Dependable Erection

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Traffic calming tag team

I want to piggy back on Kevin's post this morning detailing the backtracking going on with the traffic calming plan for Duke and Gregson streets. If you've been keeping score at home, you know that a number of people have been saying for years that traffic speeds on Duke and Gregson (as well as other streets through the near downtown neighborhoods) are way too fast for residential compatibility. In the case of Duke and Gregson, as well as with Roxboro and Mangum in the Duke Park, Old North Durham, and Little Five Points neighborhoods) a lot of that has to do with the paired one-way design of these streets.

I want to highlight a comment from that discussion:
Of course the best way to both slow speeding cars on Duke or Gregson and minimize distance-traveled-to-destination would be to convert both roads back to their original two-way traffic design. The pair of 2-lane one way roads is designed to maximize speed over distance - with the idea that if you maximize speed, you will overcome loss of distance efficiency. All of these other engineering/legal condiments are suboptimal, because they don't change the basic design intent of the road. By implementing them, we are trying to hold two contradictory aims in hand - reducing speed on the road while preserving a design that maximizes speed.
(Emphasis added)

Kevin also points out that design issues that enhance drivers' comfort at what are in fact unsafe speeds for pedestrians and other residents are not limited to the one-wayness of the streets:
During the same meeting, the City will also be bringing forward a proposal to re-do the street lighting on Duke/Gregson between Club Blvd. and University Dr. This would involve replacing the open-faced 100 watt fixtures with "cobrahead" fixtures that direct light more particularly on the street, and which would be increased to 250 watts.

According to the City, this would reduce the number of unlit zones on the street, improving pedestrian safety as well as better-highlighting cars parked on the streets (which could reduce parked-car collisions.) There could also be a crime/safety impact from better lighting on the street, and there would be a reduction in light pollution due to focused light fixtures.

Of course, there's always the fear that better lighting would only serve to increase speeds -- the very thing the neighborhood is concerned about. Duke Street north of I-85 has these new lights, as does Guess Rd., and we know how fast traffic travels on those streets (though I suspect the NCDOT's thoughtful 'freeway lite' design has more than a little bit to do with that.)

Reportedly, Mangum St. through Old North Durham has the same type, strength and density of lights proposed for Duke/Gregson/Vickers; I'd be curious to hear from folks in Old North Durham and Duke Park what if any impact they've seen from the new lighting.


North Duke St. and Guess Rd. are two streets i travel on with a certain frequency. It is almost impossible to drive the speed limit on either of those streets, a function of their design. This is a problem which is not gettng any better. Even if, as Councilman Woodard says in his comments, the city is able to get the East End Connector pushed back up on NCDOT's priority list, the problem won't go away.

As i've said elsewhere, there are three components to traffic calming (and developing a system that serves all of the city's residents, not just its drivers) engineering, education, and enforcement, sometimes called the three E's. Many of Durham's roads are engineered for maximum throughput. Education, about such basic issues as pedestrian right of way in a crosswalk, is non-existent. Enforcement of current traffic laws is minimal, at best. Unless all of those factors start to change based on direction from the city's leadership, this is a problem which will continue to be dealt with on a piecemeal basis, with the city responding to whichever neighborhood complains the loudest, and whenever someone with connections is seriously injured or killed while engaging in the simple act of walking along or crossing the street.

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2 Comments:

  • Barry, good points you focus on.

    in that the EEC won't solve the problems, and that a consistent system needs to be installed city wide (and followed) that thinks of more than just the vantage point of the car driver getting from A to B as fast as possible. (and having the city operate on not just responding to whichever part of town raises the biggest stink)

    Unfortunately, I think the enforcement part of the 3 E's -- while necessary --will never happen.

    Thinking positively for a moment, the increased amount of zebra crosswalks in certain parts of town, and the loud yellow "yield to the pedestrian" signs in the middle of roads at certain points (Gregson by Brightleaf, Ninth St) are a sign that slowly more perspectives are being considered.

    Hopefully momentum on issues like that will grow and more healthy designs will be put in place.

    By Blogger Dave W, at 6:52 PM  

  • Dave - you may notice that those "State Law - Yield to Pedestrians" signs are all on streets that are maintained by the city, except for theones by Brightleaf. Many streets in Durham are maintained by the state. Good luck trying to get NCDOT to allow the placement of one of them on a state maintained street.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 8:28 PM  

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