The city plans to build a walking and biking path to connect downtown Raleigh to Dix Park, but some neighbors say the route doesn’t make sense and could be dangerous because it crosses a busy road.
Raleigh’s plans call for the Rosengarten Greenway Trail to start at Cabarrus Street, travel through Boylan Heights, cross South Saunders Street twice and go under the Western Boulevard bridge to the east side of Dix Park.
Residents say they like the idea but are concerned about heavy traffic on South Saunders. Some say they want the city to build the greenway along a long-neglected stream to create a more direct path that avoids South Saunders and instead goes under or over Western Boulevard.
City staff, however, say that plan would cost millions of more dollars.
“The biggest issue for me is safety,” said Jay Spain, a resident who is leading an effort to petition the City Council for a direct path to Dix Park. “How much is a human life worth?”
The council will have final say over the greenway, and a decision could be months away. But with construction underway on new development, including condos at the corner of South and Saunders streets, residents feel a sense of urgency to get the route right.
Spain worked with a UNC-Chapel Hill student to produce a video to raise awareness about the issue.
The city’s current plans contradict recommendations made by a task force Spain served on when it crafted the Saunders North Area Redevelopment Plan in 2004. That plan calls for the city to restore the stream through a process called “daylighting,” or exposing it in some areas where it’s underground.
Raleigh bought the 308-acre Dorothea Dix property from the state in 2015 and is expected to spend millions more to turn it into a destination park. The Rosengarten Greenway is one of many connections to the park the city needs to plan carefully, said council member Kay Crowder, who represents the area.
“We need to make sure that we look at the long-term view,” she said. “The city needs to take a really high view of that approach.”
Crews plan to uncover the stream at the Lenoir Street Park, where it’s buried under a basketball court. The greenway would be several feet away.
M.H. Green, 92, wants the city to instead build the path along the creek through his property between South and Lenoir streets next to Boulted Bread. He thinks there should be a boardwalk, but Lisa Potts, a senior greenway planner for Raleigh, said it’s unnecessary and impossible because there isn’t enough room.
Matt Daniels, who works as Green’s property manager, said he thinks the city is simply trying to avoid extra costs.
“Rather than consider the property owner’s wishes, aesthetics and directness, they only consider what is needed at a bare minimum to get from Lenoir to South streets (as well as the rest of the project),” Daniels said.
Daniels, who lives downtown, said he wants the city to work with private property owners to create a direct path to the park and the Rocky Branch Greenway, which runs along the northeastern border of Dix.
Potts said Raleigh couldn’t reach an agreement with New York-based Lambert Development, which plans to build condos at the corner of South and Saunders streets, to run the greenway through the property.
Johnny Chappell, CEO of Chappell Residential who partnered with Lambert, said Raleigh staffers never said they wanted to extend the greenway through their property.
“They approached us in 2015 saying, ‘This is our plan, we don’t want to dissect your property. We want to run it along your property. Will you work with us on that approach?’ ” Chappell recalled. “We said yes, and we’ve been working with them ever since.”
Meanwhile, Potts said the greenway can’t run down the side of South Saunders Street closest to Dix Park because there’s not enough room. The city will add signs and crosswalks to make the route as safe as possible, she said.
Green, a veteran of World War II, said he has reluctantly hired an attorney to help him deal with the city.
“I get the feeling they think they can just run over me,” he said.