South Street project may spur development on downtown Raleigh's fringe

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 3, 2013 

— City leaders will soon restore two-way traffic to South and Lenoir streets on the fringe of downtown – a move that could help development spread from the city center.

Transportation officials will get feedback on the new designs for three remaining one-way sections at a public hearing Monday night. The goal is to add bike amenities and on-street parking to make a more walkable street.

A more appealing connection to downtown could bolster revitalization efforts in the surrounding neighborhoods, which are already underway as more people seek homes near downtown.

Richard Johnson – a developer who’s redone several blighted blocks in the once crime-ridden area between downtown and Boylan Heights – says the redesign of South Street is long overdue. Its three-lane, one-way configuration between South Saunders and Dawson Street dates to the 1990s, before Western Boulevard was extended toward downtown. Then, traffic that was headed downtown from the west cut through Boylan Heights on one-way streets.

“The dragstrip concept is terrible,” Johnson said. “The idea was to get people out of there in their cars as fast as possible.”

The heavy traffic has been gone for more than 15 years, and pedestrians and cyclists are a common sight heading downtown. Many of them live in houses designed by Johnson in Rosengarten Park on South Saunders Street, a block once known for drug deals and run-down homes.

“We have a massive interest from young professional types that want to live in the city but don’t want to have the condominium, New York-style lifestyle,” said Johnson, who’s building a similar project on Dorothea Drive a few blocks south. “Last time I checked, Rosengarten Park was the fastest appreciating development in the Triangle.”

David Stewart, 89, has watched the neighborhood transform from the strip of older storefronts he’s owned for decades at Saunders and South. Like Johnson, he sees potential for more development in the years to come.

“It’s probably going to be another eight or 10 years, then this area will develop like South Glenwood Avenue is developing,” Stewart said.

For that to happen, the corner will need slower traffic and more places to park. The planned two-way conversion will add on-street parking to the south side of South Street, as well as turn lanes for businesses. City engineers scrapped a planned median that business owners complained would make it hard for customers to reach them.

Ultimately, the changes could create a more seamless connection to downtown and the Red Hat Amphitheater a few blocks away. “We used to have a lot of disconnected parts,” Johnson said. “Now they’ve started to merge together and the little problem areas between them are starting to fill in.”

The other one-way segments getting converted are in a similarly growing area on the southeastern end of downtown. City officials have drawn up plans to restore two-way traffic to South and Lenoir streets east from the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts to East Street.

In the process, three stoplights along East and Bloodworth streets that are no longer necessary will be replaced with four-way stop signs. The plan will remove one-way designations designed to aid commuters, and Gregg Warren of the nonprofit housing organization DHIC says it should improve the neighborhood.

His organization is banking on that revitalization. DHIC will soon build 10 three-story townhomes at the corner of Lenoir and Person, likely selling them to people who work downtown. “I think two-way streets do provide a bit of a traffic calming impact,” he said. “I think that will help give more of a residential feel.”

Raleigh officials could tweak the new street layouts based on what they hear from residents and business owners at Monday night’s meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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