Opinion

N&O forum will explore ways to exit Triangle’s traffic woes

Triangle visits Richmond, VA, to ride Pulse bus rapid transit system

A group of Triangle residents visited Richmond, Virginia, to ride the Pulse, the city’s new bus rapid transit line. Raleigh, Cary, Wake County and Chapel Hill plan to build similar BRT systems in coming years.
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A group of Triangle residents visited Richmond, Virginia, to ride the Pulse, the city’s new bus rapid transit line. Raleigh, Cary, Wake County and Chapel Hill plan to build similar BRT systems in coming years.

Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson hears plenty of complaints. Some constituents are concerned about rising taxes, others say we need more affordable housing and parks, but the top gripe is always the same — traffic.

“It’s a big deal, probably number one. Everybody complains about traffic,” he says.

I-40 between Raleigh and Durham and Chapel Hill has long been a headache. But now growth is leading to traffic-choked secondary roads in western and southern Wake County and heavy traffic is spreading east. Durham and Orange counties tried to build a way around their traffic jams with a light-rail line, but the project just fell through.

What can be done about congested roadways will be the subject of That’s the topic we’ll address at The News & Observer’s next Community Voices forum: “Beat the traffic.” Five panelists will explore the issue during the event starting at 7 p.m. May 29 at the North Carolina Museum of History. They’ll discuss what you can do today to get around without a car and what will be — or should be — our transportation options in the future.

Some newcomers from larger cities may think traffic problems here are not so bad. Relatively speaking, they’re right. But the Triangle is catching up. “One thing we can all agree on is it is getting worse,” Hutchinson says.

Kym Hunter, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, says the Triangle got into traffic trouble by allowing “a lot of unplanned growth, a lot of sprawl.” She says the answer is to change the way housing is planned, where people work and how they get there.

Some of those changes can start with your commute. Is it an option to change your work hours? Have you considered taking a bus? How about taking a train between Durham and Raleigh? Have you thought about riding a bike along the area’s network of greenways and new bike lanes?

In the near future, bus rapid transit — buses moving in designated lanes — will offer a faster way to get to work and shopping. Eventually the rapid bus lines will be linked to park-and-ride lots where commuters can leave their car and speed into the city without fighting traffic or paying downtown parking rates.

In the longer term, commuter rail is coming. The state Department of Transportation is looking at using existing tracks to run a commuter train from downtown Raleigh to Wake Forest and possibly into Vance County. NCDOT is also considering commuter rail for Raleigh, Cary and Durham. Another plan would extend commuter rail from Raleigh to Apex.

Come out to find out how we got into this traffic jam and how we might get around it. The event is free, but please register in advance at eventbrite.com.

The evening’s panelists will be:

Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. She is focused on environmentally friendly transit options and planning that prevents sprawl and traffic.

Kimberley Sirk, an avid use of mass transit who commutes by bus daily between Cary and Raleigh and regularly gets around the Triangle by bus.

Jeff Mann, president and CEO of the Triangle’s public transportation authority — GoTriangle — and a former deputy secretary with the NC Department of Transportation.

Jason T. Orthner, director of NCDOT’s Rail Division.

Sig Hutchinson, a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners and an advocate for greenways, mass transit and dense development.

Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@newsobserver.com

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