Postponement of action by a governing board may not sound like progress, but in the case of figuring a plan to deal with traffic in the North Hills area, the Raleigh City Council did the right thing. The traffic crisis – 36,000 to 48,000 cars a day drive on Six Forks Road – needs some imaginative as well as practical solutions. That means going beyond the usual fix, more traffic lanes.
Instead, despite an apparently unenthusiastic response from North Hills residents, the city needs to look at Bus Rapid Transit, which means buses traveling in dedicated lanes and getting special priority on traffic signals. That would, on its face, provide some relief in an area that’s become challenging at best and a little scary at worst for those who have to drive it every day. And Six Forks is a major corridor, moving people from inside the Beltline to far North Raleigh.
That wasn’t a problem, particularly, before the successful development of the old North Hills Mall area by John Kane, who turned a failure into a triumph (for him and the area) to be sure.
But the city has to do something to alleviate the traffic and also to make the North Hills area an important link in the county’s overall transit plan. The plan makes North Hills a “hub,” which in part means bus service every 15 minutes.
Council members have put some good thought into the situation. Russ Stephenson, a veteran councilman, put it best when he said that adding more traffic lanes sounded “like a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem.”
And BRT is important, Mayor Nancy McFarlane said, if people who might not ordinarily want to take the bus are going to change their ways and get out from behind their personal steering wheels.
“The whole goal,” she said, “if you’re going to put in something new, is to make it faster so people want to use it.” People, she said, aren’t going to ride buses if they’re sitting in traffic with all the other vehicles. The bus has to be an improvement.
Developers would be expected to share some of the cost – at least that’s one possibility the council is considering. Indeed, developers should pick up a good chunk of the tab. They’ve gotten much benefit from North Hills development – yes, they’ve taken risks, too – but if their developments are going to work, they need better transit options and they ought to help deliver them.
Those who have been in Raleigh long enough to remember the decline and fall of the old North Hills Mall can well appreciate the residential and retail development that’s happened since. But there are consequences and will be more consequences if traffic issues aren’t addressed soon.