Durham to narrow part of US 15/501

Posted June 18, 2015

— U.S. Highway 15/501 Business in Durham is going on a diet.

The Durham City Council has unanimously approved a plan to reconfigure a 1-mile stretch of road between Chapel Hill Road and University Drive, narrowing it from five lanes to three lanes and adding bike lanes and parking.

City transportation engineer Pete Nicholas said the changes, which are part of state Department of Transportation plans to repave portions of about two dozen thoroughfares in Durham for a total of $6 million, should help slow down drivers.

"Our traffic data indicates that speeds are anywhere from 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit," Nicholas said. "The reduction in speed has a dramatic increase in safety for all users."

He predicted fewer crashes on the smaller road. From 2009 to 2014, 157 accidents occurred on the highway.

"The accidents that are out there are multiple levels above what the average number we would expect to see in a roadway of this nature," he said.

Business owners in the area have been vocal about the need for the changes, which could come as soon as this fall.

"All of the businesses were in agreement that the road was not safe as it is and something needed to be changed," said Laura Hall, the owner of Refectory cafe.

"It just has a different atmosphere than it had when this road really was mainly an artery to downtown with a lot more industrial businesses," said Margaret Palmer, the owner of Song of Six Pence boutique. "(We have) small shops that each have an individual driveway and parking area. I think that warrants slower speeds to access those."

Hall said she does have some reservations about removing lanes, but she's glad Durham is moving ahead with the plan.

"Our biggest concern is going to be the impact on business. We will lose 1,000 cars a day. Those cars will go somewhere else, and we count on them," she said. "At the end of the day, we have a more beautiful boulevard."

Nicholas said few road configurations lead to a significant economic impact, either up or down, on the surrounding area. But adding about 20 parking spaces along the highway could help local businesses, he said, noting some vehicles park illegally on the road or in nearby neighborhoods on weekends.


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  • Susan Sewell Jun 19, 2015
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    Road restriping like will happen on 15-501 are for roads with daily trips of 12,000-20,000. we are at 14,000. Restriping has already successfully been done in Durham (Erwin Rd, Main St, CH Street) with no adverse effects, including congestion or loss of traffic. Google will show you numerous studies which show this work to slow down car speed better than lights or partrols. Here is a good survey of study results, from AARP. As happened with many business owners once they saw the studies, I hope you will get excited about this simple effective road to safety.

  • Johnny Friedrich Jun 19, 2015
    user avatar

    It is interesting that the DOT is saying one of the reasons for this project is he public is going 10 to 15 MPH over the speed limit. Well my answer to this is where is the local police in enforcing the speed limit. Why in the RDU area the DOT and local government blame the public for speeding and a high rate of accidents when none of the local police enforce the laws of driving including speeding. If the police enforced the laws then you would see a reduction in accidents and speeding. So do not blame others if you are not enforcing the laws. Also to reduce a road capacity by almost 4000 cars a day is crazy. That will either create backups or those cars will take different routes of travel. This will reduce revenue and business's will close over time. This project clearly no one has thought about. In the end if the local police enforced the laws of the road then this project would have never happened, but instead blame the public. Well when business's close, do not say I told you so.