broad spectrum. When one starts to sink, they focus on another claim/benefit. So we really never get to the crux of the problem. In a sense this becomes $1.6 BILLION 'whack-a'mole' game with taxpayers monies.

If you use the BRT that Chapel Hill is planning along MLK, that is projected to be ` $100M for 7 miles. So you could basically build 16 equivalent BRT lines with dedicated guideways, raised stations, etc. Funding is not unlimited, so what is best use of our monies?

If the problem is to reduce traffic congestion, that has not been experienced by communities that implement LRT. You can look at two examples (Charlotte & Los Angeles) or even in aggregate across the nation.

Charlotte Lynx daily ridership has stagnated at 16,000 over last 7 years, even though the population has grown 17%. Despite all this investment in Lynx, Charlotte was rated as the having the worse traffic in NC.
“L.A. Expo Line hasn’t reduced congestion as promised, a study finds.” article

If the problem is to improve commute times, the mean travel time to work according to the 2014 US Census is 21.5 minutes (Durham County) and 22.0 minutes (Orange County). So what happens to travel times if we do not implement the DOLRT project? According to the DCHC MPO Alternatives Analysis, 2040 travel times using Existing+Committed is projected to be 27 minutes.

Yet the proposed DOLRT will take 42-44 minutes (+10 minutes at terminus) . Now include the waiting time for the next train, the time to get to/from the station (via Park&Ride, Kiss&Ride, bicycle, walking, or bus transfer), it will even be LONGER. So how is this faster than the (hated) automobile that it is supposed to replace?

All of these statements are supported and cross referenced at SmartTransitFuture.org ...

Please, I encourage everyone to do your own research. Please get informed. Let's have a real discussion, instead of resorting to name calling.

Kevin Davis

Alex -- you don't want transit going through your neighborhood. You've said it. Your neighbors have said it. We've all heard it.

And you're of course welcome to post your perspectives here in the comments, but I have to say, ultimately this all comes back to a question of the vision you have for your "backyard." And it's just not realistic to think that low density development will or should persist in the 15/501, Farrington Rd, or 54 corridors.

Frankly -- and I've told GoTriangle this -- I wish they'd just spent the damned money to move the route on the other side of 54 or elevate Downing Creek, justified or not. And we all know how that ends.

You and plurimus make a lot of points in your comments. They don't add up to a comprehensive alternative vision for our city's growth because that's not the angle the anti-DOLRT folks need to make. The anti-DOLRT simply need to score as many points of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) as is needed to make people doubt the idea. Witness the Twitter account with nearly-continuous flow of "rail is bad!"

The vision I have, and one that is characteristically different from what you're laying out, is fairly short. Durham is landlocked by watershed and small municipal boundaries. Growth is a good and necessary thing if managed well. Durham highly disproportionately sees inbound commuter traffic from neighboring and distal counties to our busy job centers -- notably Duke and downtown, along with RTP -- contributing to traffic challenges.

DOLRT will change the shape and direction of development. Rail and car-alternatives are crucial for millennials and retirees. Non-SFH housing options will be highly desired and interesting in a world that's urbanizing, not suburbanizing. Densifying this corridor allows us to both concentrate growth, and also to add housing units we literally won't be able to build at present densities.

We've had this conversation before. I don't think I can convince you that I'm right, and the vice versa is certainly true.

However, I think it's important for those novitiates in the conversation to know that this back-and-forth is approaching Campbellian mythical journey status -- the facts and figures change but the story is universal.



1) Farrington road is not a "corridor"

2) DOLRT was poorly planned. Meadowmont was the path and the fact that TTA did not discuss this with the Army speaks volumes

3) Just because someone is providing evidence that DOLRT is an epic boondoggle, does not mean they are anti-transit, NIMBY or that they do not have a vision. It may just mean they are honest and concerned tax payers.

That aside the comprehensive counter vision is well outlined: spend the money on BRT and link the places people want to go rather than spending 1.8 billion on a transit trophy. That counter vision does not run counter to you vision as far as it goes, except in the areas of better flexibility, far less cost per mile and better coverage. Perhaps it's just that some are more interested in a pluralistic solution than development for the sake of it.

DOLRT will change the shape and direction of development for the worse by raising property values and rents to the point that no one but the well off can afford to live nearby.

Better check you facts; the urban density is down again this year and more people then ever want homes and yards.

The monomyth abyss being perpetuated here is the one that DOLRT is a transit plan and we need a regressive tax to support it. Own up to what you hint at; DOLRT is a economic development program and the voters were hoodwinked into paying for it by a slick "transit" campaign.


Annoying thread is annoying. Ruins a great website.

Alex Cabanes

@Kevin thank you for reaffirming our (and other) community concerns.

If GoTriangle had stuck to the original C1/C1A routing thru Meadowmont TOD, much of our community's fury would have dissipated. Our community and surrounding areas have been pleading with Chapel Hill Town Council, GoTriangle, etc since May 2011 (you can see the video archive of CHTC meeting) to NOT place at-grade crossings at our community's front door. Anyone familiar with the local topography will quickly understand the dangers of introducing at-grade crossings in this section of DOLRT. A survey of local residents concluded that 95% of local residents were strongly opposed to the introduction of at-grade crossings in this area.

If the proposed DOLRT implementation was elevated / grade separated, this would address some of the safety concerns. However the current proposal introduces 43 dangerous, at-grade crossings (counter to earlier claims by Mr Charters of a mere 25 at-grade crossings), which you can GOOGLE 'light rail accidents' to get an idea on the frequency and severity of these accidents and fatalities. As a matter of fact, light rail fatalities per passenger mile is second only to motorcycle deaths in the USA.

If GoTriangle actually listened and sought to actively work with the local community to address their safety concerns of dangerous at-grade crossings, that would be a positive step. Clearly, placing routing on north side of NC54, or NC54 median or even keeping the DOLRT elevated thru this section could remedy many of the local community concerns.

I believe that we need to make a distinction between the current proposed implementation of DOLRT vs the viability of LRT as a technology. Unfortunately, the proposed DORLT implementation will fail to deliver on much of the promise. We can look at other LRT implementations across the nation and we can learn from them, rather than repeat the same mistakes.

I am sorry that you feel that 'Twitter account with nearly-continuous flow of "rail is bad!"' ... rather than broaden the discussion with examples that we can learn from and not blindly repeat these mistakes. So I am sorry if these truths don't neatly fit your preconceived narrative and make you uncomfortable.

I believe that your anti-DOLRT characterization conveniently fits many of your readers' narrative (and GoTriangle), but still does not counter the facts. LRT in certain places, in certain situation may make sense. However, if you read (not merely accept the GoTriangle narrative and 'progressive' dogma), you will quickly come to the conclusion that we do not (and will not have) the necessary population density to make DOLRT economically viable, placing an even greater burden on local taxpayers while forcing cuts in other services & priorities (as evidenced by the earlier BCC Connector article per Lisa Sorg).

There are other alternatives that provide a higher return on our tax payer investments. Rather than DOLRT, changing the technology from 'steel wheels' to 'rubber wheels' (with the same dedicated guideway, nice stations, with level boarding and ticketing machines) BRT will yield better returns for substantially less monies. You can review the academic literature from other projects and see the positive impact of BRT on local communities. These expenditure savings allow us, as a community, to apply these funds to other pressing community priorities, whether it is additional public transit like the Chapel Hill BRT along MLK as outlined in the nscstudy.org website, or better schools, teacher pay, healthcare, affordable housing, etc.

Lastly, I am certainly open to learning new information. So if you do have independant facts, please do present them and please cite the source. However, your statement of relieving traffic congestion along I-40 from RTP merely perpetuates the mis-information around DOLRT. The current DOLRT implementation does not go to RTP, RDU, Southpoint or points EAST.


I'll offer a little perspective that hasn't been quantified, purified, and certified by the TTA, DOT or other.

Chapel Hill had sustained some attraction as a bucolic town with a university. Contrary to what I believe I read in various media, 'Meadowmont' was not 'planned' to be part of some rail transit infrastructure but used that as a progressive proxy to assuage that legacy of genteel inquisitiveness, while profiting from it. The rail idea was already under consideration.

I'd also propose that there is more in common across a number of recent threads than has been stated outright. In response to "what question are we trying to solve?" and the issue of "at grade crossings" both of these can be answered by looking at the questions on the recent TTA (?) survey-improving the roadways. As one can see from the absolute absence of pedestrians along 15-501 (as well as the other obvious alignments) using that actual corridor would not only not threaten safety concerns, but would provide an opportunity to include 'walkable' public spaces.

This is more broadly a question of aesthetics, and just like the misguided proposal to build new ugly buildings and while tearing down older ones why we can't take a longer view of the economics and construct public buildings similar to the beaux arts and Carnegie era libraries, train stations, museums, and perhaps even police stations?

Alex Cabanes


You raise some good questions regarding Uber.

Let's start with your assumed $5 fare for DOLRT vs $37 Uber fare. You are comparing a heavily subsidized DOLRT fare closer to $35 (GoTriangle currently has ~ 15% farebox recovery, so that means the other 85% of the cost is subsidized by the tax payers). So if Uber enjoyed the same subsidy structure as GoTriangle, your costs for door-to-door service would be very close in your example. And that is with human drivers.

Regarding the sharing economy and the introduction of autonomous vehicles, that would allow for software optimization of riders and traffic patterns while eliminating human drivers (labor) that would increase the efficiency of routing, with higher roadway density from smart cars that could eliminate stop & go traffic (improving fuel efficiency and reducing pollution) since the cars could 'talk' to other cars and roadway infrastructure.

If you are inclined to read more, you can research Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure, also known as V2V and V2I, that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has championed of late.

So in fact, for each automated Uber that you add to the roadway, you could potentially remove multiple 'human' driven cars from the roads, eliminate many parking spaces, etc.

Alex Cabanes


The original plan for DOLRT was C1 route dating back to 1995 to be part of the Meadowmont community. There are multiple signs posted along Meadowmont corridor like this one ...


Regarding the dangers of at-grade crossings, at least for our community, we are primarily concerned about the safe vehicle ingress/egress along NC54 highway since we do not have the benefit of a traffic signal to control NC54 traffic flow and allow us to safely get on to NC54 highway.

Dick Ford

Different view as Durham goes all in for light rail - Is Uber's ultimate goal the privatisation of city governance? From the Guardian:



Governance is just as susceptible to disruptive technologies as it has ever been, what is new is the magnitude and frequency of change.

A curious artifact of the Meadowmont 1995 "plan" for light rail is that they did not begin by securing a route through the Army Corps protected watershed, they just sketched a bunch of possible route options that had to become political footballs. It is an obvious oversight that would never be permitted in an approved business plan. OTOH, maybe TTA just didn't think it was important, knowing they could ram it through the political process later in the same way they misrepresented an economic development plan as a transit "future".

Misses like this (unintentional or not) are what lay the foundation for technological politics. AirBnB is disrupting the regulation of lodging in the same way as Uber. Behavioral economics are and will continue to be the ultimate arbiter.

Kevin Davis


Your statement that much of the opposition would have "dissipated" if the Meadowmont corridor was selected, yet you and your compadres continue to throw out all manner of issues and concerns and challenges around the concept, tells me what really matters to many: don't screw with Downing Creek.

We've already seen it in the Indy's reporting in recent months, asserting the interesting connection that Timmy Moore's chief of staff lives in a community adjoining Downing Creek. And, surprise, we get the $500k cap! (http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/who-killed-the-durham-orange-county-light-rail-project/Content?oid=4982480)

Nowhere did I say that DOLRT is going to impact RTP. Indeed, here's the relevant sentence: "Durham highly disproportionately sees inbound commuter traffic from neighboring and distal counties to our busy job centers -- notably Duke and downtown, along with RTP -- contributing to traffic challenges."

Yes, we have traffic challenges because lots of people live outside Durham and commute in. Creating housing units in Durham in transit corridors impacts the number of in-commuters from Chatham, Alamance, Orange, Granville, etc. DOLRT serves the downtown and Duke areas, not RTP -- though the eventual Wake/Durham commuter rail plan may help there.

The idea that autonomous vehicles and Uber-style companies will impact transit is obvious. However, that seems likely to come in the form of programs like GoTriangle's efforts to bridge Uber into bus/LRT services, such as the current partnership with TransLoc. Better suited to last mile connections. After all, Main Street is a parking lot at rush hour these days from Ninth to downtown. Doesn't matter if I'm driving or Uber is driving or nobody is driving, the car still takes the length and width of its wheelbase.


Or...perhaps it because there *are* "all manner of issues and concerns and challenges around the concept" [of DOLRT]

Also....perhaps the reason there is highly disproportionate "inbound commuter traffic from neighboring and distal counties" is because Durham has relatively high crime and high taxes to boot?

GoTriangle's efforts to bridge Uber into bus/LRT services really misses the point. The sharing economy is about getting rid of the middleman. That includes inefficient government "authorities" that do not answer to the voters and build low value high cost services.

"....the car still takes the length and width of its wheelbase" shows once again a under estimation of the technologies. Removing the driver and adding inter-vehicle communications allows for much more compact traffic patterns, parking and far less commuting traffic. Amoung other things, it's the space *between* the vehicles that is saved.



"The original plan for DOLRT was C1 route dating back to 1995 to be part of the Meadowmont community."

Would you care to share you're source of information?

Meadowmont's own press indicates that it was built in 1999. As I said, they used the lrt as PR, not as a planning guideline. DOLRT website only includes press going back to 1999 and specifically includes an analysis of the 15-501 corridor.


Root, Is this close enough? (emphasis mine) I imagine Alex has a better reference.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1995 AT 7:00 P.M.

Mayor Broun stated that this evening's public hearing would focus on discussions regarding the proposed Meadowmont rezoning requests and related Master Land Use Plan application.

"...............Mr. Perry also stated that the project proposed a mix of housing which would give the Town more diversity through the provision of some sites for the development of affordable housing. He also briefly reviewed other proposed site dedications including 18 acres for a school facility, *the designation of a future mass transit corridor*, a 70-acre park site and another site for an unspecified Town facility. Mr. Perry said he believed the proposed development would favorably impact the Town's tax base."



Alex Cabanes


If you actually look at the Meadowmont master plan you will see that there is a 50' right-of-way specifically reserved for future transit

which is part of the Murray Hill luxury townhouse East/West development package outlined

with letter from TTA / GoTriangle to East/West Partners on building so close to 50' transit easement

And as stated earlier, there are multiple signs posted along Meadowmont corridor like this one ...

And example of a Meadowmont resident who was lobbying FOR Meadowmont C1/C1A routing ...

Close enough?


I appreciate those references, which is why I think it is important to understand why the 15-501 corridor alignment needs to be revisited. I'm sure they can find another use for the 50 feet.


The 15-501 corridor using a well designed parallel BRT route with stations (stations are what are associated with density, not LRT) would be a far more efficient use of transit funds. This strategy would link existing development using existing rights of way and lay the groundwork for driverless vehicle guide ways.

There would likely be enough monies left over to extend service and create additional BRT services and stations.

Alex Cabanes

@plurimus + @root

Absolutely agree.

Straight shot down 15-501 with BRT just like MLK plan outlined @ http://nscstudy.org with 2 dedicated 12' guideway and nice, elevated, sheltered BRT stations that could also be shared with other buses (and emergency response vehicles) would be 2 miles shorter than current circuitous DOLRT routing, thru dense population centers where people already live and additional approved mixed-use development at substantially lower cost per mile that could be funded within 1/2 percent local transit tax and associated 80% federal grants (and bypassing need for NC state funding).

Heck, we could probably build (and pay for) a couple of these within our budget!

Genius !

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