DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Drivers on South Roxboro Street in Durham will have fewer lanes for their cars and trucks as bicycles receive more room on the road.
The city will change one lane in each direction into a permanent place for pedalers.
The conversion is called a road diet. It involves getting rid of excess road, in this case, shifting from two lanes of motor vehicle traffic each way on South Roxboro Street to one, and leaving the leftovers for bicycles.
City council member Charlie Reece said it will improve safety for all vehicles by forcing drivers to become more cautious and more likely to observe speed limits.
“It doesn’t impede the flow of traffic. It doesn’t slow traffic down. The same volume of cars is handled. It just goes a little more slowly and a little more safely,” Reece said.
Durham traffic surveys show only about 6,000 cars travel the road every day. Reece says a single lane in each direction can handle the traffic.
Cyclist Steve Bzomowski agrees with that assessment. He got rid of his car in 2015 for a variety of reasons, and now rides his bicycle to and from work as well as for trips to the store and for off-site meetings, as he did Friday afternoon.
“When you think about health, when you think about the environment, when you think about people just being able to get outside and having the freedom to choose whether they walk, ride a bike, car. We shouldn’t be forced to ride a car everywhere. It’s crazy, I think, that we build roads without that choice,” Bzomowski said.
“Traffic runs (on South Roxboro Street) are low. You could easily convert it where you’re not going to cause any problems for drivers. There are a lot of places where planners, where city officials, are going to look at streets like that. That’s an easy one that they can convert,” he said.
“Other roads like Fayetteville that have high traffic volumes and maybe are narrow, those are tougher projects because you might have to add some width.”
Bzomowski rode the nearby American Tobacco Trail for much of his route Friday. He said the South Roxboro plans will provide more options.
“You have to cross a couple busy roads but you don’t have to fight with cars every day, and so this is the crown jewel of Durham. Being about to get outside and especially when you’re on a biek and you’re walking or running, you don’t have to worry about getting killed out there,” he said.
Councilman Reece said this conversion coincides with a standard repaving project for South Roxboro Street, which is long overdue for fresh resurfacing. He said it will cost about the same as simply restriping the road, with the only additional expense going to provide some periodic protective markers.
“Plastic posts with reflectors on them that are anchored to the roadway, that create that physical separation. Once you have a series of those in place, what I think you will see is cyclists being more and more eager to get out on the road,” Reece said.
“Right now, in a lot of places in Durham where we even have bike lanes, they are viewed as somewhat unsafe because they’re not protective. But a lot of cities around the country are moving into that protected bike lane philosophy and I think it’s incumbent upon us a city government to make these roadways safer for everyone who uses them and not just cars.”
Reece acknowledged that the stretch of road receiving the repaving is a rather well-to-do area, and he said it is also incumbent upon the city to make sure that it spends city money equitably around the city. He said this and other projects happen based on the quality of the road surface itself and not where in the city it’s located.