Durham Belt Line: 9 Reasons to Get Excited

A few weeks ago, the Durham Belt Line project released its Master Plan. Last year I went to the Durham Armory to provide feedback and suggestions for the plan, so I was excited to see how everyone's feedback was incorporated. The plan is still in the infant stages and a lot is sure to change between now and then, but there is plenty to be excited about! Here are a few of the highlights:

1. New Large Scale Urban Park

Just to the west of the downtown loop, the city owns some land. The Master Plan talks about creating a new public space on this land, with plazas, structures with overlooks, and other great possibilities. This part of the plan isn't set in stone and the details are still being worked on, but what a great way to connect the area inside the loop to the start of the Belt Line! I imagine that Bull McCabe's would be thrilled with this as well.

2. Native Plants

White Oak Tree
While the future site of the Durham Belt Line does have a good amount of flora, much of it is invasive. The plan aims to cut back plants like kudzu and replant plants native to the area. Small touches like this are important to make the Belt Line distinct from urban trails in other cities.

3. Affordable Housing Opportunities

The Master Plan has identified specific sites where more affordable housing can be built. Property along the Belt Line is sure to be desirable, so having access for Durhamites with a wider range of incomes is a noble goal. There are no hard plans yet, so I am only cautiously optimistic, but it did make it into the plan, which is a good first step.

4. Safety

This photo is part of the inspiration for the developers of the Master Plan. Hopefully they find creative, fun ways to use light to enhance safety, while keeping the Belt Line beautiful

Crime along the American Tobacco Trail has been an issue. For the Duke Belt Line, a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) analysis was conducted. The project is thinking about how to reduce crime through creating safe, connected, well-list, high visibility spaces throughout the trail.

5. Separation of Bikes and Pedestrians

The image above shows the layout for portions of the trail considered "Preferred Cross-Sections". There are also "Constrained Cross-Sections", which are narrower, but STILL have separate paths for bikes and pedestrians and "Neighborhood Cross-Sections", where bikes and pedestrians share lanes. However, even with the neighborhood cross-sections, there are separate non-paved areas that pedestrians can use instead (especially runners/joggers).

6. Diversity of Habitats

Prairie Island, Durham, NC
It sounds like each section will have its own unique feel. I can't wait to walk/bike the whole trail and enter multiple worlds. Currently, these are the types of sections that are planned:

  • Prairie - native grasses, pollinators, and perennials with a meadow feel.
  • Historic Sites - preservation of warehouses, bridges, and other structures
  • Forest - especially sections near W Corporation St, where trees will grow amidst preserved train tracks
  • Retail and Urban Life - multiple gateways will connect people on the trail with the restaurants and retail right nearby.
  • Wetlands and Wet Meadow - complete with boardwalks and great viewing opportunities (and connection to the South Ellerbe Wetland area)
  • Urban Garden - with signage talking about the plants
  • Riparian Area - river/creek bank habitat 

7. Public Art

There are at least 8 spots along the trail that have been designated for public art opportunities, including at the Urban Park at the southern start of the trail. In historic areas, there is an emphasis on art that speaks to specific historical moments.

8. Community Features

The Belt Line will feature a lot of great additions to the city in terms of public spaces and features. These include:
  • A Skate Park
  • Connections to Other Trails / South Ellerbe Wetlands
  • Space and Venue for Concerts and Food Truck Events
  • Sculpture Play Area
  • Plazas with Park Seating for Gathering

9. Scheduled Completion Date

The plan makes no promises about opening day, but they are hard at work at the very beginning phase now, so the estimate would have the the first phases of project open in 2020 or 2021! That will be here before you know it. Even if (when) delays happen, this project shouldn't drag on for years and years.

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