Durham officials, merchants look to end 'NASCAR speedway' around downtown
Posted May 26
Durham, N.C. — 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."