Posts by Leo Suarez

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The Community Celebrates 1 Year of Discussion

It’s been a year since I announced the launch of the DTRaleigh Community and soon after shut down traditional comments on this blog. After 365 days, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

In the past year, downtown enthusiasts have been chatting more and even meeting face-to-face. There’s even more eyes on downtown development as residents report in and others ask questions. Answers are found through crowd-sourcing and the conversation is in-depth and respectful.

There are almost 300 registered users and easily hundreds more who read the public-facing topics. Registrations slowly tick up every few days.

As the sole moderator, I’ve found it easy and after users have gotten used to the software, it’s mostly self-policing with rants and flamewars kept to an almost negligible amount.

If you haven’t signed up, I encourage you to do that and jump in with whatever downtown Raleigh topic that’s on your mind. There’s room to grow and who knows where it will go from here.

On to year 2!

Spring Meetup is on May 29

It’s time for another get-together and chance to meet fellow readers face-to-face.

As always, the more the merrier and we have three additional hosts including yours truly. The folks behind Inbound Raleigh, ITB Insider, and The Acorn will be out mingling with us all and it is sure to be a good time.

Spring 2019 Reader Meetup
Date/Time: Wed., May 29 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Growler USA (upstairs space)
314 South Blount Street

See you there!

Pic of the Week

The space next door to Poole’s is being worked on. This is the spot for another one of Ashley Christensen’s restaurants, Poolside Pie. The timing of this post was on purpose as Christensen just won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in the country this year. She’s the only chef in the state to win it.

Congrats to her and her entire team behind AC Restaurants!

Smokey Hollow Phase 3 Wants to Bring Signature Tower to Peace Street

Current site of Smokey Hollow Phase 3 along Peace and Harrington. April 2019.

The Smokey Hollow project along Peace Street is moving right along in waves with plans for phase 3 already coming to council soon. The developers, Kane Realty, are requesting a rezoning for the site called phase 3 and the request is to increase the height limit from 12-stories or 150 feet to 40-stories or 500 feet.

The request, found consistent with our city’s comprehensive plan and land-use map, has already been approved by the planning commission and will be coming to city council for approval in May or June of this year.

An extremely talented photographer and regular contributor over on the Community provided this aerial of the sites. I’ve reposted with edits and permission to show the scale of everything that’s going on in the area.

Click for Larger. Reposted with permission.

For a recap on phase 1, check out this post here.

For phase 2 details, jump here.

Kane Realty’s rezoning jumps from the 12 to 40 story height limit. There’s a 20 story limit as well so we can assume that their plans consist of something between 20 and 40 stories.

For more in-depth, jump on to the Community as we’ve been following everything but at this point in the development process, we can expect:

  • A large parking deck about 5 or 6 stories tall
  • The parking deck would be wrapped with apartments facing Johnson, Harrington, and Peace
  • The parking would be exposed to Capital but screened to make it better from an aesthetics point-of-view
  • A single mixed-use tower would sit on top with a combination of office and residential

With so much infrastructure here including road capacity, brand new sidewalks, a future cycle-track, and an upcoming bus-rapid transit route, there is a very strong argument for higher-density in this area.

It’s definitely part of a project that will make an impact and is single-handedly multiplying the resident and job count to this area by a factor of 10.

Pic of the Week

If you haven’t noticed, Wiley Elementary on St. Mary’s Street is undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion. The $24 million project adds 20,000 sq. feet of classroom and administration space as well as renovations to the 1923 building.

Improvements to the grounds are being made to address erosion issues and a more efficient parking/driveway is being added to improve parent drop-off. The construction should finish in Summer 2019.

The project page has a nice aerial shot of the construction as well, shown below.

Click for larger

What I Learned From Riding a Cycle Track in Downtown Raleigh

This past weekend, Oaks and Spokes, Raleigh’s loudest and most organized voice for bicycling in Raleigh, set up a cycle track demo for a section of Harrington Street. As a huge supporter, I hung out, volunteered, and just absorbed the street with this temporary cycle track in place.

Having only seen cycle tracks in other cities but never actually ridden through one, it was a pleasure to ride through it in my own city. After giving it some thought, here’s what I took away from this weekend’s demo.

Two-Way is the Right Way

When you compare the suburbs with downtown, one major difference is the mobility scale of each environment. Historically, downtowns that pre-date the car were built at a more human-scale with things closer together while suburban areas planned around cars are more spread out.

In downtown, walking, a human-scale form of mobility, is well accommodated with sidewalks on both sides of the street and no real “direction.” There is no such thing as a northbound sidewalk for example where as Wilmington Street is a one-way street for cars heading north. Wilmington is an example of a road designed for car-scale mobility.

This was fine for awhile but with a street culture obsessed with markings and direction today, when we make space for human-scale things (i.e. bicycles and scooters) they don’t work when the scale is actually intended for cars.

We should strive to make all street space two-way for bicycles, scooters, etc. in order to make on-street, human-scale movement more intuitive and natural.

This probably explains some of the “bad behavior” we have seen with scooters recently because it takes too long to circle the block if the final destination is closer when going up a one-way street.

Consider me an advocate now for having every single downtown street converted to two-way for bicycles alongside existing car traffic flows.

Humans, not Cars, Need Buffers

Similar to the above point, I want to reiterate a solid point that the cycle track gives users above painted bike lanes. Physical separation is the key point here and should be required in future installs.

It’s in plain sight yet few seem to notice that when we drive a car, the car itself is wrapping us with safety features and physical protections. At the human-scale, as a walker or cyclist, those features don’t exist and we rely on our physical environment for safety.

This is true in other areas as well outside of transportation. I think most obvious is with outdoor seating. Outdoor seating is more popular along sidewalks with on-street parking versus active travel lanes. The cars act as a barrier and makes it more comfortable to sit.

We need to familiarize ourselves with a variety of ways we can physically separate our human-scale mobility options away from the car-scale options.

Curb Space Productivity Needs to be Explored

As publicly-owned space, our curb areas and how we are using that space is being brought into the conversation. Alongside plans for future cycle tracks and other new street space like dedicated bus lanes, we need to understand how to make this limited space more productive.

This means objectively challenging the thought that removing on-street parking will be a detriment to nearby businesses. New parking decks are popping up around downtown Raleigh so their use in addition to the loss of the few spaces per block needs to be looked at.

Loading zones also need to be looked at as the streets also need to be a transportation network for our downtown businesses. Are their operating hours set correctly? Can these be consolidated?

I do think it doesn’t necessarily mean that a cycle track gets 24-hour access to the space either. Allowing deliveries to be made inside a cycle track between certain hours may be appropriate. Delivery persons may have to put cones out to redirect riders into the street, as just an idea.

The Cycling Community is Alive in Raleigh!

This past weekend, I met folks who knew about the project and all the work that was going into it as well as those who just came out of curiosity. Others just stumbled on the project and had positive things to say. Advocacy was strong and the community stepped up to support.

I feel like a real community has been built in Raleigh around cycling and the longer we don’t serve that community, the louder and louder it’ll get.

Again, a lot of credit and thanks goes to those behind Oaks and Spokes so if this is something that interests you, reach out and help.