Road Worrier: NCSU will curb cut-through traffic on Dan Allen Drive

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comAugust 20, 2012 

  • Who was Dan Allen? "Dan Allen, who lived from 1875-1929, was one of Raleigh’s earliest developers and real estate agents. He accumulated considerable wealth, which he was constantly contributing to various causes and individuals. He was an alumnus in agriculture (Class of 1896), and a lifelong bachelor. His wide benevolence was for local girl’s schools, churches, and individuals, both black and white. Because of his high community regard, he was an influential supporter in politics and civic endeavors." Excerpted from “Place Names on the Campus of North Carolina State University,” by Hardy D. Berry

— Just when you thought you’d figured out how to drive around N.C. State University after the city rectified its redesign of Hillsborough Street, we bring you a new plan from NCSU to close a busy campus road – but only for some traffic, and only sometimes.

Dan Allen Drive carries as many as 19,000 vehicles a day north and south through the main campus. Most of this traffic involves students, faculty and NCSU employees bound for campus destinations along Dan Allen’s side streets. But one car out of every five makes the trip from end to end, between Hillsborough and Western Boulevard.

This through traffic will be affected in a big way starting in late October, when NCSU installs access gates to restrict travel on Dan Allen Drive. The gates will close only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays when NCSU classes are in session. Through traffic will not be impeded at other times.

The barriers will open automatically for emergency responders, campus service vehicles and buses on Dan Allen – and that’s one reason they’re there. NCSU’s crowded Wolfline buses make their rounds on schedule just 60 percent of the time these days, and campus officials put part of the blame on the daily Dan Allen traffic jam.

“The object of this is to try to get the buses running on time,” said Tom Kendig, the NCSU transportation director.

The other reason for restricting cars is to make Dan Allen safe for growing throngs of pedestrians and cyclists. The opening this summer of the Valentine Commons high-rise student apartments, just west of Dan Allen, added 900 pairs of feet pounding the crosswalks each day.

Wolfline buses carry 14,000 riders a day, almost as many as the city’s Capital Area Transit system. The big red Wolfline buses shuttle riders between remote parking lots and campus offices, and between the old campus and Centennial Campus south of Western Boulevard.

The university wants students and staff to park their cars and ride the buses even more than they do now. So it has to make its buses more reliable.

“We want to relieve folks from thinking they have to drive their cars to get around on campus,” Kendig said.

A busy stretch

On a weekday morning it can take 10 minutes or longer to drive the half mile of Dan Allen, with cars sometimes clogging the Hillsborough and Western intersections at either end. The Dan Allen parking deck just north of the tracks serves 1,200 campus employees, and their workday schedule is one reason NCSU will keep the gates open from 9 to 5.

The gates won’t be at the entrances to Dan Allen. They’ll be near the middle, at the railroad overpass. So the big parking deck and Yarbrough Drive, just north of the tracks, will be accessible only from Hillsborough Street when the gates are down.

To reach destinations on the south side of the railroad – including Thurman Drive, Cates Avenue, various athletic facilities, student health and the Witherspoon Center – you’ll have to enter Dan Allen from Western Boulevard.

And if you’re just a Raleigh civilian looking for a path between Hillsborough and Western, you’ll have to look elsewhere: to Gorman Street or Pullen Road, each more than a half-mile away.

Dan Allen is a university street, so the City of Raleigh and the state Department of Transportation have no jurisdiction over it.

City officials worry that NCSU’s plan will just shift Dan Allen’s traffic congestion to other streets in the neighborhood.

“I agree it makes a lot of sense for them to look at solutions that keep students moving efficiently,” said Russ Stephenson, a Raleigh City Council member who lives a few blocks from the campus. “The downside is if we start restricting vehicle traffic through there, it’s going to add to congestion elsewhere.”

Getting the word out

Electronic message boards on Hillsborough and Western will alert drivers to the change in October, Kendig said. If drivers turn onto Dan Allen anyway, between the witching hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., they’ll be able to drive back out of the campus using loop roads on either side of the tracks.

Similar concern for buses and pedestrians helped shape Raleigh’s $9.9 million makeover in 2010 for eight blocks of Hillsborough Street. Scores of crashes were blamed on a baffling, two-ring roundabout at Pullen Road – prompting city officials last month to give it a simpler, one-ring design.

Stephenson hopes NCSU never decides to close the Dan Allen gates around the clock because Raleigh drivers make good use of it as a through street.

But the new plan could prove vexing in its own way as drivers on Hillsborough and Western wonder what time it is, and whether this is a class day on campus – in other words, whether it’s OK to drive down Dan Allen.

“Hopefully it won’t be as confusing as a two-lane roundabout,” Stephenson said.

Make contact: 919-829-4527 or bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com. On the Web at twitter.com/Road_Worrier/ and blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown/. Please include address and daytime phone.

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