Road Worrier

Road Worrier: Walking, bus-riding improve at NC State as cars blocked

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comMarch 18, 2013 

— Walkers feel safer and buses run faster on Dan Allen Drive these days, now that N.C. State University has moved all those cars out of the way.

It’s been two months since NCSU put gates on the campus road, to prevent most drivers from using Dan Allen as a handy shortcut between Hillsborough Street and Western Boulevard.

The gates, installed beneath the railroad overpass just south of the Dan Allen parking deck, are closed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays when classes are in session.

They open automatically for campus service and emergency vehicles, and for buses. Everybody else has to drive an extra couple of miles to go around campus, using either Pullen Road or Gorman Street.

Thousands of students walk across Dan Allen every day between residence halls and classroom buildings. Seven of the university’s Wolfline bus routes travel the busy road. NCSU officials said heavy traffic on Dan Allen – as many as 19,000 cars and trucks a day – was threatening pedestrian safety and making the buses run late.

The gates are improving things on both counts.

“In the morning, it’s a lot better,” NCSU sophomore Justin Ahn, 20, said Monday. “There’s less cars that come through, so it’s easier to cross the street. It’s a lot safer.

“And every time I ride the bus, it’s easier to get through. That was a big thing.”

Wolfline buses ran on schedule only 70 percent of the time during the fall semester. The on-time arrival improved to nearly 90 percent by early February, a few weeks after the gates went into operation.

That means students and professors can count on Wolfline to get them to class on time.

“Our buses have made a significant improvement in terms of reliability,” said Tom Kendig, the NCSU transportation director.

The difference on Dan Allen Drive was unmistakable Monday. Last fall, it could take 10 minutes to make the half-mile drive between Hillsborough and Western. Now, at least when the gates are closed to exclude through-traffic between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the traffic is very light.

“It’s easier to get back and forth across the street until 5 o’clock, when the traffic gets backed up down the road,” said NCSU sophomore Jimmie Lawing, 20.

There are a few small signs on Hillsborough and Western, and on Dan Allen, to warn drivers when the road is closed to through traffic.

But the signs are easily missed, and there are always a few drivers caught by surprise. Traffic lights at intersections near the gates are switched to flashing red when the gates are closed, and one of them posts a confusing “No Turn on Red” sign.

Drivers who are thwarted at the gates can take looping routes to exit from campus – to Hillsborough Street via Yarbrough Drive, on the north side of the rail overpass, or to Western Boulevard via Thurman Drive. But if you don’t know your way around NCSU, it’s easy to turn onto a dead-end lane by mistake.

Three off-campus cars got stuck at the gates within a few minutes Monday morning.

The driver of a white News 14 car was trapped between the gate in front of her and a heavy NCSU truck behind. She bumped across the concrete median to make her U-turn escape. Later, the driver of a yellow Apple Taxi had to back slowly into an intersection so he could turn around.

While bus riders usually have a smoother ride now on Dan Allen, they still have problems when traffic stops for drivers who can’t get through the gates.

“A bunch of people disregard the fact that they can’t get through, so their cars get backed up,” Lawing said. “And the buses get stopped, and it’s a pain that way, too.”

Russ Stephenson, a Raleigh City Council member who lives a few blocks away, worried last year that solving Dan Allen’s’ problem would create new congestion elsewhere. But he hasn’t heard of big problems, so far.

“Neighborhood folks are concerned about the inconvenience of reducing that trip for people in that vicinity,” Stephenson said. “But I think the jury is still out on that, and I’m not sure how it’ll play out in the long run.”

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