Durham to narrow part of US 15/501
Posted June 18, 2015
Durham, N.C. — 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.