Changes, for the better, are coming to Raleigh's Oberlin Road

July 13, 2014 

An example of what a wider sidewalk with trees and bike racks will look like on Oberlin Road.

CITY OF RALEIGH

When planners and Raleigh officials started talking about a spruce-up for Oberlin Road near Cameron Village, some residents and merchants understandably let their fears be known. Initially, there was talk of narrowing the road and putting in streetscape improvements and the like.

But Oberlin has long had a bit of a clogging problem, and we don’t mean dancing to bluegrass. As more and different kinds of businesses and restaurants have gone into the historic shopping area next to the equally historic Cameron Park neighborhood, traffic has been known to back up.

And that’s not something people in that part of Raleigh are used to or care to deal with.

An additional concern has been what might happen to traffic when hundreds of new apartments start to fill up in the coming months.

The city’s report on the project makes it clear – to comfort merchants and residents whose worries were justified – that “changes to the allocation of street space and a road diet are not under consideration as a part of this project.”

Translation into the English language: The streets won’t be narrowed.

The city still is taking feedback on the plan, but it all sounds good so far.

Sidewalks in the area will be widened, and some power lines will be buried. That’s particularly smart in an area with older homes and with many new residents moving into apartments.

There also is going to be an effort to line those sidewalks with trees. And some new crosswalks will be put into place.

This is something that recognizes the need to be more “pedestrian friendly,” another way of acknowledging that the younger people who are likely to be drawn to apartment-style living in a more urban setting are looking for ways to use their cars less, not more.

The apartment buildings going up at the corner of Oberlin Road and Clark Avenue, which turns into Peace Street closer to downtown, will have retail tenants on the lower floors, something that has happened in a smaller shopping area near Oberlin and Wade Avenue. That kind of big-city, mixed-use planning has been popular or some time in larger cities and forever in the nation’s largest urban centers.

It represents an efficient use of space and also an effective and, one hopes, attractive use as well.

Consider, for example, that restaurants opening along those wider sidewalks and on that better streetscape, with additional bicycle racks and benches, will likely offer more outdoor dining, which has been increasingly popular downtown and in some shopping centers where it is available.

That option might be even more popular if plans for, as the city puts it, “1920s vintage style” light fixtures go through.

An excited Cameron Village customer was heard to say, upon hearing about the plans and watching the touches going on around the new apartment buildings, “I’ve always loved Raleigh. But it’s going to be really great once they get it finished.”

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