A Walk Down New Bern Avenue

The blog and Community tend to focus on new developments in the downtown core, such as 301 Hillsborough or The Willard hotel, that we may be overlooking some other activity just on the outskirts of downtown Raleigh. I thought it time for another Walk Series post to show off the east side of downtown, mainly the New Bern corridor.

The New Bern corridor interests me mainly due to some key observations and upcoming projects:

  • Planned location of the city’s first Bus-Rapid Transit route
  • Increased residential units from new townhome developments
  • Upcoming zoning conversations for the area

Loosely defined, for this Walk post, I’m focused on New Bern and Edenton Streets between Tarboro and East.

BRT Transit is Coming

With the implementation of the 1/2 cent sales tax for transit in 2017, higher-capacity transit, among other improvements, are being planned all over the county. Along New Bern and Edenton Streets, bus-rapid transit (BRT) will be rolling through in a few years if everything stays on schedule.

Being one of four planned BRT routes, high frequency transit will be flowing in and out of downtown Raleigh to the eastern parts of the county. Read more about the plan for BRT here.

The corridor may see dedicated bus lanes, expanded bike lanes, and new sidewalks on both sides of the street. It’s a big upgrade for the same corridor that currently runs the GoRaleigh bus route with the second highest ridership in that transit system.

Tarboro and New Bern/Edenton is loosely planned to get a BRT station on this upgraded route. The next stop inbound would be downtown itself.

Last reported, before the pandemic hit, plans were to be rolling buses in 2023-2024.

From Single-Family to Townhome

Historically, the corridor consists of many larger lots with single-family homes. You can still get a sense of the character going back to the early 1900s with the bungalows and larger houses facing the street.

However, it’s not hard to spot some newer homes, mostly of modern architecture style, sprinkled throughout the area. These homes were popping up between about 2008 until today. These homes add a stark contrast to the area as you can see in the photos.

And if you really look more, the modern townhome seems to be making its way into the corridor as of recently. First, the ten-unit project named 10 Arros completed along New Bern within the last few years. Construction is currently taking place at 625 New Bern where 18 units are planned. Similar modern style as the former.

Finally, across the street from 625 New Bern is Oak City Overlook. This development plans 20 modern townhomes and land has already been cleared at the site.

Could more be coming? I’ve seen plans submitted for more and you have for sale signs like this one at 914 New Bern which advertise, “Townhome/Condo Site for Sale.”

And there’s no shortage of space along this corridor. As I mentioned earlier, the single-family houses are on large lots that could easily be subdivided.

You also have the North Carolina State government vacating a large site at New Bern and Tarboro. The long-time site of the NC DMV is being vacated soon and that’ll put 5.4 acres of land a stone’s throw away from a rapid transit stop. Any development here, plus the adjacent surface parking that supported the NC DMV, could greatly change over if the state decides to sell it.

We also have 8 acres of undeveloped land at New Bern and Swain. Currently, the lot is only partially used by the Exploris school in temporary buildings but 8 acres offers a ton of flexibility, capable of a pretty transformative project. Just look at the map above, it’s that empty lot in the middle. That’s huge!

Zoning it Properly

From my perspective, you have two forces that are about to collide. The development is coming. Should transit only serve the single-family and new, high-end townhomes being built here?

To get more people access to the future transit network, an awkward conversation is soon to come, Raleigh. It’s time to talk about re-zoning the area.

This is a good time to revisit a collaborative post I did about a zoning tool called the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCOD) and it just so happens that this area has one right in the middle. Below is the New Bern – Edenton NCOD and you can see, almost everything mentioned so far sits right inside it.

In short, the NCOD applies additional restrictions on height, setbacks, and is a tool to encourage new development be consistent with the current character. This NCOD was put in place in 1992.

To make transit more effective, these townhome developments help but we’ll need some larger projects in here to ensure additional office and residential density as they will be within walking distance of a high-frequency bus stop. It is a prime opportunity to get Raleigh residents on a car-less lifestyle at a variety of income levels.

I feel that the NCOD implemented in 1992 needs a revisit and with the current talks of more affordable housing around transit, it would be better to deliver hundreds (thousands?) of new units here rather than status quo townhomes near transit.

The land is still available but the development is starting to pick up. I’m hoping the city can start purchasing land for affordable housing as well as pushing for new zoning updates to match our 2030 and beyond goals as a city.

More conversations on this topic are sure to come.

Pic of the Week

Starting this week, the city is having protected bike lanes installed on West and Harrington Streets as part of the Downtown North-South Greenway Connector. This will be downtown’s first protected bike lane which connects the warehouse district to Smoky Hollow. You can already see parts of it along West, shown above.

Along West Street, bicycle traffic can start from Union Station and head toward Smoky Hollow in the protected lane until North Street. If heading the other way around, you can get back to the warehouse district riding down Harrington Street.

The placement of the lanes is also nice as there are several Citrix Cycle stations along them including Union Station, across from Morgan Street Food Hall, Hillsborough Street, and at Jones Street.

This is excellent to see as it is a foundational route that one day could connect to a greenway heading north along a Devereux Meadows park in north downtown and to a greenway to Dix Park which is to the south. The lanes should be 100% by October.

New, Custom-Designed Bus Shelters on the Way

This month, the Raleigh City Council has moved forward with adding much nicer bus shelters to our existing system. This was a result of a design competition that was held a few years ago. The design has changed since the competition but the result is still a stark difference from our current design.

You may have already seen the concept shelters as some are installed outside of the NC Museum of Art. Now, we’ll be seeing more around the city.

The video above from the March 3 council meeting has the history and latest discussion on this topic.

From the beginning, finding a way to elevate the GoRaleigh brand was important. Bus shelters can be seen as the “front door” to transit so the difference between the current shelter and this new one helps show a greater commitment to transit by our city.

Last year, the council lowered the requirement (based on daily riders) for a bus stop to get a shelter installed. That change made about 200 stops now eligible for a bus shelter. The city hopes to have this built out by 2023. That would mean that 85% of riders would have access to a shelter.

The use of the new shelter would result in a 14.6% increase in the cost to install a bus shelter. ($28,300 vs. $24.700, based on averages)

I think they look great and the branding behind them is worth the extra cost.

Pic of the Week

The old Capital Boulevard bridge over Peace Street has now been removed.

Torn apart and dismantled during the night throughout the last few weeks, the bridge that was close to reaching its end-of-life and has stood up over Peace for over 50 years is no more.

The “square-loop” traffic pattern is more and more coming into place around the new bridge, which already has traffic flowing in both directions. With the northbound exit to Peace now open, the next major connection should be the new Peace to Capital on-ramp (and Cotton Mill entrance) road.

I’m really hoping to see this project wrap up this year as was planned.

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.

Pic of the Week

Have you seen them yet? The Citrix Cycle bikeshare system is finally up and running albeit in a limited capacity. The system has “soft launched” with more stations coming online throughout this month and next.

The electric-assist bicycles have been very enjoyable to ride. I know I have been eager to see this system up and running and the timing is great as the warmer months approach.

Buses, Bikes, and Sidewalks in the Downtown Transportation Plan

Last week, the most recent version of the Downtown Transportation Plan was released to the public and those behind it are looking for your feedback.

Dive right into it at goraleigh.org/downtownplan

What is BRT? Click for larger.

This downtown plan attempts to lay out the groundwork for how our future transit system will work within the downtown area. The future bus network of Raleigh will consist of bus-rapid transit lanes and higher frequency bus routes that are running longer hours. Combined with an expanded bicycle network, the downtown portion presents some pretty unique challenges.

The streets aren’t getting any wider so reallocating space is a community-driven conversation that is currently starting. When we talk about dedicated bus lanes for faster service that means less space for other things on our downtown streets.

Online survey feedback shows a desire for non-car mobility. Click for larger.

Full build out is planned for 2027 and with portions relying on state and federal funding, applications are being prepared right now!

When you look at the plan, you’ll see near, mid, and long-term plans for the downtown portion of the bus rapid network. The routes aren’t set in stone as different variables and decisions that haven’t been made may impact those routes.

Below are the maps for the three plans, meshed together for easier viewing. Click for a larger view.

Planned to be up and running in 2023, the east Raleigh BRT line is the first of the rapid transit lines to come online. Moving east/west down New Bern Avenue and Edenton Streets, this route has the least amount of impacts from a historical and infrastructure perspective.

I also think it’s sort of the most obvious when you look at serving the eastern portion of the city. Plus, the current bus route along this corridor has the second-highest ridership in the system. (only behind the Capital Boulevard route)

Mid-term, the BRT routes serving the west and south will come online connecting at GoRaleigh Station. The route down Western Boulevard is also most direct while a choice still exists for the routes to the south. Saunders, McDowell/Dawson, and Wilmington Street could all be possible entry/exit points to downtown. There are still two many outside variables that need to be determined so this has been left open.

Last, parts to the north have many variables in play here, leaving several options on the table. Integrating Raleigh Union Station’s bus facility and the west street extension could play a role in how this route helps tie the network together.

Along side all of this is a greatly expanded bicycle network. A mix of protected lanes and non-protected lanes will be added as a way to compliment the bus traffic moving throughout downtown. This is shown through another map below.

Full build out bicycle facilities. Click for larger.

There is a lot to consider here when looking at the plan so far. As unpopular as it may sound, I worry about the fact that downtown is on a path to having two bus stations with GoRaleigh’s recent renovations and RUSbus being planned to integrate into train travel (Amtrak and future commuter rail) at Union Station. Won’t this bifurcate the system as it approaches downtown? I fear this may slow things down canceling out the improvements we’ve provided through dedicated lanes.

This BRT plan is still only one layer, one lens of the entire thing though. I’ll be really interested to see the full build out and future plan with all modes coexisting. That means with local bus, rapid bus, commuter rail, and bicycles lanes, the system just might function more robustly and speedier than I think.

What do you think? We have a huge discussion going on the Community. Come share.

See the Downtown Transit Plan Maps Side-by-Side

Combined graphic with all 4 downtown transit plan scenarios.

Click for larger

GoRaleigh is working on the downtown portion of the Wake Transit Plan and there are lots of factors to consider here as additional bus service is in place. The bus-rapid-transit lines have, more or less, been planned but how they connect and transfer in and around the downtown area is still a work in progress.

The large graphic above comes from the latest draft of the plan which you can see here. For my own review, and maybe yours, I’ve chopped up the maps and compiled them into the large graphic above so you can see the plans side-by-side.

BRT is a hot topic over on the Community so I invite others to come discuss this as it will have a pretty sizeable impact on downtown mobility in the future.