More room for buses and bicycles, less for cars in downtown Raleigh transportation plan

City planners on Wednesday unveiled their ideas for changing how people get around downtown Raleigh in the future that include new lanes dedicated to buses and bicycles and less space devoted to cars.

The downtown transportation plan will guide how the city adapts to a bus rapid transit system that will include covered platforms where passengers can pre-pay their fares and bus-only lanes to speed them past traffic. The city plans to build four BRT lines radiating from downtown by 2027, starting with the first out New Bern Avenue to WakeMed by 2023.

Determining how those buses will enter and leave downtown was one impetus for developing the transportation plan. Another was to make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to maneuver in a central city now designed largely for cars.

Crafting the plan meant balancing the different demands on downtown streets, which can’t be widened, said Mila Vega, senior transportation planner for the city. Planners consulted various interest groups and the public to determine what people think is important.

For downtown businesses, for example, it was on-street parking and loading zones near their shops and restaurants. Vega said the plan seeks to preserve parking and loading zones on streets such as Hargett that have retail.

The plan also tries not to load too much onto any given street. If a BRT line runs down one street, bike lanes would be put on a parallel one, Vega noted.

“There was a constant effort to not have conflicts between BRT and bikes,” she said.

The city posted a summary of the plan online Wednesday and presented it at an open house at the convention center that evening. It will collect feedback from the public for another week or more at goraleigh.org/downtownplan. While the plan won’t change before it’s presented to the City Council, Vega said, the feedback could influence how it is carried out over the next decade.

Among the dozens of people who came to see the plan Wednesday evening was Joe Halloran, a retired state worker and avid cyclist who lives in the North Hills area. Halloran said he liked the ideas that would make downtown more friendly to bicycles, particularly the bike lanes separated from traffic by parked cars or planters. He said many would-be cyclists wouldn’t think about riding downtown now because they don’t want to mix with traffic.

“We just need to put more value on people and not on cars,” he said.

Otis Allen and Jerome Brown came with different concerns. They’re both Southeast Raleigh residents who worry that the BRT line along New Bern Avenue will fuel gentrification that will push out businesses and residents along that corridor.

“It’s happening,” said Brown, who serves on GoTriangle’s Transit Advisory Committee. “This is only going to increase it.”

Though development along the BRT lines is beyond the scope of the downtown transportation plan, both Allen and Brown said the city needs to think about how improved transit will make real estate more desirable in some areas, possibly at the expense of current residents and business owners.

When the city presented possible scenarios for the transportation plan last fall it asked people how they get to “work, parks and entertainment” and how they would like to in the future. The wide majority of the more than 400 people who responded said they now drive but would rather not.

“Most people drive today, but the desire is to go by bus, bike or walk,” Vega said.

Gaby Lawlor drives to her job in downtown Raleigh, usually after she drops her daughter off at daycare. But Lawlor says she’s a fan of transit and would like to see it improved so that it could be seen as an option for her and others in the future.

“I’m happy to see that the city is investing in transit,” she said after reviewing the plan Wednesday. “I’m just hoping that it actually goes through, because you never know with these things.”

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.