A Walk Down South West Street

Looking South down South West Street.

Looking South down South West Street. January 2018.

As a compliment to a 2016 post on North West Street, today I wanted to take a look down South West Street. West Street through downtown is becoming an important corridor and from one end to the other, there are projects taking place that may make it a pretty desirable street in the future.

In case you weren’t aware, the directional prefixes for streets running north and south start at Hillsborough Street (west of the Capitol) and New Bern Avenue. (East of the Capitol) Hence, we start our walk at Hillsborough Street.

New developments and businesses are great but we always have to give a nod to the old favorites that have been threw a lot. I want to give a quick shout out to The Roast Grill, having been at this spot on 7 South West Street since 1940.

Photo of The Roast Grill.

The Roast Grill, open since 1940.

Will they make it to a hundred years? Time will tell but I certainly am pulling for them. The TBJ has an article (subscription required) that suggests they aren’t selling out. However, the pressure may rise as nearby developments take shape.

Heading towards the 100 block of South West brings us to the Morgan Street Food Hall. Food halls are a trend that’s happening around the country and Morgan Street will be our first (first, right?) food hall in recent memory. Plan for them to open this Spring.

Construction continues on Morgan Street Food Hall

Construction continues on Morgan Street Food Hall. January 2018.

Citrix employees should be food connoisseurs after that place opens.

The food hall will also get a nice infusion of nearby residents from the residential portion of The Dillon. Residents should be moving in this year and the developer has already landed a few restaurants and retail for the ground-floor spaces. Announced so far, we have:

And there’s plenty of space for more.

The residential units of The Dillon on South down South West Street.

The residential units of The Dillon on South down South West Street. January 2018.

As you walk by the residential units of The Dillon along the 200 block, there’s a sharp contrast between the life that will soon pop here and the still empty warehouse building on the west side. Plans have seemed to come and go for this huge warehouse.

Another Citrix-like rehab could be a decent proposal for this site as it has a large-footprint but hopefully a more mixed-use repurpose can be done. At this time, no plans have been announced.

The office portion of The Dillon.

Looking up at the office spaces at The Dillon. January 2018.

The end of the block approaches the office tower portion of The Dillon and Raleigh Union Station.

West and Martin Street will be a cool intersection I think. The Dillon’s 18 floors will draw activity here during the work days and the retail spaces, CAM, and Union Station will fill in the off hours a bit. I think it’ll feel lively and offer great views towards the downtown core.

Some warehouses nearby are also getting some renovation love. Father and Son’s newest location, the former Flanders Gallery, and the next-door neighbor have visible signs of upkeep.

Union Station is set to open early this year and I think you’ll see a small uptick in visitors as people from all over will come down to check it out. I remember when Fayetteville Street first opened in 2007 and on the first Sunday night after opening (when everything was closed) the street was jammed with cars filled with curiosity.

I think the same thing will happen this year.

Looking at Raleigh Union Station from West Street

Looking at Raleigh Union Station from West Street. January 2018.

Renovated warehouse along West Street.

Renovated warehouses along West Street. January 2018.

New train platform that will serve Raleigh Union Station

New train platform that will serve Raleigh Union Station. January 2018.

At this point, West Street ends but my walk does not.

The city is studying plans to make West Street tunnel beneath the train tracks and connect to itself at Cabarrus Street. The street currently goes below the tracks and turns into the Union Station parking lot so some of the work is already done.

Looking at Raleigh Union Station and The Dillon over West Street

Looking at Raleigh Union Station and The Dillon over West Street. January 2018. Click for larger.

Next to Raleigh Station, you can see how the grid is still aligned and the West Street tunnel would make the grid connect.

West Street across the train tracks

West Street across the train tracks

At Cabarrus, there is the old Raleigh Station, waiting to be demolished sometime this year. The future of this property is still up in the air as Amtrak services and offices will relocate into Union Station.

The 500 block of South West transitions us from the warehouse district into a more residential area.

Condos are planned at the corner of West and Lenoir. The Fairweather plans 45-units in a five-story, modern building. Construction hasn’t started just yet but the announcement of the project claims an early 2019 opening.

Worth mentioning again, one Raleighite has an idea to save two houses on this block of West. When pitched at a city council meeting in December, the idea didn’t fly with some councilors due to the fact that he sits on the city’s planning commission.

Old homes along West Street, planned for demolition.

Old homes along West Street, planned for demolition.

There is a risk of losing these homes that well represent Raleigh’s former Fourth Ward neighborhood, and in addition a plan to offer some affordable housing unless something happens in the near future. Jump back to the full story on this here.

At the corner of West and Lenoir, across from the future Fairweather project, is an old gas station that is planned to be renovated for a restaurant. No work seems to be taking place on the exterior at the moment so perhaps it’s all inside work right now.

Service station with plans for a restaurant.

Service station with plans for a restaurant at the corner of Lenoir and West Streets. January 2018.

Along the 600 block of West, the townhomes called West + Lenoir are wrapping up. These are some of the earliest townhomes to be completed in this area as nearby Fourth Ward and 611 West South have not really begun yet.

West + Lenoir Townhomes

West + Lenoir townhomes. January 2018.

West Street ends at South Street and so does our walk.

Along South, more demolition and construction is taking place as the area turns over. The South Street Market was just recently demolished and the storage facility has recently topped out.

Click here to view the map on Google.

Now that we’re familiar with West Street, I’d like to zoom out a bit. Above is a map of South West Street with highlighted locations from this post. In my opinion, the momentum behind Dix Park and downtown Raleigh put the affordable housing units of Heritage Park in the crosshairs.

I just can’t imagine the investment of over $10 million for a West Street tunnel, “bridging” just two blocks into downtown, is worth it if there was not some other driving force behind it.

When you look at it on a map, there’s no denying the temptation to push West further south, maybe even trying to connect it to Lake Wheeler. That would be a great downtown connection to Dix Park. With current politics, pushing aside Heritage Park wouldn’t be popular. However, from a strictly planning point-of-view, it’s worth a look.

I’m not advocating it. I do think there might be plans for a major road shakeup in this area in the next 3-5 years.

The end of South West Street at South Street.

The end of South West Street at South Street. January 2018.

Either way, West Street will continue to grow and play an important role for downtown in the coming years.

Weekend Inspiration with Gil Penalosa and Dix Park

Click here to see the video if you cannot see it above.

I enjoyed this talk given by Gil Penalosa during his visit to our area. He shows us the transformative power of parks in a city and while the topic is geared for Dix Park, the concepts really can apply all over the city.

My sentiment right now is Raleigh has plenty of vision but is lacking on action. Hopefully, you’ll find a little inspiration in the video just as I did.

The Rosengarten Greenway and Connecting Downtown to Dix

The Rocky Branch Greenway in Dorothea Dix Park.

The Rocky Branch Greenway in Dorothea Dix Park.

Plans are underway for the Rosengarten Greenway, a path starting from West Cabarrus Street and ending at the Rocky Branch Greenway on South Saunders Street. While neighbors in Boylan Heights and Rosengarten Park work with the city on a final plan, a walk along the potential route got me thinking about some kind of connection from downtown to the future Dix Park.

We’ll get to the Rosengarten Park greenway soon but the topic of connecting downtown Raleigh to Dix Park is laced in opinions. Of course, you are about to get one more but that’s why you come to this blog now isn’t it? ;)

I say it a lot and I’ll repeat it numerous times but debates on walking and biking routes hold very little without actually walking the areas first. Driving is of course the easiest way to get back and forth but a tight-knit urban fabric between Dix and downtown could be a huge boost to living and working here.

At this time, I’m not convinced that walking back and forth is for the casual but rather for the dedicated with time on their hands. I’m not saying it’s necessarily difficult but it’s just far enough to not be convenient and the elevation change makes it feel further than it is on a map.

For sake of argument, I’m going to define the entrance to Dix Park as the “intersection” of Western Boulevard and Boylan Avenue. For this blog post, that is the destination we’ll take a look at. Keep in mind, once you are there, you still need to hoof it up the hills into the park itself to whatever future spot you want to get to.

Without diving into the details, it’s about a 15-20 minute walk from anywhere in the Warehouse District to the entrance. We’re talking 25-30 minutes a little further out, say the Capitol building or Glenwood South. In my book, that puts the walk to Dix in the recreation category of my time. Runners might make it a frequent part of their day though.

Walking routes from NC Capitol to Dix Park entrance

Walking routes from NC Capitol to Dix Park entrance. It’s about 30 minutes from the Capitol to the entrance of Dix Park.

That’s no problem for residents but I don’t see visitors to downtown, staying in the hotels for a visit whether it be for a convention or family event, taking a casual walk out there. I’m not sure it’s enough to justify any special walking paths anyway.

It’s also not very flat.

To the south of downtown is the Rocky Branch creek. Parts of downtown slope downward towards it, dropping almost 80 or 90 feet in elevation. You’ll feel those hills on a warm day.

I’ll leave the walking piece of this to the small group of dedicated peds. It’s the cycling route I’m interested in. With a Bike Share system coming next year, cycling out to Dix would be a great to-do when staying in downtown. Cycling would be much more pleasant compared to that previously mentioned walk and drops the time down to 10 minutes on average.

The Rosengarten Greenway

The Rosengarten Greenway likes to be thrown in to the conversation of connecting downtown to Dix. You can dive into the project on the city’s website.

Rosengarten Alley, June 2017.

Rosengarten Alley, June 2017.

Starting at Cabarrus Street at Rosengarten Alley, the goal is to connect a greenway to the current Rocky Branch trail. (which is south of Western Boulevard) In the past, (2009ish) a more lofty plan existed but with new developments taking place since then the path has been modified some. Below is what we have from the past plan and the latest from the city’s website.

Downtown West Gateway Comprehensive Plan Chapter - City of Raleigh

Downtown West Gateway Comprehensive Plan Chapter – City of Raleigh

Rosengarten Greenway plan, 2017

Rosengarten Greenway plan, 2017. Originally in gray, I’ve colored it orange so it can be followed easier. Click for larger, full path map.

The latest plan is a little piecemeal, sending greenway riders on a lot of sidewalks rather than dedicated paths. When I walked the proposed route, it was pretty scenic with an overgrown stream going north/south into and then just turned into regular sidewalks.

Whatever “controversy” there is around this path, I can’t see it. It seems like a normal, everyday path to me.

It feels like standard operating procedure here from the city. If there’s an opportunity to put a greenway along a stream, then they will plan it. I think people are getting a little to hung up on the downtown to Dix connection and this greenway is getting thrown into the mix when it really shouldn’t.

The downtown to Dix connection has to be on the streets.

Bike to Dix

Dix presents a perfect use case for bike share. Steering riders easily between downtown and the park could create a nice downtown to-do for anyone in town.

[For an update on Raleigh Bike Share, hear episode 19 of Inbound Raleigh, a podcast about transit and transportation in Raleigh.]

From Glenwood South and parts of Hillsborough Street, the route is mostly obvious. (the Boylan Avenue downhill speed run)

The two-way conversion of Lenoir and South Street makes it easy from eastern downtown.

It’s the warehouse district that is tricky because of the separation around the tracks at the depot. This is where, I feel, the West Street connection was right-on with creating critical connections in the southwest side of town.

Mentioned in this 2013 post, there were plans to tunnel West Street underneath the tracks in the depot and connect the street to itself.

I haven’t seen plans for the tunnel in 2017 but I do see West Street being a pretty great street for connecting the Rosengarten Park area to the north. While the tracks are active, I imagine it possible for an at-grade railroad crossing for pedestrians and bicycles. Proper fencing and safety gates would be needed to divert bike/ped traffic from around Union Station to West Street south of the tracks.

This would be much cheaper than the tunnel option and examples of this exist in other cities. It would take coordination between the city and the state to get this done. Here’s a rough idea of what it could look like on a map.

The view from West Street just calls to be connected. Imagine riding a bike back from Dix and be greeted with this view.

South West Street, June 2017.

South West Street, June 2017. The Dillon could greet riders and pedestrians here as they come back from Dix.

Southwest downtown Raleigh is becoming a blend of neighborhood mixed-use with retail and residential. Vehicle traffic is slow and vehicle counts are low that the street space can be used for other modes of travel than a car. I’d really like to see rental bikes zipping through that area in the years to come.