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Durham officials, merchants look to end 'NASCAR speedway' around downtown

Posted May 26

— Two dozen business owners in downtown Durham have petitioned the City Council to change the Downtown Loop from one-way to two-way traffic to improve safety and boost local shopping.

"The Downtown Loop acts much like a NASCAR speedway," Councilman Charlie Reece said.

Durham leaders a half century ago configured sections of Roxboro, Liberty, Morgan, Great Jones and Ramseur streets into a one-way loop around the city center to make it easier for people to get around in their cars.

"What that’s meant over the years is that downtown has become almost strangled by this race track-like loop," Reece said. "Cars don’t have to worry about traffic coming the other direction, and so they end up traveling at very high rates of speed. It’s very unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians."

Some business owners said that essentially cuts off everything outside the circle from everything inside.

"It creates a psychological boundary into the core of the city center," said Ryan Hurley, the owner of Vert and Vogue, a West Main Street boutique that backs up to the Loop.

"That speed going around without any store frontage really creates a zone where people don’t want to walk or bike. There’s no street level activity there," Hurley said. "If the cars are going two ways, slowly, that’ll create an environment where people are much more interested in walking. They have a reason to walk, and they’re not afraid of getting hit by a car."

Reece agrees with Hurley and the other business owners, noting the city needs to encourage more walking and biking downtown since officials have made it more expensive to park there.

But deconstructing the Loop and creating two-way traffic patterns will cost at least $12 million to $15 million, Reece said, which is money Durham doesn't have right now.

"I think what we’re going to have to do for this project is find a partner, either the federal government or the state government, the (Department of Transportation), to help us with a significant chunk of the money," he said.

Hurley said he's excited about the potential change.

"It will really slow down traffic whipping around our city center and create a much more pedestrian-friendly environment," he said. "That’s going to give people more reason to walk and bike downtown. It’ll increase activity overall, which benefits everybody."


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  • Len White May 27, 9:22 a.m.
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    “That speed going around without any store frontage really creates a zone where people don’t want to walk or bike….”

    Or, there may be another reason that they haven’t even considered at all ….

  • Henry Cooper May 27, 4:46 a.m.
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    Bingo.... Maybe it is more so the parking changes downtown. WRAL ran several articles about that. So a month ago it was parking and there is no mention of this issue at all. Now roads are the issue and no mention of parking. You can even follow the link at the bottom of this article about installing parking meters on once free spaces. But yeah it is the "speedway" that has stoplights everywhere as Mark mentioned.

    Just amazing.... 1000 free parking spots go away but it is the road that is the issue. Just 3 months ago this was from the parking folks in Durham.

    "“If you’ve been downtown lately, you’ve seen just how busy it is and how scarce our on-street parking has become,” Leathers said in a statement."
    This is a great example of how our politicians think.. or don't think and use/influence the public.

    WRAL and the flavor of the week!!!

  • Mark Weaver May 26, 11:17 p.m.
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    I take the downtown loop every day on the way to work, I come in off Holloway and get onto Chapel Hill Street. If you time the lights correctly you can get all the way through downtown without stopping as long as you go slow. The downtown loop has traffic lights every few hundred feet it feels like and if you go fast you stop at all of them. Going slow allows you to make the lights. I personally stopped using business's downtown when they started charging for parking, I work close to downtown but it is easier for me to go to shops that have parking lots without using the confusing pay system they use downtown.