GoTriangle has released its latest designs of Durham and Orange Counties’ future light rail system. The agency held open houses earlier this month; if you missed those, you can participate online. Bike Durham needs you to comment on this project to ensure the final design is part of a cohesive transportation network in downtown Durham.
Bike Durham has been enthusiastically supportive of this transformational project as long as we have been an organization. The future of Durham needs a strong transit backbone to ensure there are options for people to get around other than driving. The latest designs reflect improved pedestrian and bicycle access for stations outside of downtown and also a much needed additional station in front of the Durham Performing Art Center. The project is closing in on final agreements and filling the remaining funding gaps that will hopefully propel it towards construction.
The Problem: Unreasonable Partners Are Forcing a Closure of Blackwell Street at Its Most Critical Location
The latest iteration proposes to close the crossing of the train tracks at Blackwell Street to all traffic and transportation modes. This means that people walking and biking between downtown and the American Tobacco Campus, American Tobacco Trail, and Durham Bulls stadium would have their access severely reduced. Anyone trying to catch a train or a bus at the new Durham light rail station would be impeded from doing so. The street closure will also create more circuitous routing for key bus lines with high ridership traveling between East Durham and Durham Station. The Indy Week covered the issue in great detail. The proposal of a “signature crossing”, essentially a pedestrian and bicyclist bridge, does not sufficiently address these issues; if you are rushing to make your bus or train, the last thing you want to have to do is climb a very long, circuitous path to get there, thereby undermining the entire point of the project for its two most important stations (the new Blackwell/Mangum station and the Durham Transit Station). This is an unacceptable outcome for a project that has already spent nearly $100 million on design and will cost more than $2.5 billion overall.
Bike Durham is advocating for a simple set of solutions:
In the near term, maintain the at-grade rail crossing on Blackwell Street for people walking and biking. This condition already exists today and would be similar to what is being proposed one block away for Mangum Street (Mangum will remain open to all vehicles). Maintaining access for people walking and biking does not have the same engineering challenges that the crossing does for motorized vehicles. It also doesn’t introduce any additional costs to the project.
During final design of the project, we encourage the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR) to study a separate improvement project to raise the tracks such that both Mangum and Blackwell could pass underneath. This is an improvement that would need to happen regardless of the Light Rail project due to the increased number of people living, working, playing, and shopping in downtown Durham. Finally, this long-term improvement would create more direct routing for bus lines that currently rely on this crossing.
Most stakeholders involved in the project would be happy with the above set of solutions. Unfortunately, the North Carolina Railroad (NCRR) is not one of them. Even more unfortunate is the fact that they own the rail right of way at the crossing. This effectively means that they have the power to force GoTriangle to close Blackwell Street by withholding their agreement to allow the Light Rail project to operate next to the existing rail tracks. NCRR has flatly refused to consider keeping the Blackwell crossing open for people walking and biking, declaring it a “new at-grade” crossing even though this very same crossing already exists today. The NCRR is operated as a private company, but it is 100% owned by the taxpayers of North Carolina, and their board is appointed by the governor (7 seats) and the state legislature (3 seats from the House and 3 seats from the Senate). Therefore, they need to hear from you, their shareholders, that they are not representing you properly.
You can read Bike Durham’s full comment letter here.
What You Can Do
The comment period has closed for this project. To be notified earlier about pressing advocacy, sign up for our monthly newsletter below.
As part of its approval process, GoTriangle released a Supplemental Environmental Assessment. Comments on the document are due by November 30, and they are specifically looking for feedback on recent changes, including the proposed closing of Blackwell Street. It is critical that the right parties hear from Bike Durham and as many of its members as possible. You can help us by pleasing following these steps:
↓ First copy the text below ↓
I am 100% supportive of the GoTriangle light rail project and can't wait to see it get implemented. However, this project must maintain the pedestrian and bicycle crossing of the tracks on Blackwell Street. Please do not undermine the purpose of the project by reducing access for this critical connection to the light rail system from downtown, which a pedestrian bridge of this length would certainly do. Additionally, the project must not cut off this key connection to the American Tobacco Campus and American Tobacco Trail. In the long run, I urge NCDOT and NCRR to study elevating the tracks through downtown which is necessary whether or not the light rail is built to increase rail capacity.
↓ Then click this button ↓
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Note: If you can't get the button to work, please
send an email to email@example.com
cc firstname.lastname@example.org, Floyd.McKissick@ncleg.net, Mike.Woodard@ncleg.net, Marcia.Morey@ncleg.net, Mickey.Michaux@ncleg.net, MaryAnn.Black@ncleg.net, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Terry.email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
with the subject "Approve Light Rail and Maintain the Rail Crossing on Blackwell Street for People Walking and Biking”
Please include your name and street address in the email. Although it’s not required, a personal story or detail about why preserving the Blackwell Street connection is important to you or how you’re excited for the light rail project helps your letter stand out.