Durham News

‘Eyebrows’ proposed for Trinity Park thoroughfares

Commonly, they’re called “neckdowns” and “curb extensions.” Technically, they’re called “eyebrows.”

Either way, they’re pedestrian-safety devices that may also slow down speeding vehicles.

The city is thinking of installing such devices at 16 intersections on Duke and Gregson streets. If, that is, the Durham community at large approves.

“We want to get input from everybody,” said project manager Clint Blackburn, a city engineer who described the plans for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission last week.

Duke and Gregson are state-maintained thoroughfares that each carry 8,000 to 10,000 vehicles per day through the Trinity Park neighborhood. Doing something to cut their speeding is “very high on the priority list” for residents, said Martin Steinmeyer, chairman of the neighborhood association’s traffic committee.

According to Dale McKeel, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, there were six accidents on the streets involving pedestrians and eight involving bicycles between 2007 and 2012

More than 10 years ago, McKeel said, the city completed a study on calming traffic throughout Trinity Park. Many of the measures suggested then have been put in place, such as traffic circles, speed humps, electronic “Your speed” signs and four-way stops.

“But the last major remaining recommendation from the study is to look at the curb extensions on Duke and Gregson,” he said.

The city’s idea for the neckdowns is to bulge street corners out about 3.5 feet to reduce the distance pedestrians have to cover to cross the street and to give pedestrians a better view of oncoming traffic from a safe point that is less obstructed by street trees.

The bulging is done with concrete islands, about five inches above street level, that wrap around the corner in an eyebrow-like shape on either side of a sidewalk ramp. A gutter-level channel separates the island from the original curb line to allow for water runoff.

For motorists, the eyebrows visually emphasize pedestrian crossings without reducing vehicles’ travel- lane width, because the eyebrows only extend into space used, on Duke and Gregson, for on-street parking.

In August, the City Council approved a $93,216.50 design contract with Stewart Engineering Inc. McKeel said the city has set aside some money for construction, but how many curb extensions get built will depend on what designs the public prefers, or is willing to live with.

To get that preference, Blackburn said, the city and Stewart Engineering plan to hold two public-input sessions: one before any designing is done and the second after the engineers have something to look at.

“Being in at the beginning of the design process is really important,” said Erik Landfried, the BPAC chairman.

A “pilot” eyebrow is already in place at the Gregson-Urban Avenue intersection.

“The NCDOT wanted to see one neckdown constructed, they were interested in drainage and other issues, before they gave a green light to more,” McKeel said.

Eyebrows may have the effect of slowing traffic but, strictly speaking, they’re “pedestrian-safety” installations, Ahrendsen said. The state DOT isn’t particularly interested in slowing traffic, since its mission is to keep traffic moving, but it does have interest in safety for pedestrians.

BPAC Commissioner Randy Best said the eyebrow idea falls short of a “complete street” plan that would serve bicyclists as well as foot and vehicle traffic. Blackburn said that, although the city’s bicycle plan recommends bike lanes on Duke and Gregson streets, the existing streets don’t have room for them.

“It’s a narrow road,” he said, with each street having a total width of 30 feet, about 7.5 feet of that taken up, for most of their length, by parking space. Adding bike lanes would require eliminating the on-street parking or widening the right-of-ways, in that process taking down a lot of trees – neither likely a popular step to take.

During the meeting, several people suggested reducing the 35 mph speed limits, but that is also unlikely.

“It’s an NCDOT call,” Ahrendsen said, “and they have not supported lowering the speed limit.”