After a new traffic study and months of gripes from neighbors, Raleigh transportation engineers are scrapping a proposal to narrow Oberlin Road to two lanes in the Cameron Village area.
City officials held a meeting last week for neighbors and business owners to show off the latest design for the Oberlin overhaul. The new plans mark a huge change from the Hillsborough Street-style ideas floated at a similar meeting months earlier. The new drawings call for keeping five lanes of traffic on Oberlin, while widening and beautifying sidewalks and possibly burying overhead power lines to spruce up the block.
At an April meeting, transportation planning manager Eric Lamb explained how Oberlin could be slimmed down to one lane in each direction. He argued that the widest section of the street isn’t necessary for traffic flow and proposed bike lanes, roundabouts and sidewalk dining. But some neighbors worried that three new apartment projects under way will bring more congestion than a two-lane street could handle.
The latest traffic study confirmed neighbors’ fears, and Lamb changed his tune last week. “Our projections show it’s undesirable to look at a road diet for now,” he said. “We have conservatively estimated what the new development would bring and the existing traffic.”
The study found that even a three- or four-lane conversion could cause major backups. Road planners had to ditch the roundabout because Oberlin is the only designated truck route for deliveries to Harris Teeter and other Cameron Village merchants. That means big traffic circles are needed for trucks to maneuver the turns. “We’re starting to get a lot of right-of-way impact” on surrounding properties to build roundabouts, Lamb said.
Keeping the current number of lanes won’t leave any room for the bike lanes and on-street parking originally envisioned. Instead, cyclists would continue to use traffic lanes with “sharrows” marking the safest spot on the pavement to ride.
Sidewalks, however, are still in line for major improvements. “We know that the sidewalks in the area are pretty inconsistent, and they’re not pedestrian oriented,” Lamb said.
Where extra space is available, the city would widen sidewalks along Oberlin, potentially adding street trees, decorative street lamps and benches to give it a Main Street feel. The new apartment and retail developments going up at Oberlin and Clark Avenue already will have some of those elements out front. A streetscape improvement project could extend the features further north on Oberlin, as well as add sidewalks to nearby side streets that don’t have them.
The improvements could secure city funding in the next few years, but even the scaled-back project could have its detractors. Benjamin Inman owns the office building at Oberlin and Bedford Avenue, and he wonders how the changes would affect his landscaping. “How does that get worked out?” he asked traffic engineers. “This is changing our design.”
And while the narrowing of Oberlin is off the drawing board for now, it’s still a possibility further down the road. Once the three new developments open to residents and shoppers, Raleigh will conduct another traffic study.
“Once we have more data available, we can revisit that,” Lamb said.