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Traffic Circles Removed from Currituck Design

neighborhoodRoundabout The Raleigh City Council recently approved a traffic calming project slated for Currituck Drive in the North Hills subdivision. The project design, intended to engineer cars into keeping speeds in the 20s, includes curb extensions and medians. The intent is to convey a sense of traffic calming by including an element every 5th house along the street.

Original plans called for two neighborhood traffic circles (one oblong and one circular) as well as bumped out corners of an existing 4-way stop intersection. The approved design, however removes all of those options. The oblong circle has been replaced with a median on both sides of the intersection and the true circle will likely be replaced with a 4-way stop.

The project is expected to begin this summer in the summer of 2016.


City Lays Markings for Currituck Obstacle Course

20150204_140922 The City of Raleigh is planning for major traffic changes on Currituck Drive. The residential street is slated for curb bumps, surprise medians, and the city’s first residential mini-roundabouts. The street will also gain a sidewalk on the north curb to match the existing one on the south curb. According to plans, the project’s goal is to slow traffic to around 30mph. This will be accomplished by placing an irregular feature every 5th house in order to establish a culture of “speed calming”, but will contain no vertical elements (speed bumps).

Projects such as those on Rainwater Drive and Mourning Dove Road were the first to integrate lateral interruptions to traffic in Raleigh, however the Currituck project will be the first to implement the mini-roundabout. Two such designs will be used at the street’s intersections with Macon Place and Tyrrell Road. The island at Tyrrell, a perpendicular cross intersection will be a pure circle and will not require any additional streetscape to support the feature.

The feature at Macon, however, is oval, biased against Currituck traffic. This crossing, pictured, occurs during a steep hill, and visibility is not very good (looking uphill). Likely this will be the surprise element that will cause the most accidents (on a street with very few accidents in its 50 year history).

The City Council will review the plan and welcome public comment in their December 3 meeting. If the plan is accepted construction will occur during the coming Summer, if Fall of 2014 leaves are picked up.


DOT Unveils I-440 Widening Plans

Today the NC Department of Transportation held an information session regarding the I-440 widening plan. Construction on this final piece of “The Beltline” to offer only four lanes, is slated to break ground in 2018, and will likely take two years to complete.

The scope of the project involves Interstate 440 from the I-40 interchange at Crossroads (The Belt Buckle) to the Wade Avenue interchange. It is a stretch that is only 3.75 miles long, but has a significant number of difficult challenges from replacement of all bridges to dealing with terrain problems to overcoming constrictions set by limited right-of-ways.

Let’s look at the key elements, moving from North to South:

I-440/Wade Avenue Interchange

project pdf
The existing problems with this area lie with a heavy traffic load in the afternoon on the ramp from inbound Wade to 440 Eastbound (440E), a short weave under the bridge on Inbound Wade, a short weave on 440E between Hillsborough and Wade, and a short weave on 440W’s bridge over Wade. Planners intend to solve the first two problems by replacing the Wade/440E loop with a flyover bridge. Dealing with the other problems gets extremely tricky, but each plan has one other common feature: the elimination of the Outbound Wade/440W loop. ITB drivers wanting to go to Cary will have to make a left turn after the 440 overpass at a traffic signal. The other options mainly deal with getting traffic on/off of 440E to/from Hillsborough and Wade; the segment bordering Meredith College.

One Flyover

2014-11-12 18.22.55 This option puts all traffic coming from Cary onto a 2-lane resurrected loop on the NE corner of the cloverleaf. Traffic headed inbound on Wade waits at a left turn signal while traffic headed outbound continues from the loop into Wade. Hillsborough Street traffic headed out Wade blends with offcoming 440E traffic while cars getting on 440E dives under a new offramp bridge.

This option is the least expensive and offers Hillsborough Street drivers an unimpeded path to Wade Outbound and puts traffic directly onto Wade Avenue (see Two Flyovers). The main problem is that it keeps an unnecessary traffic signal stymying both directions of Wade. Why not keep the off-ramp for Inbound Wade traffic, give outbound their loop, and eliminate the current traffic light?

Two Flyovers

2014-11-12 18.29.33 The Two Flyovers option takes traffic on 440E headed to Wade Outbound on a flyover that would merge with offcoming 440 West’s heavy traffic, before merging onto Wade. Traffic headed inbound on Wade uses the current offramp and right turn.

The option makes all traffic coming from Hillsborough have an easy route and removes the existing traffic signal at Wade Avenue. The option keeps speeds higher, reducing bottlenecks, supposedly.

Actually this option would be an expensive nightmare, as then all 440 traffic headed to Wade Avenue west would have to merge with each other as well as short-weave with Wade Avenue traffic before the Blue Ridge Road offramp. Because the Blue Ridge Road offramp is not a part of this project, it cannot be changed and introduces a severe problem with the Two Flyover plan.

Slight Detour

2014-11-12 18.22.55 The Slight Detour plan takes 440E traffic headed out Wade through a resurrected 1-lane loop on the NE corner of the intersection. 440E’s Inbound Wade traffic and all of Hillsborough Street’s traffic would proceed to the current Wade Avenue signalized intersection, where Wade Inbound, Wade Outbound, and 440E can be accessed.

This plan handles the 440E to Wade Outbound traffic beautifully, as the traffic merges onto Wade before 440W’s offramp merges. The plan puts a weird burden on the Hillsborough-borne traffic however.

The strongest option of the three, as drawn, is the One Flyover because it keeps traffic from Hillsborough Street flowing best, however an Inbound off-ramp would be the best option as it removes an unnecessary traffic light from Wade Avenue’s flow.

I-440/Western Blvd

project pdf

WesternDDI Raleigh is about to get its first Diverging Diamond Intersection (DDI)! The DDI takes the Western Blvd traffic and swaps sides of the road near the 440 overpass. Each swap is managed by a 2-stage traffic signal, making the intersection easily traversed by pedestrians while keeping Western Boulevard’s traffic flowing well.

DDI intersections are strongest because the swap allows extremely safe, easy left turns onto and off of the highway’s ramps. Initially some are terrified at the thought of swapping the sides of the road, however these intersections are well marked and really feel like a one-way street. They are no scarier than a SPUI interchange, like the one at Southpoint Mall on I-40.

I-440/Jones Franklin

project pdf

JonesFranklin The current problems with this intersection are a double traffic light on Jones Franklin (because in the 70s a new apartment complex was allowed to access the road 50 feet from an off-ramp intersection), an extremely dangerous pedestrian situation on the overpass, a short weave on 440E between I-40 and Jones Franklin, and 440’s shortest onramp (Jones Franklin onto 400E).

Where do we start? To begin with, the 440W offramp will be realigned with the apartment complex’s street, creating a single signal intersection. Engineers intend to use a weave (bridged swap) to avoid the current short weave between I-40 and Jones Franklin on 440E.

The realignment will improve dramatically the intersection on the north side of the interchange. The weave? I don’t see much of a problem with the current short weave, and don’t think it needs to be addressed.

One problem, however, with the plan is that it shows Jones Franklin with four northbound lanes between the traffic light and Waters Edge. There is currently a northbound TTA bus stop in that segment (green dot). As designed the TTA bus would have to accelerate across two lanes of traffic through a T intersection after loading passengers.

When I proposed moving the stop to the south corner of the ramp/Sumter intersection (blue dot), the DOT engineer laughed in my face. No way is NCDOT going to allow a bus stop in their intersection, apparently. I was stunned, and appalled, in fact. The proposed intersection could easily be marked with crosswalks and signalized to handle a bus stop before the intersection. It is a far more safe manner than the engineer’s proposal of keeping the stop where it is.


The “Belt Buckle” is an intersection needing much improvement. Traffic merging from Crossroads Plaza has to traverse 2 lanes of traffic still hot from a 65mph speed zone. There is a short merge under the 40 bridges, and it creates backups on the US1 North segment of road.

DOT proposes a flyover for 40E traffic headed onto 440E. The plan removes the current loop for this move and solves the short weave problem under the bridge. Seriously, though, who does this move? Of the cloverleaf’s options, that’s probably the least utilized option. If all other things are equal, the flyover should be for traffic moving from US1N onto I-40W. Environmental and legal constraints apparently prohibit DOT from obtaining this land. (I haven’t written about this yet, but David Martin has wanted, for years, to put “Crossroads Towers”, 4 office towers and a hotel ranging from 10-62 stories each, on that land. Stay tuned).

Even more interesting about this intersection, however, is that there is a feasibility study going on right now to examine redoing the entire 440/40 intersection. In other words, a comprehensive overhaul may be coming anyway for this intersection, which means that DOT will likely take the options to just widen 440 to 40 and not touch the intersection for this project.

There are other aspects about this project that don’t require much discussion. The Melbourne Road bridge will be replaced, and the intersection will not close, for instance. DOT also plans to keep Method connected to a cemetery in the shadows of Westgrove Tower, as well.

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However the four big interchanges are the story here. Interim routing will be fascinating, as major changes such as those proposed will require an exquisite amount of detouring during the project.


County Power Shift Brings Major Changes to Raleigh’s Future

lynx Having a multi-tiered government means that every election brings a new character to the way we are governed. Tuesday night’s results certainly lived up to that promise, bringing significant changes to Raleigh.

I’ve always felt that the best place for Liberalism is in local government, where government application can best be managed and tailored for its citizens’ needs. Conversely the best place for Conservatism is in Washington, where one-size-fits-all governing rarely works.

Tillis Defeats Hagan

Surprisingly, outgoing N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis defeated the incumbent senator, Kay Hagan. The results for this race, along with Virginia’s, became the primary focus of national election coverage last night. The win for Republicans added to the party’s newly-gained majority in Washington, leaving President Obama relatively powerless against the Republican-controlled Capitol chambers.

In the end, however, the N.C. Senate race was a red herring for Raleigh residents. At the time of this writing Republicans will have a minimum 4-seat advantage in the U.S. Senate. The Tillis-Hagan race’s timing is being hailed as the race that put the Republicans over the edge for control. However the reality is that over $110 million of money was wasted on a race that means nothing to Raleigh.

Had Hagan won, she would have been a powerless observer in Washington over the next two years, unable to address North Carolina’s concerns. With Tillis’ win, he will be a powerless follower, but perhaps North Carolina’s interests will be better represented with both of its senators being in the same party as the majority and the state’s governor.

One thing that certainly will change for Raleigh residents is the way we watch TV and use the internet. Net Neutrality is dead from this election, so buckle up as internet service providers (ISPs) start to offer “free” or “faster” downloads for their content. I use those terms loosely because what will actually happen is your ISP will download data from competing entertainment companies at very slow rates, maybe even charging you extra for these data bits.

An example of this is your ISP charging a “Netflix surcharge” because you aren’t watching movies the ISP offers. We already are seeing this with “free” music from Rhapsody for T-Mobile users. In actuality they are charging you for music downloads from other companies.

Don’t be surprised if we see the introduction of metered data for home internet, too. ISPs know that Netflix is straining their servers at night, so they intend to pass along the costs of extra capacity. One way to do this is to limit the data you use during those period…unless you pay them extra.

Republicans Maintain Control of Both State Houses

A more important result for Tuesday’s election is the continued control of the state’s government by the Republican party. While some Democrats pulled off upsets, it was still a night where even Democrats with highways named after them lost.

The result was a statement of disapproval by the people against Reverend Barber’s Moral-killing Monday demonstrations. For some reason demonstrators thought they had an effective way to win back control of the state’s government; a message that Republicans hate teachers, minorities, and women. However The People turned out heavily for this midterm election sending a somewhat strong message of support for the current legislature.

Democrats Take Unprecedented Control of County/City Government

Lost in all of the hoopla over the senatorial race was the real story from last night. Not only did Democrats win a voting majority of the Wake County Commission, they have every seat on that commission. In fact, of the 24 main governmental seats in Wake County, 21 are owned by Democrat winners. Only 2 are Republican and 1 an “Independent”.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire election is the disparity in government control on the national and state levels with the local government in Raleigh. As I stated earlier, this is probably the best structure for the grand scheme of things, and will definitely be a fascinating study over the next 24 months.

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How Will Raleigh Change?

The Democrat’s sweep of the Wake County Commission was primarily led by the Sig Hutchinson campaign. The announced agenda for the election by his team focused on five areas:


Wake County should see a big push for increasing teacher pay and building new schools. With no resistance, we should see a reversal of the conservative-led movement away from busing a few years ago.


For over twenty years Raleigh has tried to organize a plan for “mass transit” (high-occupancy rail transit) and hasn’t been able to gain any decent funding beyond Planning and Land Acquisition. That all changed yesterday, however, as Wake County’s commissioners will get serious about developing a rail transit system. With the approval of the Orange/Durham light rail plan by the Feds back in February, Raleigh and county leaders feel like the city has fallen far behind in planning. There will be a huge push toward getting ground broken as soon as possible, regardless of costs.

Parks and Greenways

Parks and greenways seem to win every bond referendum, and this year’s bond victory is no different than others. Expect to see continued development of greenways paths, especially in outlying areas of Wake County. However the biggest change we will see is the realization of Dix Park . With the county and city behind this, there is finally political pressure to make the Dix Park dream a reality.

Water and Environment

Expect a big change in wastewater treatment, as storm water runoff and sewage are going to play big roles. Whether we see the return of a garbage disposal ban or water use restrictions during abundance is yet to be determined, however you better save those plastic bags from the grocery store because they will likely be banned in Wake County. We may also see development of larger water reservoirs, however the big push from this group will certainly be on the conservation end.

Jobs and Economic Development

We can expect a big push for arts-oriented and computer lifestyle jobs. Too, we should see a big push in transit-oriented development and infill projects, and a de-emphasis on sprawl-oriented, land-clearing projects.

How Will Raleigh Pay For This?

The new agendas in transit and schools will be extremely costly, and is not achievable with the current tax structure. With Republicans holding the federal and state purse strings, there will be a sense that Wake County should try to fund as much of this as possible locally. This makes sense, actually, given that we are the the benefactors of a system. After all, it isn’t Peoria’s responsibility to pay for our light rail system.

Residents should plan for steep (>20%) increases in property taxes. A hotter political item, however, will be a necessary sales tax increase. Currently Wake County is one of the 71 counties with the lowest sales tax rate in the state, 6.75%. The highest sales taxes exist in the transit-taxed Durham and Orange (7.5%) and Mecklenburg (7.25%). Wake County residents should prepare for a sales tax of at least 7.5%, however 7.75% is likely to be proposed given the perceived need to “catch up” with other counties’ transit plans in light of absent federal and state funding.

Usually it takes time for sift the meaning of elections. In Washington the unpopular President Obama will have to figure out (perhaps borrowing from President Clinton’s playbook) how to legislate with the opposing party controlling both the Senate and House. Locally, however, the future is clear. We’ve seen what Raleigh City Council leadership wants over the last 10 years wants, and over the last year we’ve seen what the Wake County School Board wants. Now that their county-level restrictions are gone, and we will see all three bodies start to stretch their legs very quickly as they steer Raleigh forward.


Maybe the Foxes Are Sending “Triangle” a Message

RTP_Dog For five decades now the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area has been termed “The Triangle”, and for good reason. As three cities/towns hosted the most important academic, medical and business centers, it was only natural to focus on the three entities. While we expected infill in The Triangle, we perhaps didn’t see our grown concentrations morph the area into a different shape; a red fox .

The area’s satellite imagery reveals much growth from Chapel Hill and Carrboro toward Raleigh, but Raleigh’s growth has been along outward spokes to the northeast, southeast, and southwest. According to the figure, Umstead park appears like a saddle on the little fox, and Jordan Lake looks like a long line of droll from Carrboro/Chapel Hill, the mouth of the dog.

While I’m not assigning any character traits to communities based on this morphology, the shape does spur some interesting questions such as:

  • Why hasn’t Creedmoor Road/hwy 50 seen any retail development?
  • Why has the Apex/Garner axis been kept so rural?
  • Why has the Durham/Wake Forest axis been kept so rural?

Maybe these little red foxes that are invading our cities are simply a calling; the new mascots for the area. Instead of “The Triangle”, we could be called “The Fox”. The airport code could be changed to “FOX”. The 10 o’clock news could be the Fox News Hour…. oh wait.


TTA Video Features Orange/Durham Light Rail Flyover

A video tucked away neatly at ourtransitfuture.com shows a flyover of the planned light rail system for Chapel Hill and Durham. The 14-minute video begins behind the parking decks of UNC’s hospital, and follows the route all the way to its eastern terminus near NCCU, east of downtown Durham.

What’s remarkable in the plan is the amount of elevated guideway that is planned, especially in thinly populated areas of Chapel Hill. Elevated guideways significantly increase costs because each span between stanchions must hold the weight of a train and its passengers for each direction of track supported. The elevated guideways allow the train to travel through the wetlands of east Chapel Hill and to traverse large roads, such as 15-501, where grade separation is required. The section near the Smith Center is, perhaps, the most perplexing.

There seems to also be a difference in opinion between Orange and Durham Counties regarding the mixing of modes on existing streets. Grade level crossings are avoided, at great costs, in Chapel Hill where the MLK area of Durham integrates the rail down the road’s median and with its large intersections.

As I stated in the previous post, the plan really does a nice job at connecting most of the high-traffic destinations on the line. The line includes the UNC hospitals, the Smith Center, and Friday Center. While the line does not access the older parts of UNC’s campus, passengers can freely transfer to Chapel Hill’s excellent bus service for access to the older parts of campus (same goes for Duke). In Durham, Duke is accessed via its hospital. The plan presents several redevelopment nodes in Durham County, especially the Duke Street area where the system connects to Amtrak. While some of the planned stations are not at current population centers or destinations, they are at gaps in the city which will be easily filled, unlike the layout of Charlotte’s Blue Line.


FTA Approves Light Rail Development for Chapel Hill/Durham

LightRail Triangle Transit Authority tonight announced that the FTA has approved the request to begin development of a 17-mile light rail line that would connect Durham and Chapel Hill. The line would serve UNC, east Chapel Hill, the 15-501 corridor to South Square, Duke, Downtown, and NCCU. The project would use no rail corridors west of Duke University, instead using existing highway right of way.

The development phase will likely take 2 years, followed by a 3 year engineering phase. If all goes as planned, service would begin as early as 2024, and will cost $1.34 billion.

* * *

Whah! 1.34 billion for a 17-mile project? That comes to $79million per mile, but expect costs to probably double if all goes as planned. For comparison’s sake, the Triangle Parkway toll road cost 137.5million for a 3.4 mile stretch ($40m/mi) and the Western Wake Freeway cost $446.5 million  for a 12.6 mile stretch ($35m/mi). Those projects were completed in 2012.

Let the shouting match begin. People who oppose this are “backward”, “stupid”, and “living in the 50s” while those who are for it are “blowing all of our money” and “jacking up taxes”. Both sides have good points. A friction-free connector of the three universities and downtown Durham will really help all entities from a productivity standpoint. Perhaps if node-oriented development occurs, then fewer cars will be on the already congested, pathetic pair of roads that connect Chapel Hill and Durham.

On the other hand it isn’t prudent to ignore the costs and the state of technology. Light rail is a really expensive way to move people. One only has to look at Disneyworld to see a large transit system that has opted for bus transit for all expansion in the last 32 years. Also consider the prodigious number of transit systems that carry unsustainable costs. Are ridership projections accurate or would it turn out to be like Austin’s MetroRail which averages fewer than 2,500 riders a day ? Granted, Austin’s routing execution was poor and it runs few trains per day, so it’s considered a $130 million flop in that city.

My prediction is that this line will get built, but the costs will more than double by the time it is built. Given the large number of college-oriented riders this system would have, it would probably be well-traveled, so we, the public, just have to figure out if we want to support its cost structure.

map of planned route at N&O


Union Station Presentation Set for Thursday

UnionStation The fourth public meeting regarding plans for Raleigh’s new train station, Union Station, will take place on Thursday from 6pm to 8pm. The public is invited to attend a brief presentation of updated plans at 6, followed by a review and comment session.

Union Station’s is a joint initiative project by the NCDOT Rail Division and the City of Raleigh. The project (site plan .pdf) aims to provide an adequate facility for current and future demands as well as offering an adequate platform size for longer trains. The current proposal calls for converting an abandoned warehouse at the end of W. Martin St. (behind Flanders Gallery) into a two story terminal. The building is the only structure in the triangular space, the “wye”, of a 3-way train intersection. The plan calls for putting a 39-car surface parking lot as well as passenger pickup/drop-off zones.



Atlanta Braves Shun Downtown, Transit with Stadium Announcement

newbravesstadium Today the Atlanta Braves announced that they will leave the 16-year old Turner Field and build a new stadium out at the Perimeter (I-285) and I-75. The Braves have played in downtown Atlanta since 1966, but this move will take the team 15 miles away, to Suburbia. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Braves executive Derek Schiller said,

“It’s also important that the access around the stadium … is greatly enhanced (by) having those major road ways — I-75, I-285, Cobb Parkway — and having a whole range of improved access points and ways to get to and from the stadium,” Schiller said. “… We fully believe that the access to the site will be greatly enhanced for our fans. That starts with roadways. Today, most of our fans arrive via car, and getting to this (new) site via car from all sorts of different directions is easier.”

Roads roads roads. Meanwhile in Raleigh city leaders are quietly doing long-range planning for a replacement for the 14-year old PNC Arena. A replacement isn’t coming in the next decade or two, however downtownist leaders, bemoaning the suburban location of the suburban arena, are considering just which downtown site would work best for the city. These same leaders are also pushing forward with plans to install a rail system which, supporters say, will spur rail-oriented development foci around the system’s stations.

What will probably be ignored as “stupid Atlanta”, a phrase mentioned frequently by Raleigh planners, is that the Braves, a private organization, are planning to spend $675 million on a facility that could not be farther away from transit and still match the population footprint . Atlanta has 48 miles of heavy rail that directly accesses its airport, and one of the city’s most important businesses for Tourism is running away as fast as it can.

So, here is the question: will Raleigh continue to seek an Atlanta-level rail system? Will Raleigh continue to believe that it has some different quality that would make its rail attractive to development and the entertainment industry, unlike Atlanta? Does Raleigh really have what it takes to not exactly mimic Atlanta’s failures?


NCDOT Implementing 70 mph Speed Limit in Triangle

speed70 Today the NC DOT announced that they will be raising the speed limit from 65mph to 70mph on essentially the entire 540/toll road complex south of Glenwood Avenue. More specifically, the roads that will be raised to 70 are:

  • I-540 and NC 540 – the entire existing arc.
  • NC147 between I-40 and NC-540 – the toll expressway extension of Durham Freeway, south of I-40.

The signage changes will be complete by the end of this month.

map it


Pondering Greensboro’s Future

Growing up in Raleigh I’ve had several occasions to do things in Greensboro, especially in the Coliseum area. During my lifetime Greensboro seemed to get all of the great concerts, got great stores before Raleigh, and got to host the ACC Tournament. For many, many years there were real reasons to not only visit Greensboro, but to live there over Raleigh.

Greensboro was a thriving mill town in the first half of last century, which led to the prolific growth of gorgeous classic neighborhoods. Hayes Barton is the bastard child of Irving Park in that regard, but even in the middle income areas there is a prodigious number of houses that were built before Suburbia kicked in. In that era Greensboro invested smartly in their road system, implementing many Wade Avenue type arteries around the older parts of the city. Around Greensboro’s city streets, traffic problems really only exist out in the Suburbian Battleground Avenue, a US1 North-esque sole artery north out of the city. When I-85 was planned, it was a no-brainer to include Durham and Greensboro, as they were thriving, productive cities, unlike Raleigh, the sleepy government town. As Raleigh quickly grew through the 70s and 80s, the two cities were relatively the same size and seemed to have a remarkable number of similarities.

We went to Greensboro for the Friday evening session of the ACC Tournament. Knowing that the Coliseum food is expensive and terrible, we opted to stop at a gas station for beer and stop at a downtown restaurant for take out before tailgating before the game.

While driving around downtown on a beautiful Friday afternoon we got to see downtown Greensboro at its most vibrant. “Dull” probably exaggerates the experience. I was stunned by the comparative lack of interesting restaurants, the lack of downtown bars, and the overall lack of people. There is definitely a vibe in downtown Raleigh, and there is definitely no vibe in Greensboro. This was the first time that it really struck me how much further along downtown Raleigh’s vitality is than Greensboro’s. The number of young people making something to do, creating a sense of place, and moving the city forward is just, scant. The difference is quite palpable.

The point isn’t to beat Raleigh’s chest and flame Greensboro at all . Rather, it struck me on this trip; where is Greensboro headed? Ultimately the I-85 spine will keep all of the cities on the string in fabulous shape. Asheville and Wilmington will exist as creative outposts, and the rest of the state will become severely depressed. I like to call the string of cities the “Carolina Crescent”. Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham, and Raleigh will be linked by better and better rail service, and the spine will be a magnet for all important growth moving forward. Much like our current thinking of the Triangle, the crescent will eventually be thought of as a “macrometro” as transportation improves.

So Greensboro has that going for it. The tech and information job push that is filling Raleigh’s sails currently will continue for a good while, but we have to be prepared for another wave; a wave that could change the economics of the city as much as the exodus of the textile industry changed Greensboro and Burlington.

The Triangle is the educational and technological center of the state. It has a strong Liberal voice with a strong interest in environment and humanism. Charlotte will continue to be the strongest financial center in the state, and seems to be the Conservative core of the state. What identity will Greensboro develop? Will industries polarize their presence in North Carolina to Charlotte and/or Raleigh and skip Greensboro even more than ever? It’s looking that way, and the lack of an interesting market sector to ages 25 to 35 has to be the deepest concern for Greensboro in the next 50 years. Much like Richmond, Greensboro stands as a city of yesterday, with no ascertainable uniqueness to tomorrow’s economy. Its future is seemingly more loaded with questions than with answers.

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Oh, BTW, we got food to go from OPA!, the Greek restaurant. The lettuce from the salad was basically from a food service, the olive oil they used was cheap, the pita bread for my wife’s sandwich was stale, the marinade for my chicken kabob was extremely uninteresting, my accompanying vegetables were bland, and my platter did not come with pita bread. This restaurant definitely needs to pick up a copy of The Grecian Plate (Durham Greek Orthodox Church’s cookbook)! An astonishingly better meal for the same price can be had a Taverna Agora ; just so you know!


I-440 Widening Project Workshop Planned

I440Project The Department of Transportation is beginning some big project in the next few years. Not only will I-40 along the southern edge of Raleigh and the intersection of Jones Franklin and Western Boulevard be rebuilt, DOT is also in initial stages of a widening project for the oldest section of I-440, “The Beltline”.

The DOT will host a public workshop to discuss improvements to I-440 between Walnut Street and Wade Avenue on Monday, December 3 from 4pm-7pm. The meeting will take place at the Method Community Center, Pioneer Building (514 Method Road).

The stretch of highway is the last remaining 4-lane section of I-440, and features some dangerous intersections:

  • Western Boulevard to I-440 W is a right merge into the I-440 passing lane
  • Jones Franklin Road onto I-440 E has a very short acceleration lane
  • I-440 W onto inbound Wade Avenue has a very short deceleration lane, and a tight, loop exit
  • A short, uphill acceleration lane from Outbound Western Blvd onto I-440 E
  • A cloverleaf pair of entrance/exit lanes on I-440 E at Western Blvd presenting in a short acceleration lane and a short acceleration lane, woven pair.

Challenges to the widening of this stretch include:

  • A restrictive amount of land at the I-440/Western Blvd interchange
  • Bridge overpasses by Melbourne Road, Athens Drive, and Jones Franklin Road that offer spans to short for widening. All three bridges will likely be replaced, which will solve the horribly dangerous pedestrian situation at Jones Franklin Road.

No doubt, the Western Boulevard interchange will be a complicated, expensive project. The solution will likely introduce at least one traffic signal to free-flowing traffic on Western Boulevard. Hopefully an inverted SPUI interchange will be implemented to minimize idle traffic times, but you know how traffic engineers have never met a red light they didn’t like.

The second challenge will be the Jones Franklin interchange. Jones Franklin will likely be widened south of I-440 in the moderate future, but the road crosses I-440 at an angle, and has a proximate intersection with Sumter Square apartments, complicating the intersection on the north side of the highway. A SPUI would not work here, unfortunately, so hopefully the Sumter Square access can be tied in with the exit ramp traffic from I-440 W.

For sure, there will be a lot of dirt and a lot of headaches in the coming years in southwest Raleigh. Hopefully engineers can design a solution that is not only safe, but also doesn’t create a heavy burden on traffic efficiency.


Raleigh Fails to Implement Roundabout

super_roundabout Today officials with the City of Raleigh will close the 2-lane roundabout at Hillsborough and Pullen Road and convert the circle into a 1-lane roundabout. The change is being made to the two-year old redesigned intersection due to a unacceptably high accident rate. In fact 132 crashes in the intersection’s 24-month life (1 crash every 5.5 days), and anyone who has been through there was nearly #133 at one point.

The problem

The roundabout was to be the first step in a 9-roundabout plan that would eliminate traffic signals between Morgan Street and Meredith College on Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street. Along with the installation of the roundabouts, several streets entering Hillsborough Street would be converted to right-in/right-out access. The result would be a reduction in traffic speeds (improving pedestrian safety) while paradoxically decreasing travel times across the span.

roundabout I completely disagree with the notion that this intersection worked fine before”. Movement from Oberlin to Pullen and vice versa was unacceptably crooked, and had queues that spilled into adjacent intersections. I was never against the concept of a Hillsborough Street roundabout; only the small roundabout on Oberlin. I especially liked that the Hillsborough Street roundabout tied in a rerouted Oberlin Road. The execution of the roundabout, however, was a failure from day one. I sarcastically posted about the City’s 2-page instruction manual regarding how to traverse the intersection safely. Any intersection that needs more than a quick diagram displayed to oncoming traffic is destined to fail. Go ahead and throw this intersection into the large bin of Cool Designs the American Public Didn’t Understand (filed between the Metric System and Windows Media Center).

Where did designers go wrong? They completely ignored intuition and strictly addressed meeting the demands of the intersection. It’s the exact opposite of what made the iPhone successful.

  • Improper warning – The Hillsborough Street corridor is a tight, urban canyon for many blocks. In the blocks west of the intersection cars are exiting a stressful zone where parallel parking, a bike lane, and high density pedestrians challenge drivers. As drivers exit the tight, eastbound corridor and reach the NCSU Bell Tower on their approach toward the circle, the road widens and there is a feeling  of ease as drivers naturally increase speed. The road gently glides into the intersection with only a couple of Yield signs to warn drivers they are about to lose Right of Way.
    Drivers from the east are coming from a 4-lane situation at a high speed, and also are gently guided into a dangerous situation with only a couple of  posted Yield signs to warn of the oncoming danger. From both directions, there is no visually indication that the road breaks ahead. The center of the circle has no monument and there is no vegetation to clue drivers of the upcoming discruption.
  • Functional Inconsistency – The reason that a manual had to be published was because the functions the lanes from street to street were not consistent. From some directions the left lane allowed drivers to pass straight thru while other streets only had the right lane allowing straight traffic. From one direction both lanes actually passed thru. Diagrams of the traffic flow were posted on the right shoulder of each approach, but they were not visible enough and needed too much examination to be understood by drivers passing through on their fist trip.

The City of Raleigh Quit

There were undercurrents of a change four months ago, and from that point forward the City’s only improvement to the intersection was to stick small pink flags on top of the Yield signs. The City of Raleigh didn’t even come close to doing what they could have to make this intersection work. Such options include:

  • Placing rumble strips on lanes approaching the intersection
  • Adding Yield signs
  • Painting Yield signs on the pavement approaching the intersection
  • Replacing the Yield signs with electric Yield signs or posting a flashing yellow light above the Yield signs.
  • Replacing the Yield signs with STOP signs
  • Adding vegetation to the roundabout to visually break the corridor for drivers.

Most of these options would have been cheap; really cheap. However it is clear that for some reason someone in the 2012 regime of power in city government is not enamored with the 2-lane design of this roundabout. Otherwise the city would have at least added rumble strips to gain the attention of Hillsborough St. drivers.

Destroying an Artery

Hillsborough Street for many years was a four-lane artery with one lane of parallel parking in West Raleigh. While traffic has always flowed better on Wade Avenue and Western Boulevard, Hillsborough Street has always been the artery that had to support an urban retail strip as well as much pedestrian traffic. For those reasons Hillsborough Street should be a calm city thoroughfare; not a state highway.

Unfortunately the Hillsborough Street strip of businesses has been dying over the past couple of decades. Not only did vagrants begin populating the strip, N.C. State completely lost interest in their north campus properties, favoring the sprawl development of Centennial Campus. The business environment has been dying a slow death when the Hillsborough Street plan was created, and it was hurting the adjacent neighborhoods. Neighbors petitioned the City for a revitalization project, and it worked.

The city’s answer was to completely reconstruct the streetscape for the entire length adjacent to campus. The design removed a lane of traffic in both directions and added a hard median and bike lanes. Now if one car wants to correctly parallel park, they must pray that the car behind them doesn’t close the gap, and must act quickly because a parking or exiting car stalls all traffic in one direction. For that reason, Hillsborough Street now flows more poorly than a mall parking lot for several blocks.

Traffic flow is slower and counts are down in the Hillsborough Street area. In the long term, though, the result is a disaster. After more than a year of Hillsborough Street being a construction zone and two years of a design that hostile to thru traffic, Hillsborough Street is a faint speck in the mindshare of Raleigh citizens. The number of cars in West Raleigh has risen in the last 10 years, and if Hillsborough Street has been shut down as a flow option, that means that far more pressure is being put on Western Boulevard, the septum in the heart of the current NCSU campus. With N.C. State students darting through traffic and signal queues getting much deeper, the pedestrian experience on Western Boulevard has never been more dangerous thanks to the elimination of half of Hillsborough Street’s lanes.

The choking is a cancer spreading down the street, too. Now that Hillsborough Street near NCSU is a choke point, there is no functional need for four lanes in the area near the Velvet Cloak. What was the City’s response to this atrophy? Repaint the street to being a 3-lane road and add bike lanes on the shoulders. The choking concept is spreading west, too, as Dan Allen Drive will be closed to thru traffic during the midday beginning this fall.

While some welcome this aggressive attitude toward pedestrian safety, the overall effect is a Scorched Earth policy toward cars. In the short run pedestrian safety will improve. However the long run effect will follow exactly as Raleigh previous Scorched Earth pedestrian redesign, the Fayetteville Street Mall.

Risky Pedestrians Given a Pass

Unfortunately the City has done nothing to discourage the risky behavior of pedestrians and cyclists. No gates limiting pedestrian movement across divided highways have been discussed; no signage reminding cyclists that being treated “like a car” is a 2-way relationship (yes, you HAVE to wait for green lights); no marketing campaign to dangerously confident college students reminding them to look before crossing streets; no suggestion to pedestrians to act courteously, making eye contact with oncoming drivers and changing their pace, as cars do, to accommodate a successful road-sharing relationship; no attempt to make pedestrians exclusively use crosswalks to safely cross busy streets. It is sad to see city designers ignoring the pedestrian’s role in ensuring their own safety.

* * *

Most disappointing is the failure of the city to make the 2-lane roundabout work, and its short-sighted solution for the intersection. The new design takes out the circle’s center lane and puts all traffic in one rotating lane.  It also squares approaching lanes somewhat, forcing Hillsborough Street drivers to make more of a turn to enter the circle.

Still, this new design fails to address the problem : getting the attention of Hillsborough Street drivers (especially the eastbound traffic). Yesterday I entered the circle with the intention of exiting onto Pullen Road. Thankfully I noticed the eastbound NCSU student who never looked left as he barreled into the roundabout. The driver never realized he had lost right-of-way and barely missed being another statistic of the 2-lane roundabout. With the new design, there seems no apparent plan to improve drivers’ awareness.

Hopefully the city has done a better job with their redesign than they appear to have. If this accident rate continues, then the roundabout will be completely removed and replaced with traditional signalized intersection. Wouldn’t a few rumble strips, some paint, and some signs be a lot cheaper and easier?

Note: I added that first photo as a joke. It is a super roundabout (reversed for American driving). There are 5 mini-circles to handle each connection to the 5 spokes. Cold…day….in…Hell..when this works in Raleigh.

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