City promises better handling of street closures

May. 04, 2014 @ 03:54 PM

City Transportation Department officials have pledged to check with more people before approving temporary street closings like one of Main Street recently that drew a complaint from a downtown resident.

The closure affected a block of West Main Street on April 26 and was done so contractors could replace air-conditioning equipment in the Self-Help credit union’s headquarters.

But the timing coincided with the Art of Cool jazz festival, and left a number of business owners “visibly upset” about the lack of vehicle and pedestrian access while the work was under way, Main Street resident Rodney Derrick said in a message to two local listservs.

Derrick said the city’s decision to OK the closure showed “blindness to the concerns of small business and residents of the downtown city center,” particularly when a single day’s wait could have avoided any conflict with the festival.

“We always hear how great these festivals are for downtown business, so why did someone in the city government approve the permit for this [closure]?” he asked.

When queried, city administrators acknowledged the problem.

Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen said his department approved the temporary closure after following a notification process “primarily limited to various city agencies,” none of whom in this case had raised any schedule-related objections.

He told City Manager Tom Bonfield notices of closure requests in the future will go out to “other agencies that may be affected by or have [an] interest” in them.

That means checking in advance with groups like Downtown Durham Inc., the Durham Bulls, the Durham Performing Arts Center, the American Tobacco complex, the Carolina Theatre, the Durham Arts Council, the Durham Convention Center, Durham Tech, N.C. Central University and Duke University, he said.

“We will ask those so notified to advise within 48 hours” if they see any potential schedule conflict, Ahrendsen said.