147: From Freeway to Boulevard - Pt 1: Design

Infrastructure spending is coming to the country. I will be honest, I have not yet dug in to what that means and what it could mean for Durham. I do know that I have heard more and more rumblings about highway removal. CNU recently released their latest Freeways Without Futures report as well.

I have previously written about the two dividing lines in downtown Durham, the train tracks and the freeway. These two gashes separate and isolate important parts of our city. For quite a while, I have wanted to explore in more detail, what converting the downtown portion of the Durham Freeway to a boulevard would look like.

I am not a trained urban designer. I am not an engineer. I have a master's in planning, but have never actually practiced planning in the real world. So why am creating a three-part series exploring design, economic implications, and local impacts of a freeway conversion? My HOPE is that much more talented people will see this series and decide it is worth putting their time and energy into making a much BETTER plan.

With that said, here is the design I came up with:

The white areas are existing parcels that frame/abut the new boulevard (I did not show all of the parcel lines, just the large areas adjacent to 147).

The yellow areas are "transition areas". Again, I am not an engineer, but I imagine there needs to be stretches where cars slow down and prepare for boulevard speeds and that those transition areas should not have either freeway exits, nor boulevard intersections.

The cyan blue areas are new parcels with prime real estate right along the new boulevard, which would be subdivided and could be 

Finally, the green areas are parks and/or green space. This includes the boulevard median, which is difficult to see here, so let's look at a zoomed in image:

Here you can see the intersection with Blackwell. Hey look - there's the median!

The biggest issue involves the little access roads: Morehead Ave and Jackie Robinson Dr. Parallel streets so close together would create big stacking problems. Imagine cars on Morehead Ave turning on to Blackwell and being met with a red light. It wouldn't take long before the intersection became a mess. Maybe the answer is to just get rid of Morehead and Jackie Robinson (divide the extra right-of-way between the new boulevard and the new parcels along the boulevard).

Here's a medium-zoom image of the eastern transition area:

We don't have the side-street problem in this section, fortunately.

I have created a very large park (6 acres) in an area that used to be a swooping exit ramp. The goal for the new parcels is to keep them small and urban so that plenty of different developers, business owners, builders, etc can come in and build a variety of different buildings. This parcel didn't have enough frontage on the boulevard, which is why I turned it into a park. However, if the entire boulevard is a great, human-scale, walkable area, I wouldn't begrudge a large residential wood-frame over podium building at the transition zone. Maybe it would be better to have more small parks scattered throughout the boulevard anyway.

The new boulevard right-of-way is 100 feet wide in this design. The images above are true to that 100 feet, but I wanted to look at what different modes and uses you could fit on that right of way. This is what I came up with:

The boulevard would still accommodate plenty of cars with 4 lanes (one wider for freight/trucks) and parking on both sides. However, there would be ample room for bike lines in each direction, great sidewalks, and an 8-foot median (possible with more trees) with enough room for benches. You will notice I named the new boulevard Merrick Blvd after John Merrick, founder of NC Mutual Life.

Perhaps the boulevard would have a dedicated BRT lane. For now, I had busses mix in with regular traffic, which is a great traffic calming measure anyway. Bus stops would be on "bulb outs" that would replace the parking lane in select spots (bike lanes would continue behind the bus stops) as seen below:

There would be little pedestrian crosswalks to cross the bike lanes.

This design took me some time and there is certainly more I could write about, but this post is already far too long. In the spirit of encouraging other talented people to improve upon this design, please feel free to reach out to me at dave@buildingbullcity.com if you want more details or access to any files.

I will stop there with the promise of the next post diving into the numbers. How much new private land area would be created? How much might this project cost vs the tax revenue generated? I'll take a look at some very loose math behind this model.

Thoughts? Criticisms? Feedback? Please join the discussion in the forums! (also, I apologize for not keeping up with the forums like I should. I am AMAZED and thrilled that certain folks have kept the conversations going!)

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