The Three-Speed City

Bird scooter parked at a bike rack on Fayetteville Street.

Ever since the electric scooter company, Bird, deployed in Raleigh everyone seems to have an opinion on this new form of personal mobility. Raleighites seem to be all over the spectrum but a recent survey run by the Raleigh DLA shows strong evidence that a majority of downtown residents and workers support e-scooters in downtown Raleigh but with some type of new regulation.

You can dive into those results here.

Mobility within Raleigh’s downtown has seen so much change since this whole revitalization thing started. I wonder if we’re getting closer to getting it right or still struggling with it.

Downtown Raleigh is too small to drive from one place to another yet big enough that walking from district to district feels far. (at least for most people I think) This presents a great opportunity for short-trip mobility services such as bikeshare, electric scooters, rickshaws, rideshare, and the R-Line circulator.

Personally, I love the plethora of options to move around. If I need to get from Seaboard Station to the southern end of Fayetteville Street, I could easily walk if it’s a nice day and I have the time, ride the R-Line for free and get there a little faster, ride a scooter for cheap and get there even faster, or request a ride in a car and be there quickly.

My impression of Raleigh right now is that no one is against having options. What the DLA survey suggests is that problems are arising when these options are conflicting with each other. It seems we have a city built for two speeds with a third speed emerging as a popular option and this new speed is struggling to find it’s space.

Generally speaking, pedestrians are annoyed by scooters on the sidewalk. Sure, it’s illegal and Bird informs users to use the street, a bike lane if available, but personal comfort levels vary widely. Not everyone is comfortable on the street so the sidewalk is a natural “safe” place. You become the dominant user on the sidewalk versus the pushover on the street.

A combination of education and safer streets are probably the cure for this rising middle speed. Also, a part of me thinks that over time users will become used to using scooters that they’ll be more confident on the streets. (I’ve seen some very nervous looking scooter riders out there!)

The quick adoption of scooters in downtown Raleigh is what bicycle advocates have been waiting for. It’s brought the conversation for safer streets for middle speed users front and center. How our city responds will be telling as trends point to more and more of this coming.

The day of the bike lane is over. It needs a new name.

There’s lot of chatter about dockless scooter in Raleigh on the DTRaleigh Community.

Downtown Raleigh’s Event-Driven Days Are Now Over

Raleighites sit all over City Plaza waiting to watch a movie on a large inflatable screen. July 2016.

Raleighites sit all over City Plaza waiting to watch a movie on a large inflatable screen. July 2016.

I’m sure you, like me, have heard it all the time from those that worked in downtown Raleigh in the 1980s or even the 1990s.

“Downtown was dead.”

I get this all the time from those who tell me stories about how huge the ongoing revitalization of our city center really is. Through the eyes of downtown workers who’ve been here for decades or just Raleighites that have been around for awhile, the supposed “death” of downtown was official.

When that happened exactly is up for debate but today, our downtown isn’t dead. It’s actually been reborn. (or maybe resurrected?)

For me, the opening of Fayetteville Street on July 29, 2006, was the day downtown woke up again. The Raleigh Wide Open event that day had tens of thousands of people on Fayetteville Street. Downtown supporters were hopeful that things would improve.

Now you could argue that downtown wasn’t ever truly dead. There were still some bars and Artsplosure has been hosting large festivals since 1980. I wasn’t in town to experience this first hand so I’d love to hear more about downtown Raleigh in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in the Community.

However, when you look at investments in development, new retail and restaurants, and the rise of a residential population, things like these seemed to have happened in the mid-2000s. The Fayetteville Street reopening, along with a new convention center, marks the inflection point where downtown growth started to really rise.

To keep things hot, events seemed like the tool to drive the crowds through the downtown real-estate “butterfly net”. Fayetteville Street was and still is, built for events with easy to use power hookups, nearby parking for thousands, the widest sidewalks, and a killer street view.

It may still be the center stage of outdoor events in Raleigh.

Since 2006, I’ve watched events come and go with more and more piling on to the downtown streets. It seemed like a good thing as more restaurants opened, more retail opened, and the resident population continued to increase. We were doing something right, no?

Somewhere between then and now, it seems like we got good at this downtown event thing. Almost too good and rumblings of too many events started to creep into the downtown dynamic.

Streets were closed too often they said. The events were too noisy they said. Downtown was overrun. So they said.

The city was the first one to back off a bit with the growing Raleigh Wide Open event, the one that kicked everything off, being discontinued. We didn’t need it anymore and the event sort of ran its course was the logic behind it if I recall correctly.

It seemed fine because locally everyone was talking about how many events there were in the warmer months. (a lot) May and September are power event months, still, in downtown Raleigh and numerous food truck rodeos, beer festivals, and marathons would kind of fill in the rest.

We also once had a huge water slide in Glenwood South.

Slide the City event in Glenwood South. May 2015.

Slide the City event in Glenwood South. May 2015.

Now let’s be clear. My headline isn’t meant to say that events are no longer welcome or needed in downtown these days but rather, events aren’t what’s making downtown anymore.

We’ve done it. This downtown thing has stuck and a foundation of people-centric, downtown activities has infused itself into the city’s culture.

There’s less need for closing downtown streets, blocking sidewalks, or continuing to pour effort into events. Now that the foundation has been laid it’s time to build on top of that momentum.

This year, the city moved its July 4 fireworks party from downtown back to the fairgrounds. The Downtown Raleigh Alliance (DRA) has moved its Wednesday Farmer’s Market to Market and Exchange Plazas, activating a pedestrian space while keeping City Plaza free for natural interactions. I’m not a runner but I wonder if the number of marathons in Raleigh has leveled out with the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series and the Ironman triathlon ending their run this year.

More so, the evolving DRA is easing off the gas pedal on their push for events. Their latest strategic plan explains:

Over the past two decades, a special events strategy and focus has helped fuel the revitalization of Downtown Raleigh. However, as the community has grown, the impact of special events to those stakeholders generates a mix of opinions and positions. Public input regarding events is varied – however, there is a strong indication that Downtown’s success in attracting and hosting events could use a more empathetic, collaborative approach that acknowledges that events can cause disruption and inconvenience to some area residents, business owners, and people visiting Downtown to worship. Additionally, there is an appetite for intermittent, smaller scale activations – particularly in neighborhoods such as Glenwood South – as opposed to an expansion of major events that involve road closures.

With only so many key event weekends, now all filled up, the downtown event “marathon” has matured. We have a sizeable downtown population that’s taken root and downtown workers keep coming. What might be the next layer on top of this?

Could transit be the next rise over the next ten years? As the Wake Transit Plan comes along through 2027, downtown Raleigh plays a critical role. I believe that to be serious about transit, bus routes will need to have priority and with higher frequencies, you can’t have streets constantly being closed. The opening of Raleigh Union Station may start the wave of rail transit into downtown and it’s complimentary bus station may push that even further.

Will the downtown resident population become more organized and vocal over the next ten years? The coveted downtown grocery store will finally land, twice, with Weaver Street Market coming to The Dillon and Publix coming to Peace. (Smokey Hollow) Housing is becoming a hot topic so maybe we’ll see denser development around downtown as a way to support the transit that’s coming.

The point is that events aren’t seen as the revitalization tool it once was throughout the late 2000s, in my opinion. Downtown Raleigh is looking for its next big boom to build on top of that and continue growing.

Come discuss downtown events on the DTRaleigh Community.

Dockless Scooters Launch in Downtown Raleigh

Two electric scooters in City Plaza

This week, Raleigh’s first electric, dockless, scooter share system launched with over 100 scooters deployed throughout downtown Raleigh, Cameron Village, and other parts. Bird is the first one out of the gate for Raleigh as other cities have multiple vendors.

FYI. Yours truly saw Lime scooters zipping around Raleigh so who knows if they too will add scooters next alongside their bikes here in town.

The concept is similar to how dockless bike share works. You use a smartphone to create an account, check out a scooter, and you are on your way. The cost is a $1 per ride plus 15 cents per minute. If you want to try them out for free, use the same discount code I did which is BIRDRALEIGH.

With Limebike being more an NC State thing and the Citrix Cycle bikeshare system heavily delayed, for now, the scooters are welcome for short trips across downtown. I loved the quick boost on my walk home one evening this week. (especially on a hot day)

For me, I’ll always prefer bicycles as they are easier to use and frankly, downtown streets are not the smoothest. My short scooter ride was a bit bumpy but perhaps it’s just my first time out.

For anyone concerned about using these on sidewalks, I’ve realized that the street is MUCH more preferable. Going up and down curb cuts are not very smooth and the bike lanes look more tempting honestly.

They are fun, they are easy. Welcome to Raleigh, Bird!

Join the discussion about dockless scooters on the DTRaleigh Community.

A Walk Around Smokey Hollow

Corner of West and Peace. June 2018.

Corner of West and Peace. June 2018.

With two cranes now operating over the Smokey Hollow site, I thought it would be a great time to walk around and check things out on a nice June evening. Nearby, the new Capital Boulevard bridge is also being worked on and it seems like all of these things are part of a wave that wants to open around the same time.

First, we need to review the new street configuration coming to this area. Parts of Harrington Street have been removed while Johnson Street will become reconnected. See the before and after maps below.

Map of Smokey Hollow area before 2018.

Map of Smokey Hollow area before 2018.

Map of Smokey Hollow area after 2018.

Map of Smokey Hollow area after 2018. (square loop not included)

The “Harrington Curve” is now gone and instead extends the street to Peace. At the intersection of Johnson and Harrington, you can see the future extension as the buildings have been cleared. Here’s where the walk starts staring to the north.

Intersection of Harrington and Johnson. June 2018.

Intersection of Harrington and Johnson. June 2018.

Getting to West from this point is basically a pedestrian/bike only alley as the new Johnson Street connection isn’t in place yet.

Along West Street heading north to Peace, we can start to see the buildings of Peace at West starting to come up. What was once an area of suburban-style, one-story buildings will now have 12-story towers along new urban sidewalk. The change will be quite dramatic and there’s plenty of space for more.

West Street near Johnson Street. June 2018.

West Street near Johnson Street. June 2018.

The building is just starting to rise up so you still have to use a little imagination to get a sense of what the intersection of Peace and West will look like in the future. Soon, Peace Street will start to resemble its future self as more lanes open up as part of the bridge construction.

Enjoy that view looking southeast while you can cause this building will go up fast!

West Street at Peace. June 2018.

West Street at Peace. June 2018.

There are temporary lights at the future new intersection of Harrington and Peace where you can look towards the south at the beginning of this walk. No doubt, Peace at West will hug some prominent streets, basically all the ones we’ve discussed.

Peace at the future intersection with Harrington. June 2018.

Peace at the future intersection with Harrington. June 2018.

New Capital Boulevard bridge over Peace. June 2018.

New Capital Boulevard bridge over Peace. June 2018.

Getting back to our starting point takes us south straight down the future Harrington Street to its intersection with Johnson. The Rollins Cleaners and other older buildings are still up on the eastern side but that may not be a surprise as demolishing a dry cleaner typically involves extensive environmental cleanup efforts that take years. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case at this site.

Buildings along Peace Street. June 2018.

Buildings along Peace Street. June 2018.

Future Harrington Street. June 2018.

Future Harrington Street. June 2018.

We’ll check back in later for sure!

Join the conversation on this project over at the DTRaleigh Community.

Options on the Table For New City Hall Tower

Raleigh Municipal Building. June 2018.

Raleigh Municipal Building. June 2018.

During a March 27, 2018 meeting of the Economic Development and Innovation (EDI) Committee, there were some good details discussed over the future Civic Campus Master Plan. I wanted to bring out some details from the meeting minutes here today.

You can watch the video of the meeting on YouTube here or embedded below.

To quickly recap, the city is currently working on a master plan to possibly redevelop city hall as well as offload various city-owned property in and around downtown Raleigh. The point would be to consolidate the downtown workforce as well as expand for projected growth. The epicenter of the project would be on the block consisting of the Raleigh Municipal Building (RMB) and former police headquarters. (Basically the Avery C. Upchurch Municipal block)

You can dive straight into the minutes here. Some additional relevant reading:

First, let’s take a look at the municipal block today. There are three main structures:

  1. Fomer Raleigh Police Headquarters, currently empty
  2. Raleigh Municpal Building with offices and City Council Chambers
  3. A parking deck

With the city owning the entire block, it’s basically agreed that the new campus will consist of new development there.

The civic campus is assumed to include the following departments:

  • Services in the newly-formed Departments of Transportation and Engineering Services
  • Development-related functions, including the Departments of City Planning, Development Services, and the Office of Economic Development
  • Housing and Neighborhoods and some staff from Public Utilities Department
  • Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources administration
  • Public Affairs
  • Internal service functions, including Information Technology, Human Resources, Finance, and Budget and Management Services
  • Management departments including the City Manager’s Office, City Attorney, and City Clerk

With internal conversations and surveys, the consultants found that a conservative 1.5% city staff growth rate would be appropriate to ensure that any new buildings would be useful for 30 to 50 years after being built.

But before we get into what can be built, the “do nothing” scenario was considered. The cost to maintain current buildings and continue to lease space as growth is needed over the next 30 years will cost around $200 million dollars. $80 million would go towards maintenance of current facilities with an estimated $120-160 million going towards leasing space.

The Build Scenarios

Buiding a new tower presents a few options that allow the city to be more flexible in the future.

With the RMB offering some flexibility, it would be possible to extend the life of that building while still putting downtown workers into a new one. There are three scenarios on the table. (emphasis is mine)

Option #1: 20 stories (above capacity)

  • 420,000 s.f.
  • Capacity*(at 300 gsf/person): 1,400 ppl
  • Full capacity by 2037 (14 years) at 1.5% growth rate
  • Full capacity by 2032 at (9 years) at 2.0% growth rate
  • Estimated cost: ~$190 million
  • Effective rent over 30 years: $15.08/sf
  • RMB can be vacated

Option #2: 17 stories +/- (at capacity)

  • 360,000 s.f.
  • Capacity* (at 300 gsf/person): 1,200 ppl
  • Full capacity by 2027 (4 years) at 1.5% growth rate
  • Full capacity by 2024 (1 year) at 2.0% growth rate
  • Estimated cost: ~$165 million
  • Effective rent over 30 years: $15.27/sf
  • RMB can be vacated

Option #3: 14 stories +/- (below capacity)

  • 300,000 s.f.
  • Capacity* (at 300 gsf/person): 1,000 ppl
  • 40,000 s.f. deficit at move-in with 1.5% growth rate
  • 50,000 s.f. deficit at move-in with 2.0% growth rate
  • Estimated Cost: ~$140 million
  • Effective rent over 30 years: $15.55/sf
  • *Capacity does not include Phase II (RMB or new facility).

Options 1 and 2 allow the RMB to be vacated and therefore, avoid maintenance and upfit costs. If option 3 is pursued, then outside space will still be needed whether it is within the RMB or elsewhere. RMB then presents a $40M renovation cost.

That’s as far into the details as I’d like to get into it, please take a look at the minutes and watch the video if you want more. I’m sure this will be an ongoing discussion within the EDI committee.

It’ll be interesting to see where they go with these options but either way, the options to build a new consolidated tower sound like a cost-effective option compared to leasing space across downtown Raleigh.

Join the discussion about the Civic Campus Master Plan on our DTRaleigh Community.

Introducing the DTRaleigh Community

Logo for the DTRaleigh Community

I’m excited to announce that I’m making a drastic change to the commenting that has been taking place for years on this blog. Soon, it will be closed for good. Instead, I’m hosting a much more powerful platform for online conversations and discussions that will all take place on the DTRaleigh Community.

Built on Discourse, this will allow readers to engage on topics much easier and with richer features. Embed maps, images, docs easily and keep up with the conversation on the go with the Discourse app.

While the Community is technically separate from the blog, I’m going to try my best to keep all blog content on the Community as well. In theory, you could never visit this site again and not miss a beat.

For those that don’t follow the conversation, it’s business as usual. I encourage you to follow however as the conversations typically dive into the topics even deeper than here on the blog and sometimes, the community reports things first before anyone else.

See you on the forums.

NOTE: Commenting on this blog will close on June 1.