Jessalee Landfried, of the group The Future Of The Loop, held a public meeting Wednesday on how best to redevelop the city’s downtown loop.
Landfried invited Matt Gladdek of Downtown Durham Inc. and developer Robert Chapman to share their visions for the future of the thoroughfares that circle downtown.
If a person wanted to drive the loop and was starting at the intersection of Morgan and North Mangum streets, it would involve heading west on Morgan, veering left onto Great Jones Street, which turns into Ramseur Street and eventually intersects South Roxboro Street.
If the driver were to turn left on and travel northbound on South Roxboro Street and make another left onto Holloway Street, Holloway Street turns into Morgan Street and completes the downtown loop.
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The Future Of The Loop wants the loop redeveloped to make downtown denser and more walkable.
Gladdek and Chapman both spoke of turning parking lots into spaces for shops, restaurants and housing and explained how to fill those new storefronts by transforming streets.
“One-way streets are great for traffic but are horrible for pedestrians and the walkability of a downtown. On one-way streets drivers tend to stay at a sustained speed. Drivers don’t have to stop or turn,” Gladdek said. “Driving through, on a one-way, you might see a shop and say ‘That looks good, I’ll stop there on my way home.’ But, of course, you would not pass that way again on your way home.”
The higher speeds on one-way streets, Gladdek said, also mean that pedestrians don’t feel as comfortable. In-town businesses suffer when pedestrians fill ill at ease.
Urban development transformed Durham’s downtown.
The “loop” was created in the 1960s based on theories of how best to streamline a growing city’s grid that have since been proved outdated, Gladdek said.
The current loop’s structure, when built, was a precursor to today’s urban highways such as Interstates 540 and 440 which circle much of Raleigh.
Gladdek said the loop cuts downtown off from the Durham Performing Arts Center’s “entertainment section” of the city, Gladdek said.
Gladdek’s presentation also focused on downtown’s “woefully underused” spaces.
“The area in front of the public library and in front of Durham Parks and Rec, the Church Street parking lot, could either be a development site with a squared off development path that could hopefully help create more density in this area,” Gladdek said. “Or, the Downtown Open Space Plan calls for this area to be a park.”
Chapman is a self-described New Urbanist, a school of thought that believes the space between buildings is more important than the space in buildings, he said.
Chapman, presented images to his audience showing Roxboro Street as it’s currently structured versus a two-way Roxboro Street complete with on-street parking and bike paths.
Mayor Bill Bell attended the meeting, stood and asked how much redeveloping the loop’s one-way street infrastructure into two-way roadways would cost.
A 2015 study, he was told, estimated the cost of transforming the infrastructure at between $12 million and $15 million without factoring in streetscape details such as new street lights.