Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

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Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Mitch
I'm a huge fan of public transit and rail--I was recently in Atlanta and Phoenix and took the Marta and Valley Metro every chance I got, but all of the people I know who live in those cities never take the rail systems because of safety concerns, and most of the people I've talked to about it here in the Triangle have never ridden a bus since they last used a public school bus.

I was bummed when the Durham-Orange light rail was killed, but I wonder if Self Driving Cars wouldn't have made rail even less viable here in the US for the time being, especially combined with how much money we've already poured into our highway systems in the area (and in the US more generally)? Despite my willingness to do so, I can't imagine many of the people I know choosing to have planned their trips away from home/activities around the train schedule, walk to a station and then wait for the train and do the same on the way back, once they have the option to call a car to come pick them up and take them door to door entirely on-demand. I just don't think people would have been willing to give up that convenience unless there was a huge price savings for doing so. Maybe there could be, if we didn't subsidize highways the way we do, but as of right now I don't know.

What do you all think? Should we have forged ahead with the Light Rail plans? Would SDCs have been it's death knell anyway? Something entirely different?
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

ChapelHillSean
electric cars, self driving cars and gasoline cars take the same space as any car.  The problem is mathematical density.  If there is a self driving bus I think that is worth more than a self driving car because it holds way more people in a much smaller space than the equivalent amount of cars.  

The other problem I see with self driving cars (even though I want one really badly!) is that they can lead to someone not owning a car, almost all the self driving cars being advertised seem to hone in on this fact (Uber, Lyft, Tesla, Waymo).  Why is this a problem?  Wouldn't this save people money on not owning a vechile!! Well think about your day.  

Wake up , get ready for work, call self driving car (Uber?).  

TRIP 1 CAR GOES FROM SOMEWHERE TO YOUR HOUSE

TRIP 2 CAR GOES FROM YOUR HOUSE TO YOUR PLACE OF WORK

work for a bit, you brought lunch so that saves a car trip

TRIP 3 CAR GOES FROM SOMEWHERE TO YOUR PLACE OF WORK

TRIP 4 CAR GOES FROM YOUR PLACE OF WORK TO YOUR HOME

this effectively doubles the amount of trips by having a "taxi" for all rides.  Even if this fancy new car is 50% more efficient, its 100% more trips, meaning it is a losing battle unless these self-driving cars also fly or add so much efficiency they can make up for the inefficiency of not owning a car.

I am an engineer by trade, actually my title would be an automation engineer and I think self driving cars will happen but I think they can introduce new problems that we are not ready for yet.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Dave @ Building Bull City
Administrator
The two other issues with self driving cars that come to mind are:

Increase in sprawl. People can have a 4 acre lot out in Chatham county if they can work or sleep or watch a movie during their commute.

Increased congestion downtown. As Sean mentioned, there will be more cars from "deadheading" or cars driving around with nobody in them. In addition, pedestrians will start to understand that a car will ALWAYS stop for them. Therefore, you have pedestrians walking in front of cars whenever they want to cross the street and the AVs will be stopping constantly.

Of course, that may be a good thing and discourage people from using AVs downtown and maybe using other modes, but again, they may not care if they can get work done at the same time.

The uphill battle for transit advocates though is the point-to-point nature of cars (self driving or not). Light rail systems, bus systems, and transit in general loses money because it can't compete on convenience, especially in an area like this that is so dependent on vehicles already and has the land use patterns to fit.

Like everything, new tech will bring solutions (safety, which is HUGE) and new problems to address as well. We can guess at what those problems might be, but some of them will be surprises, I'm sure.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

BullCityRising
So here’s my absolutely crazy idea:

I’m a big fan of the kinds of trams you see in smaller European cities, like Strasbourg. They run on lighter trails and can run on streets or besides them, including over what get landscaped to be green, grassy spaces.

Could Durham consider taking the belt line, north/south greenway corridor, and ATT corridor, and redeveloping them as urban tramways, with an elevated boardwalk-style running/biking path above them?

You’d likely need an on-street segment along Stadium Dr., and would have to figure out connectivity past the HT/former Kroger down by Southpoint (or end the system there.) You might need to come up Roxboro or S. Duke St. to connect to the Beltline and then up and around from there.  At the same time, you could imagine a spur down the MLK corridor connecting into the heart of RTP.

But you could create an interesting spine for a transit system while giving a “High Line” style walking trail as well.

Of course, the ATT in particular has a huge fandom and this would face instant opposition — but it would make for an interesting project.

The biggest challenge IMO is how you get connectivity between Duke, downtown and NCCU in this model. Several ideas come to mind but all are a lot more challenging than re-using a preserved old rail corridor or a relatively well maintained greenway section.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Dave @ Building Bull City
Administrator
Fascinating!

My initial reaction when I was halfway through reading this was "but how do we connect to Duke" and then you addressed that. One question I often think about is "where is Durham in terms of achieving escape velocity from Duke". I am not sure Durham has achieved this, but there are certainly signs of the city getting closer.

This plan could really lay the groundwork for some new, thriving urban nodes. Visiting other cities, it is fascinating to visit the X district or the Y neighborhood. Durham has 9th street, downtown, and now Central Park in terms of places that might be interesting if you were an outsider visiting the city. For example, having a stop along the ATT at Morehead Hill could lead to a new interesting node (tabling the discussion of gentrification right now since that is pervasive in any discussion about development). Perhaps a different node would emerge, but that is the idea.

The other challenge potentially is money. I have no idea how much it would cost to build an elevated pedestrian/cycle path or how much it would cost to maintain it, but my initial reaction is to see big $$$ for a project like that.

I love this thinking though. I certainly haven't heard anyone else propose this!