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.

New Bern Avenue Corridor Study Comments and Bicycle Lanes

The New Bern Avenue Corridor study has been going on for over a year and the final draft report is now available. You can view it on the City of Raleigh’s study page here. The twenty-seven page pdf goes through all the issues of this corridor and lists recommended actions to take in order to improve the study area. The city is looking for comments about it so get them in before January 2. Here’s how.

  • Download the New Bern Corridor Study and send your comments to: dhanya.sandeep@raleighnc.gov
  • View the New Bern Corridor Study at the Planning Office and mail your comments to:

    City of Raleigh
    Planning & Development
    P.O. Box 590
    Raleigh, NC 27602

One piece of the corridor study that I commented on was the bicycle lanes. The study recommends a new street layout. Picture of that below.

Click for larger

The one-way streets of Edenton and New Bern are laid out, going left to right, with two vehicle lanes, a five foot bicycle lane, and an eight foot vehicle parking lane. The two way section of New Bern has a similar layout on both sides with a median in the center.

This layout irked me a bit after seeing it so after some thought I did some research and commented on the plan. Here is what I sent in:

“Hello, Dhanya.

Great work on the final draft of the study. I did want to pass along some comments of mine as I read through the report, specifically about the bicycle lanes.I hope that the city can consider an upgraded plan for cycling along this corridor to be implemented either with this New Bern vision or at some later time when funding becomes available.

The plan in the report shows that a cyclist can ride in a five foot wide travel lane with parked cars to the riders’ right and moving traffic to the riders’ left. In this layout, a cyclist is at risk of injury with cars entering/exiting parking spaces as well as at risk of being “doored” by unaware drivers exiting their vehicles. Buses will also stop within the bicycle lane in order to drop off and/or pick up new riders at bus stops. Since the New Bern Corridor has the highest ridership of any Capital Area Transit (CAT) bus, the chances for this to happen is high especially in the coming years if transit grows in Raleigh.

I propose the city consider an upgraded cycling transit plan for the New Bern Avenue Corridor where bicycles can flow with equal ease as nearby buses and cars on the road and pedestrians on the sidewalk. The five foot bicycle lane should be swapped with the eight foot car parking lane. The bicycle lane should then be protected with barriers so that cars cannot interfere with bicycle flow in that lane. A picture of what I mean can be seen here:

Protected bicycle lane in Chicago (via http://theexpiredmeter.com)
(full URL at http://theexpiredmeter.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Protected-bike-lanes.jpg)

Clearly, other modifications are needed to make the bicycle lane flow smoothly through intersections and bus stops. The planned bus stop bump outs should then be modified into “island” platforms where waiting riders can step onto the bus at the same floor level. This helps the ease of entering/exiting passengers, especially wheelchair riders, and helps make any future bus rapid transit (BRT) or streetcar system flow much more smoothly. A picture of a bus platform with a bike lane around it can be seen here:

Bus platform with bike lane [Broken link] in Portland (via http://www.miabirk.com [Broken link])
(full URL at http://www.miabirk.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Platform-on-SW-Moody1.jpg [Broken link])

Regarding conflicts with bicycles crossing an intersection and vehicles making right turns, more research needs to be done on a way to have both parties yield correctly to avoid any nasty incidents. Other cities have found ways to accomplish this and I’m sure Raleigh can implement it as well.

I really think there is an opportunity for cycling in Raleigh to continue to grow with changes like these. If something like this existed from downtown all the way to WakeMed, a distance of three miles, then I think this corridor would be a truly mixed use transit corridor and spur lots of the great development that many participants in the study area asked for. This would allow for people to get around in many ways and helps preserve the neighborhood character on both sides by keeping the area at a more human scale.

Hope to see something like this in the future. Thanks a lot.

Leo Suarez”

So the dedicated bicycle lane in the recommended plan may not really improve things for cyclists then the current layout of New Bern Avenue and Edenton Streets. In my opinion, the current layout of three, and in some places four, travel lanes with no parking spaces allows a cyclist to move down the street more safely. Cyclists can travel with the curb to their right and plenty of space on their left for cars and buses to pass. The recommended layout with the bicycle lanes may force encounters between cyclists and cars parking as well as buses making their stops.

I think if Raleigh was really serious in building cycling infrastructure, the New Bern Avenue corridor needs more study on this topic. I hate to see similar problems in this area to the ones on Hillsborough Street’s bicycle lanes. If anyone has more knowledge on the topic, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.