The proposed “road diet” for U.S. 15-501 Business came up for City Council approval Monday night, but council members put a decision off until at least June 25.
Council members Eugene Brown and Eddie Davis sought the delay to get more input from business owners along the road, three of whom waited until near the end of a five-hour council meeting to voice their opposition.
“You haven’t taken the time to really listen to the businesses,” said Wayne Lee, who owns the Hair By Design salon. “I feel like it’s really going to hurt our businesses.”
Lee was joined by Blake Addison, owner of Classic Treasures, and Refectory Cafe owner Laura Hall, who said she was representing “at least 15 other businesses” who oppose plans to reconfigure the section from Chapel Hill Road to University Drive from five motor-vehicle lanes down to three, with bicycle lanes on both sides.
Reconfiguration would reduce traffic on the road, Hall said, and “negatively impact our businesses.”
Susan Sewell and David Stephenson, residents of the adjacent Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood, and Bike Durham chairwoman Christin Lampkowski, spoke in favor of reconfiguring.
They said it would improve safety and make the corridor more friendly for bicycle riders and pedestrians.
“This vibrant commercial district can be walkable and bike-able,” Stephenson said.
Reconfiguration appeared to have council support after a May 21 work session, but on Monday Brown and Davis, along with Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden and Mayor Bill Bell, were swayed by the business owners’ arguments.
“You’re talking about people who have made life investments on this corridor,” Bell said. “I haven’t heard anyone say it’s going to help (business).”
“I’m just a little concerned maybe we’re using an ax here when we should really use a scalpel,” Brown said.
The vote was 4-3 to delay, with council members Diane Catotti, Don Moffit and Steve Schewel voting no. All three support reconfiguring as proposed by the city transportation department.
Reconfiguring U.S. 15-501 Business, aka Chapel Hill Boulevard, would be a matter of re-striping its lanes after the state transportation department has has the road resurfaced later this year or in early 2016.
Transportation staffers proposed the so-called road diet after learning 15-501 was on NCDOT’s resurfacing schedule. Reconfiguring was conceived as a safety measure, changing from two motor-vehicle lanes in each direction with a center turn lane to to one vehicle lane each way, a center turn lane, outside lanes for bicycles and 21 on-street parking spaces .
According to a memo by city transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen (nando.com/1c0), from 2009 through 2014 there were 157 recorded crashes on the mile-long section, causing 54 injuries and an estimated $750,000 in property damage.
“This is a dangerous road,” said Schewel.
Catotti said she thinks reconfiguring would attract more business customers as well as enhance safety.
“This is a win-win for all of us,” she said.
“I want to do everything I can to promote increased safety,” said Bell, but added, “My concern is, you’ve got people who have made investments ... on that corridor telling us it’s going to hurt their businesses. ... I think it’s the wrong tack to take.”
All the citizen speakers agreed that the road is unsafe – Addison said cars go past his store “running in excess of 75 miles an hour, and that’s a 35 mile-per-hour zone.” But the business owners said traffic lights would be a better solution than cutting down the traffic lanes.
Residents have also asked for traffic lights, as well as crosswalks and sidewalks. Those, though, are not part of the state’s resurfacing project, which does include repainting lane stripes, at state expense, after new pavement is down.
NCDOT is willing to paint lanes however the city likes, but if the city wants a change from what’s there now it has to say so by July 1, Ahrendsen said. Otherwise, new stripes will probably go down where the current ones are, he said.
The council has one regular meeting remaining before July 1, on June 22. Moffitt pointed out that meeting already has 62 items lined up for its agenda.
“If we’ve got a long meeting,” Bell said, “let’s have a long meeting.”
Read more about it
For more information on the proposal for reconfiguring U.S. 15-501 Business, including public comments submitted before Monday’s council meeting, see nando.com/151.