Durham County

This is how Durham wants to make its city streets safer for bicyclists

A proposed network of bike boulevards designed by the advocacy group Durham Bike Boulevards.
A proposed network of bike boulevards designed by the advocacy group Durham Bike Boulevards. Courtesy of Durham Bike Boulevards

Last week hundreds of bikes were added to the streets of Durham, with the arrival of the bike-share startups Spin and LimeBike.

Many of the people likely to use these new bikes are novice riders or those who haven’t ridden a bike in a long time. For new riders, navigating the busy streets of Durham can be an intimidating and potentially dangerous experience.

One solution the city hopes will make the prospect less daunting is the implementation of “bike boulevards,” a concept that has gained popularity on the West Coast.

Bike boulevards, which have been created in cities like Portland, Ore. and Berkeley Calif., would turn some neighborhood streets across the urban core of Durham into preferred routes for the bicyclists – directing bikers off car-heavy streets and toward quieter routes. Durham is hoping to create at least seven miles of these bike boulevards in the coming years to help safely move bicyclists more easily from north Durham to south Durham.

“What we are hoping is that these bike boulevards would help residents on a bike get to key destinations more safely and really direct them to (roads) with lower traffic volumes and more bikeable streets that they might not have known about if they were driving a car,” said Bryan Poole, a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Durham. “It’s the one-street-over concept.”

That “one-street-over” concept is currently exemplified by Watts Street in the Trinity Park neighborhood, which became the city’s first bicycle boulevard in 2016. On that street, the city has put pavement markings and street signs directing cyclists to use that road and letting motor vehicles know the street is a preferred bicycle route.

Watts Street has become a popular route between downtown and north Durham, as it offers a similar route to the heavily trafficked Gregson and Duke streets. The city also created two-way bicycle lanes on Watts, while automobiles are only allowed to travel one direction, and there are several speed bumps on the street.

But, the city needs more Watts Streets outside of Trinity Park, said Brian Vaughn, the interim director for Durham Bike Boulevards, which has been the lead advocate for the creation of bike boulevards.

“Durham has a really healthy commuting culture,” Vaughn said. “I think where we want to be is what Washington, D.C. is – where you can really ride a bike and be fearless. We want mothers of small children to feel comfortable biking with their kids, and for elderly folks to have mobility to get downtown.”

What are bike boulevards?

Bike boulevards – also known as neighborhood greenways – are existing neighborhood streets that discourage cut-through car traffic through the use of signs, pavement markings and speed and volume management. Streets with low motor-vehicle volumes are preferred to ones with high speed limits and lot of of daily traffic.

Designated bike boulevards are often located parallel to popular thoroughfares, as Watts Street is parallel to both Gregson and Broad streets in the Trinity Park neighborhood. Motor vehicles are still allowed to go on bike boulevards, but speed limits are set low and street signs discourage non-local vehicles, while highlighting that it’s a preferred bike route.

Bike boulevards often operate as a network of routes to popular points of destination, so that cyclists rarely, if ever, have to go on busy streets. When a bike boulevard does intersect with a popular street, there are often designated bike lanes and crossings.

Bike boulevards are also designed to guide cyclists to popular destinations, letting users know where the boulevards go and what’s located nearby, such as parks and business and entertainment districts.

What would it look like in Durham?

It’s too early to say which streets will be included in the bike boulevard project, but transportation planner Bryan Poole with the city of Durham said it will probably be similar to a proposed map that the advocacy group Durham Bike Boulevards made.

Durham Bike Boulevards created a map of a potential 15-mile of network that highlights streets on both sides of the Durham Freeway (N.C. 147) that could potentially get cyclists from as far south as N.C. Central University to as far north as the Ellerbee Creek Trail. The Durham Bike Boulevard proposal uses the American Tobacco Trail and the East Coast Greenway as a central artery for the network of streets.

“Our goal is that if you get on one of the bike-share bikes and you are staying at a hotel in downtown or if you are a student at NCCU, you can jump on a bike it could be really easy (to bike around town),” Poole said. “If you are at Lakewood shopping center and want to get downtown or from Duke to Wellons Village, they could all be connected. You wouldn’t need to pull out a map or a phone, it can be more intuitive (through signage).”

Poole added that no new bike lanes would be created through the bike boulevard project, but that bike boulevards would be chosen so that there would be designated bike lanes at main-thoroughfare crossings.

When would they be built?

Poole said that the city will be asking consultants to submit proposals for the bike boulevards project in coming weeks. From there it will take a couple of months before a consultant and plan is chosen.

Design work will likely begin in the spring and construction will start at the earliest in May 2019. That may seem like a long time, but because federal funding is involved the timeline can take time, Poole said.

How much will they cost?

The city estimates that it will cost $644,728 to sign and mark at least seven miles of neighborhood streets for bike boulevards. The city’s transportation department received federal funding of $505,498 for the project, which requires a local match of $126,375. The city estimates that another $12,855 will be needed for administration costs.

Vaughn from Durham Bike Boulevards hopes the city designates as many bike boulevards as possible with the funds.

“What we don’t want is five miles of very well-striped and painted bicycle boulevards with three quarters of a mile in Trinity Park and a quarter of mile in East Durham … and none of its connected,” he said. “I think a much wiser use of funds would make the urban core really well connected; then you will see an explosion of bike use in Durham.”

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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