Getting around in the Raleigh of the future could mean arriving by light rail and making the final connection by a public bike-share program.
Alternative transportation advocates provided status updates on a range of public projects under review at a Saturday afternoon gathering of Activate 14, an educational program of the North Carolina chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The projects are typically federally funded with local matches.
As many as 100 people attended five hours of presentations and workshops at the Center for Architecture and Design on Peace Street to learn about the social benefits of trains, buses, bicycles and even skateboards. Such modes of transport are typically associated with major cultural destinations like Boston or Montreal or Barcelona, and still face skepticism in the capital of North Carolina, where the automobile rules and suburban development is the undisputed king.
“Rome wasn’t built overnight,” said Jennifer Baldwin, Raleigh’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “You have to start somewhere.”
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Many of the transportation concepts will face questions in a city whose residents have reacted with hostility to proposals to pave greenways and bike lanes near their subdivisions. The most vocal constituency for public transportation remains in the city’s downtown core, highlighting the inside-outside Beltline cultural split that divides Raleigh residents on a wide range of issues.
In the coming years, though, Raleigh residents will get the chance to decide whether to opt for big-city people-mover programs now in various stages of review, and some already in the pipeline. Taken together, the transportation options promote a cosmopolitan lifestyle in which the car is marginalized and sprawl is a dirty word.
Raleigh is already on schedule to develop the state’s first “cycle track,” Baldwin said. The urban planning term refers to a dedicated bicycle lane that is physically separated from car lanes by a curb or median.
The city is also planning to lay down more than 50 miles of bike lanes by the end of next year. They’re part of a long-term plan to develop a continuous network of 400 miles of bike lanes.
Raleigh officials are in the midst of reviewing the city’s bike lane plan and next year will decide which city streets will be the next to receive bike lanes. The change is more involved than a fresh paint job and can require narrowing or eliminating automobile lanes to make room for bicycles.
City officials are also considering a bike-share program, which would be North Carolina’s second after the one established in Charlotte in 2012.
“I really didn’t know about Raleigh’s biking plans for the future, and I was really impressed,” said Susan Hedglin, a Chapel Hill resident who works in Durham and came to learn about bicycle commuting. “I used to live in Shanghai, China. I really hate to drive.”
Many of the concepts are less than a decade old here, but already gaining momentum as the region’s population explodes with an influx of technology workers, retirees and others who are accustomed to urban public services. In all, Raleigh’s proposals include light rail, commuter rail, rapid transit, bus connectors and a bicycle-friendly culture.
Raleigh had just 4 miles of on-road bike lanes in 2009, but will have more than 50 miles by 2015, Baldwin said. The city also has more than 100 miles of paved greenways.
The state’s first “cycle track” will be added to a third-mile section of Gorman Street to connect two greenways, the Rocky Branch Trail and the Reedy Creek Trail. Construction on the $150,000 project is slated to start by 2016.
The bike-share program has already been deemed feasible and has proceeded to Phase II, in which the city’s consultant will advise this fall how to fund the program that is estimated to cost $2.5 million to establish and $500,000 a year to operate.
Raleigh is looking at a bike-share option with 30 stations where members can pick up or drop off 3-speed public bicycles.
On the train front, transportation advocates are hoping for a public referendum by 2016 on a half-cent sales tax to pay for light rail connecting the Triangle. Orange and Durham county residents have already approved the tax.