Raleigh Report

Raleigh leaders divided over bus lane on Six Forks Road

After raising numerous concerns and debating for 90 minutes, city leaders on Tuesday delayed a vote on $44 million in proposed renovations to Six Forks Road.

A city staff proposal, formed after two years of road analysis and talking to residents, would widen Six Forks to six lanes from Lynn Road to Interstate 440, known as the Beltline. It would also separate proposed bike lanes from the road using curbs and reduce the speed limit along the entire 2.3-mile stretch.

More than 48,000 vehicles travel that segment of Six Forks near the Beltline each day, and city staff expects that number to increase, without citing specific numbers, if no improvements are made. The City Council first considered staff’s proposal on Feb. 2, when it scheduled a work session for Tuesday to discuss a suggestion to replace one of the lanes with a lane dedicated for bus use.

But the council didn’t resolve its differences Tuesday and, in fact, may have ended its meeting with more questions than it started with. The council asked staff to produce more options for expanding Six Forks with a dedicated bus lane, along with associated costs. And it appears members still have a lot of ground to cover to reach a consensus on a number of issues.

Cost aside, council members’ preferences for the alignment of Six Forks Road seem to vary widely.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin supports the staff’s proposal as is, without the dedicated bus lane. In opposing the lane, Baldwin cited transit experts who say a successful bus line needs an employment center at both ends.

“Who’s going to come from Strickland Road to ride (to North Hills) in that dedicated lane?” she asked, referring to the lack of potential riders on the northern stretch of Six Forks.

Councilman Russ Stephenson thinks the city should incorporate a dedicated bus lane.

“If we make it flow easier, all we’re going to do is induce additional trips there,” he said. “We won’t have solved the most pressing problems.”

Councilman David Cox, meanwhile, suggested the city should keep Six Forks four lanes where it’s already aligned that way but slightly widen them to reduce the chances of wrecks. Six Forks Road has a crash rate that’s 2.6 time higher than the state average for roads of that size, said Carter Pettibone, an urban designer for the city.

“It’s four lanes, but the lanes are very narrow,” Cox said. “That, in my mind, contributes to some of the crash data.”

Patrick Martin, who lives in the North Hills neighborhood, said he spoke for several residents who oppose widening the road altogether.

“Expanding Six Forks to six lanes is like dropping Capital Boulevard in the middle of North Raleigh,” he said.

“This is not solving the traffic problem, this is growing the traffic problem,” Martin continued. “There should be a significant emphasis on the part of the city to encourage people to get out of their cars.”

The proposed changes come as council members, separately, are promoting the merits of a Wake Transit Plan that would bring dedicated bus lanes and commuter trains to the county by 2027. County and city leaders hope residents support the transit plan by passing a half-cent sales tax referendum to pay for it during the November elections.

Council members considered the transit plan when talking about proposed Six Forks renovations. And the discussion about the city’s role in encouraging alternative modes of transportation included a debate over the proposed bike lanes.

Councilman Dickie Thompson said the path’s separation from the road gives the impression that it’s intended for recreation and would fail to draw bike commuters.

“That’s a bike path, not a bike lane,” Thompson said.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht