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!
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Resident
In reply to this post by BullCityRising
Please no. At least in regards to the perpetually postponed Durham Belt Line Trail. It's not that I hate the idea, but that I know Durham is incapable of making any big projects like that happen. I fear that a City Council member could read your post and use it as another excuse to postpone proposals to remedy the harm caused to the neighborhoods enclosed by the abandoned rail line and N. Roxboro St. What was supposed to be a reasonably simple project to reconnect streets/homes disconnected by the rail line and provide a walkable path to downtown has gone through several, sometimes elaborate, proposals, studies, consultations and missed funding cycles. The folks who live between Roxboro and Avondale especially are harmed by this because the problems have only gotten worse since I remember folks talking to Mayor Tennyson about this.  Since the city finally got around to buying the land, they have let the trail get terribly overgrown.  This matters because, it used to be that people could beat a trail to cross between streets so their kid could get over to Duke park.
Everyone needs to stop with the elaborate plans that are not going to happen. Clear out the brush, lay down a trail so people can walk to other neighborhoods or downtown. The city council twenty years ago seemed to care and understand how the homes have been segregated. Now, there is one council member who gives the Belt Line Trail some lip service and no one else cares. Last I heard they might only build it through downtown and stop at Washington St. making an elaborate park-trail for the condo dwellers. That would be so infuriating since I can tell you discussions about this started decades ago with folks on Shawnee, Peace, Trinity and Avondale.  Families have come and gone without access to a safe, place to walk cross the street or way to get their kids to a park. Just make the simplest trail possible, today.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

CarolinaFan
Rep. David Price has gotten money for the Duke Beltline trail included in the Invest in America Act, the House Transportation Committee's 5 year surface transportation bill.

https://transportation.house.gov/imo/media/doc/2021%20INVEST%20in%20America%20Act%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

Durham's two projects with funding earmarked:

Bryant Bridge North/Goose Creek West Trail Durham 2,320,000 Price
Duke Beltline Trail                                                Durham 7,726,000 Price

This bill is separate from President Biden's infrastructure bill and would likely be passed as part of a larger spending bill later this year.

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article252028833.html
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Dave @ Building Bull City
Administrator
Great news! Thanks for posting.

I know there are naysayers that talk about the Belt Line as just a copycat idea from places like NYC and more regionally, Atlanta. That may be true, but I am optimistic about this one, using the old rail corridor. Hopefully there is a good mix of urbanism tied directly to the trail (residential that overlooks the trail, ground floor retail with outdoor seating along the trail, etc).

It doesn't have to be on ALL parts of the trail, but I think having it be a path that people use to get to places within the city instead of ONLY a recreational trail is really important.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Steve
In reply to this post by BullCityRising
Transit and housing is definitely a chicken and egg problem. You need dense, walkable areas around transit stops to make them convenient, but you need transit to make density work. The only way to do it is for the government to build the transit system and accept low ridership for many years. Ideally these transit systems would then spur TOD along the corridors and ridership will gradually increase over time. These are often collections of mixed use "Texas Donuts" which still have plenty of parking but are also pretty walkable.

The logical solution would be to build a BRT. Start with connecting Duke, Downtown, NCCU and Durham Tech. Then send a line up to Northgate Mall and maybe the Museum of Life and Science. Connect popular destinations along busy roads.

It's hard for me to imagine any other "fixed" transit system working after the demise of the light rail.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Dave @ Building Bull City
Administrator
BRT would be nice.

There are a lot of cities focused on creating multimodal transit hubs - the idea is:

1. These are scalable. It can start as just a bus stop identified for future expansion

2. Work with land planning to allow for denser development around these sites (the ones at the core will already have dense zoning, but the nodes in various communities will need denser zoning).

3. Create a space that can expand and allow many more modes including owned bikes, shared bikes, other micromobility, regular bus transit, BRT, and walking will be useful too since zoning has loosened up in theory.

I have more to learn about how this concept might work in Durham, but at first blush it looks like a good/necessary companion to other transportation initiatives and something that can be grown incrementally.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Steve
Hey Dave,
That's interesting, do you have any concrete examples from small cities like Durham with poor transit options? I know some big cities like Atlanta and LA are spending billions on expanding their rail infrastructure but I'm not sure about smaller cities doing something similar.

It seems like adding multimodal centers in Durham would require putting them in mostly residential areas, and I imagine many local residents would fight like hell against that kind of change. It could work if you are talking about light industrial areas (like the area around Ponysaurus).
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

Dave @ Building Bull City
Administrator
I saw a presentation recently where Pittsburgh is doing it. The trouble with Durham is that it is so sprawling. Pittsburgh is a similar size to Durham, but has more compact neighborhoods.

But the idea is that you wouldn't need to start with rail. To a certain extent, these hubs already exist (downtown transit hub, RTP hub, etc). The idea would be to create more of these and then upzone the area around them.
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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

CarolinaFan
Raleigh is moving ahead with its first BRT line next year with service starting in 2024. The cost is $76.5 million for 5.1 miles.

"The city will receive another $5.4 million to help build its first BRT line starting next year. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus recovery bill passed by Congress and signed by President Biden on March 11.

The BRT system will include raised, covered stations where riders will buy their tickets before boarding as well as priority signals at intersections and 3.3 miles of dedicated lanes to help buses avoid getting slowed by traffic. The New Bern Avenue line will run 5.1 miles altogether, from GoRaleigh station downtown east to near New Hope Road.

The New Bern Avenue line is the first of four BRT routes the city plans to build, each radiating out from downtown. The second would begin along Western Boulevard and extend to downtown Cary. The city is in the early stages of designing that line, and no construction date has been set."

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article252150863.html

As much as I hated to see the failure of the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan, this should probably be the backup plan for connecting Chapel Hill to Durham, with the route following US 15-501 most of the way.



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Re: Durham's / the Triangle's transportation future

CarolinaFan
In reply to this post by Mitch
Just received this from Engage Durham. Three plans have been developed with differing focus that is roughly:
1. Improvements to Durham Transit
2. BRT from Duke to Chapel Hill
3. Regional Rail

They are seeking comments on the pros/cons of each plan.

ENGAGE Durham Seeks Comments on Durham Transit Plan Update

Online Survey in English and Spanish Now Available Through August 20

Survey link: https://engagedurham.com/durham-county-transit-plan/

Durham, N.C. –  If you are interested in improving and expanding public transportation in Durham, now is your chance to provide your input through an online survey on specific transit projects and service improvements.
 
The Durham Transit Plan will decide how the community wants to invest in, expand, and prioritize the public transportation network over the next 20 years. Three sets of transit options have been developed as examples of what could be implemented with the available funding. These options were developed based on a public engagement process that occurred in late 2020, as well as technical and financial analyses. City and County staff are now seeking public feedback on what transit improvements in Durham are the most important to include in the final preferred option to be developed later this year.
 
Residents and others who are interested in the project can now provide their comments by completing an online survey, available in English and Spanish, by August 20.

Survey link: https://engagedurham.com/durham-county-transit-plan/