Gashes Through Downtown Durham

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Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Dave @ Building Bull City
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Mitch
This post was updated on .
I am really interested to see how DT and south of 147 are linked. If something really substantial is built on the Heritage Square shopping center ( the current owner shelled out $12m for it, so I'm hoping they aren't just planning to sit on it and hope it appreciates in value) there will be even more reason to have a good connection between the two.  Currently, the little sidewalk beside S Roxboro with about 1ft of grass and a small curb doesn't really give a safe-feeling walk between the two.

I'm all for having motor vehicle infrastructure moved underground if it's ever reasonably affordable, and returning the space between blocks/buildings downtown to pedestrians.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Dave @ Building Bull City
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I agree - it seems most likely that 147 will remain as-is, but if it does, what can they do to connect the two parts of a growing downtown area?

The only option might be doing some "place-making" to make overpasses more appealing to people walking. The same problem didn't stop Austin from expanding into East Austin across I-35. I think Durham city officials should connect with Austin city officials to think through these similar problems together.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Steve
In reply to this post by Dave @ Building Bull City
I think 147 will eventually be redeveloped as an urban boulevard. It will always carry very heavy traffic loads, especially with the city growing as quickly as it is, but it doesn't have be so impenetrable to pedestrians. In reality, there isn't any reason why it has to impede development on both sides. 277 in Charlotte is just as bad and it hasn't stopped the explosion of development in the South End or Uptown.

With regard to the NCRR, I don't exactly understand what Dave is saying here. I'm probably missing something, but are you saying you'd like Amtrak to run trains along 85 instead of coming downtown? That's an idea straight out of the 1970s and it would be a terrible idea for downtown. Moving Durham Station out to the suburbs would make it especially hard for people who use public transportation to use Amtrak. And, don't forget that the commuter rail to Raleigh will eventually use those same tracks. Putting it in the suburbs would make no sense.

What they could do with the train tracks is create a grade separation with the street traffic. It makes no sense for the trains to be running at grade in an urban area. This can either be done by digging a trench or building an elevated platform. A tunnel would be the best option but that's also the least practical.

Again, maybe I'm missing something here. I would welcome Dave expanding on his thoughts re: the NCRR.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Dave @ Building Bull City
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That's fair. I was mainly thinking of the freight uses. I certainly wouldn't want Durham Station to be out in the suburbs, but at the same time, the tracks cutting right through downtown doesn't seem great. Ideally, the tracks would be diverted away from the close proximity to the loop and come back around to Durham station. Unfortunately, I looked at the I-85 corridor because that's where land without displacement might be available.

Honestly, not sure there is a great solution to this problem. Grade separation could be good, but would still create the disconnect between north and south.

I do support 147 being redeveloped as an urban boulevard, though.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

nicholas
In reply to this post by Dave @ Building Bull City
There's no way the train tracks are going anywhere in our lifetimes. But I think some sort of change to 147 is possible.

The East End Connector is nearing completion, and 147 should be routed onto that. The existing 147 route through downtown should either be decommissioned or changed to BUS 147.  All of the bridges and exit ramps should be removed between Briggs and BYP 15/501, and if possible it needs to be reduced to a single lane in each direction with on-street parking and bike lanes. Granted, this would be a MASSIVE change, and the City of Durham would have to wrangle ownership of this stretch of 147 over from NCDOT for any hope of this happening, but if the goal is to unite both then that is what needs to happen.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

elevatoroperator
This post was updated on .
In reply to this post by Dave @ Building Bull City
The railroad is certainly a barrier, but it did not used to be so severe. Compare the current conditions to photos from the early-mid 20th century, when buildings still fronted Ramseur (then Peabody) and Pettigrew. The railroad was a barrier, but it was not such a valley in the downtown landscape that the conditions felt as stark as they do today.

This is an aerial above Union Station, demolished in the 70s.
http://www.opendurham.org/sites/default/files/images/2007_3/UnionStation_1920s.jpg

Or look at the corner of Mangum and Ramseur, which had buildings creating an urban street corner until they were demolished to create parking and the Loop. (Pictured: 1920s, 1960s, today)




Or see the commercial district of East Pettigrew... now just parking and a vacant patch of grass.





Prior to urban renewal, houses even came almost up to the railroad.


All photos from Open Durham. I don't mean to dwell in the past, but sometimes we forget that our city hasn't always looked this divided. Most of this damage was done within our lifetimes, and perhaps we can undo it in less drastic ways than dreaming of the removal of the railroad entirely. I can imagine a future Durham where these gaps begin to be filled in, and downtown starts to feel more continuous again. Converting the Loop back into two-way traffic is a great start. The main hindrance I see to this is modern development patterns, where small infill projects like these are hard to pull off because developers do not see profit in them. As long as huge surface lots and empty city blocks exist, these narrow spaces that can really fill in the gaps in our urban fabric won't be seen as a priority.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

nicholas
I wish people (or at least, more of them) in those times realized how much damage they were doing by tearing down so many buildings. Economics and modern building codes, not to mention DOT and rail ROWs, make it very difficult to recreate urbanity like this.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Dave @ Building Bull City
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These photos are fantastic - thanks for sharing.

I am certainly not an engineer, but certainly some building codes are good for safety and I wonder if codes related to proximity to RR fit into that category.

Even some of the old photos show a stark separation across the tracks. Perhaps someday either "going up" (train bridge) or "going down" (train tunnel) might financially feasible, but for now, it seems like too tough of a problem.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

elevatoroperator
This post was updated on .
My point is not that we should build right up to the train tracks, but that the gash through downtown feels much worse than it needs to because of the huge valley of inactivity along either side of the railroad. And I believe that this is not solely due to the train tracks. It's also because we have develop-able plots of land where buildings previously stood that are now vacant due to urban renewal and the construction of the Downtown Loop. There is absolutely no safety or code reason that Pettigrew and Ramseur could not be lined with buildings like they once were. That corner at Mangum and Pettigrew above, for example, is bound by parking and empty lots, and where Union Station once brought activity, we now have a parking garage surrounded by... nothing.



Would building in the highlighted areas make downtown completely continuous? No. But imagine if, rather than the current car-oriented back-of-house feel that Ramseur has right now, it was turned into two-way traffic with pedestrian oriented development lining its Northern edge? Instead of a 500' gap between DPAC and the nearest sign of life, it would be something like 150'. This would work wonders for the appearance of continuity in downtown. Similarly, the 600' gash between the Human Services Building and Bullhouse Apartments - where the East Pettigrew business district once provided street activity - could easily be cut down to 150' or so. The redevelopment of Venable Center will be a good start.



As Nicholas mentioned, I think the biggest challenge/barrier to filling these gaps is economics, and getting these smaller lots to be seen as feasible development. A developer cannot just come in and drop a generic 5+1 apartment building here like they're doing all over the rest of the city; the design for these kinds of lots often requires a little more ingenuity.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

ChapelHillSean
It needs to be office space, so many co workers already complain the aloft is too loud because of the trains. Would be awesome for ATC to get more office space in there and jam it full with retail in the bottom. I remember an awesome whiskey bar in Tokyo over looking the train tracks that I had a blast at.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

ChapelHillSean
In reply to this post by Steve
With respect to 147, I think the easiest would be to literally build over it like they do in Buckhead Atlanta. Keep it 4 lanes, but divert 147 like everyone else is saying so current 147 is business. Perhaps remove some exits if it makes sense. Instead of an expensive tunnel it’s already below some of the adjacent land, literally go over it. I think it will be awhile because there is so much undeveloped land that we are not in a crunch yet. Would be awesome to start covering the scar. Imagine soccer field (astro turf) over 147 :)
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Dave @ Building Bull City
Administrator
@elevatoroperator - I see what you are saying. It's almost like a "step 1" for the existing, developable parcels.

It reminds me of the SmART proposal that came out a while ago and their vision for the Ramseur/Corcoran intersection:



Anyone have any more info on what happened to those bigger activation plans from SmART (garage wraps are great, but I am more excited about their larger visions like this one)?


@ChapelHillSean - pedestrian/cycle bridges over the train tracks could be good too, especially if they connect with the future Durham Belt Line.
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Re: Gashes Through Downtown Durham

Steve
 

Reminds me of the Greenfire proposal from 10 years ago. Shame it never got built.