Midtown Raleigh News

City weighs choices for Hillsborough St. road diet

With neighbors and cycling advocates split over a plan to revamp the layout of Hillsborough Street near the YMCA, City Councilman Russ Stephenson has come up with a new design intended to placate both sides.

The option, which Stephenson stresses is a rough concept, calls for several blocks of on-street parking as well as bike lanes in each direction.

It’s the latest scenario for a road diet that has become a hot source of debate.

The city plans this summer to resurface Hillsborough Street between Woodburn Road and Park Avenue. As part of any resurfacing project, city planners look for ways to add modern features.

Citing traffic and speed concerns, the Cameron Park neighborhood association has urged the city to install on-street parking to narrow the wide expanse of roadway.

But cyclists have a different vision. Timur Ender, a Raleigh cycling advocate, has organized a group ride this afternoon along Hillsborough Street that will end with a news conference at Nash Square.

Cyclists say parked cars can be a hazard. They fear getting bumped by drivers opening their doors. The focus of the road diet, they say, should be on bike lanes and wide sidewalks rather than parking spaces.

“Cyclists have a right to the road and we will not be pushed away by neighborhood interests who want to put on-street parking where we belong,” Ender told city officials in an email. “The benefits of cycling are too great to allow for compromise.”

The episode shows how something as routine as a street resurfacing can give rise to competing agendas and disagreements over details.

Enter Stephenson, an architect who lives on Oberlin Road on the edge of Cameron Park. Stephenson designed a hybrid option that he says strikes a balance.

Currently, Hillsborough Street near the YMCA has two travel lanes in each direction as well as a center turn lane. The result is a wide expanse that can be difficult for pedestrians to cross.

The number of travel lanes will likely be reduced, possibly to one lane in each direction with a turn lane in between.

In his plan, Stephenson proposes center turn lanes at intersections.

“I’ve shown it to dozens of people,” Stephenson said. “It’s headed in the right direction. I haven’t heard anyone say, ‘This does not accomplish my goals.’ ”

Whatever form it takes, the plan should take into account all users, not just those in the Cameron Park neighborhood, said Will Allen III, chairman of the Hillsborough CAC who lives nearby in Cameron Village.

Allen noted that Cameron Park, with its storied history and reputation for civic activism, gets lots of attention from City Hall.

“I’m perplexed as to why our city councilors didn’t go through staff, which we’ve been trusting in this process,” Allen said. “Why not give staff a chance to come up with a final plan before altering it?”

City Manager Russell Allen said he doesn’t see a problem.

“There’s nothing wrong with a council member bringing their experience to the table on behalf of their constituents,” Allen said.

Hillsborough Street carries 17,000 to 18,000 cars per day in the section under review. That’s about 5,000 more cars than on streets typically targeted for road diets.

But Raleigh has made it a priority to respond to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

The work represents another phase of renovations along Hillsborough Street, which received a $12 million overhaul on a section near N.C. State University.