City Hall has a makeover in mind for the Business spur of U.S. 15-501, aka Chapel Hill Boulevard, and Claudia Kemmet-Cooper is glad.
“It is a fantastic thing,” said Kemmet-Cooper, who owns the popular Guglhupf restaurant and bakery on the five-lane highway. “Way overdue.”
The makeover involves reconfiguring the road from the Chapel Hill Road bridge to its end at University Drive. Instead of five motor-vehicle lanes, there would be three – one each way with a left-turn lane in the middle – with bicycle lanes on either side and on-street parking.
The idea is to make the road safer all around while still accommodating projected vehicle traffic. The city transportation office is holding a meeting to get public reactions at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Rogers-Herr Middle School.
Adding bike lanes to 15-501 Business is part of the city’s 2006 Comprehensive Bicycle Transportation Plan, but actually doing them, or the other changes, “isn’t anything that’s been on the docket,” said Pete Nicholas, project manager with the city transportation department.
“It’s just what we thought was a great improvement to implement,” he said, “under the circumstances.”
Those “circumstances” were that the state Department of Transportation, which controls U.S. 15-501, put the road on its resurfacing list for 2015. That came out in December, Nicholas said.
“Typically,” he said, once the list comes out the city staff does “a quick evaluation of what the possibilities are for making some changes and improvements.”
Putting down new pavement was an opportunity to put down new lane stripes. DOT has the final say on what the city wants to do, but, “at this point, they do support the concept,” Nicholas said.
‘Lots of interest’
Whether DOT still supports it when it’s time for a go/no-go decision depends in part on what the public has to say.
Residents of the nearby Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood have thought changes were needed for years, according to Susan Sewell, the neighborhood’s representative to the InterNeighborhood Council.
“All are anxious to see specifics. ... There is lots of interest,” she said.
A traffic study done at the neighborhood’s request found that 80 percent of the cars on the road were speeding, Sewell said. “Of interest for us is safe cross turn lanes, safe walking, biking and waiting for the bus.”
The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission plans to have members attend the meeting to support the “road diet,” said Chairman Erik Landfried, “and offer any comments that we can that we think would strengthen the project.”
The commission has already written the City Council backing the reconfiguration. With sidewalk improvements, their letter said, it “would increase the livability of this street and may spur additional investment in the corridor.”
According to the city’s and state’s figuring, two travel lanes and a center turn lane is enough for the traffic using the road, now and for at least the next 25 years, Nicholas said.
Currently, 15-501 Business carries about 14,000 vehicles a day between Chapel Hill Road and University Drive, a figure that, on average, has held steady for the past decade.
Despite population growth and increasing traffic on other Durham roads, state DOT models for future traffic volumes on 15-501 Business show that level holding, or rising only slightly, through 2040, Nicholas said.
As it is, Kemmet-Cooper said, “It’s Russian roulette trying to cross the boulevard.” Two of her employees have been hit by cars, and “I can’t tell you how many wrecks I’ve seen.”
Patrick Edwards, general manager at Foster’s Market next to Guglhupf, was more reserved.
“I was going to go to the meeting and see what they had to say ... before I could make any kind of decision about it,” Edwards said.
A public meeting on the proposed reconfiguration of U.S. 15-501 Business is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Rogers-Herr Middle School media center.
The format is “drop-in,” with no formal presentation, but staff members from the city and state transportation department will be on hand to explain the project, answer questions and hear comments.