The City is Moving

In Feature Stories, October 2020 by Tracy JonesLeave a Comment

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When Wake County voters agreed to a half cent sales tax increase in 2016 for the Wake Transit Plan, they helped change the way the city moves. Since the plan got off the ground, areas throughout Raleigh and Wake have services that would otherwise not be available. Last year alone, more than $13 million in new or modified services have been implemented in the southeast and northwest portions of Raleigh and in neighboring municipalities.  

“Raleigh has grown really fast and, in the scheme of cities, its growth is pretty recent,” says Michael Moore, the transportation director for the City of Raleigh. “We know cities are places people like to be. A lot of [Raleigh’s] roadways were designed when the mindset was focused around traffic efficiency and reducing congestion and not focused around the smaller scale of human movement.”

Human movement, whether via foot, bike, scooter or larger vehicle, is something the city is addressing through the addition of greenways and greenway connectors, the creation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or the improvement of existing bus lines, or through negotiating with scooter companies to allow more scooters into the city safely. 

“We’re in a very interesting time where we have a balance between accommodating traffic and still trying to promote environments that are good for all users,” says Moore. “We have a desire for dense urban places that are walkable, bike-able and where you can spend your weekends without getting into your car to do something cool.”

More Scooters

In 2018, transit tech companies Bird and Lime showed up to Raleigh uninvited, deploying fleets of electric scooters mostly around downtown.

“It led to a lot of chaos and conflict,” says Eric Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager. “That was a tough learning curve for us when that happened.” 

Early last year, the city council contracted with e-scooter company Gotcha to deploy a fleet of 150 scooters but, following the election of several new members to the city council, officials wanted to revisit the city’s parameters and goals for microbility— including criteria for required insurance and types of fees (if any) that they city should be charging—and potentially, bring in additional vendors. By the end of this year, there could be three scooter companies operating in Raleigh instead of only one.

“We’re discussing the idea of creating scooter hubs so their availability is a little more accessible and less haphazard,” says Lamb. “There have been a lot of changes in the scooter industry in general. When this whole trend started, it was very Wild West, but now, the landscape is starting to stabilize and [companies are] building better partnerships with cities.”

The scooter market has changed in the last two years, with companies consolidating and being bought out. Bird acquired Scoot last year and, in May, Uber led a $170 million investment in Lime. Micromobility companies have pivoted to focusing more on profitability than on flooding the market and are more cognizant of not putting scooters on the street that are not being used.

One way Raleigh aims to prevent a flood of unused scooters on the streets of downtown is by monitoring and regulating fleet growth. A scooter provider must have a minimum fleet size of 50 scooters, though the city is proposing the providers start with an initial fleet size of 250; then, vendors can then grow their fleets by demonstrating that their scooters are being used. If utilization decreases after a monthly re-evaluation, companies must pull back scooters until the numbers increase again, helping to eliminate sidewalk clutter.

“When scooters first came in, it was a novelty,” says Moore. “We’re getting a lot better compliance with some of the rules out there. I think the market here in Raleigh has matured.” 

The Popularity of Citrix Cycle

The final installation of Raleigh’s bike share system, Citrix Cycle, is now complete with 300 bikes and 30 stations across downtown, southeast Raleigh, along Hillsborough Street and at the North Carolina Museum of Art. 

“The system has a pretty good footprint right now,” says Lamb. “We’ve started to look at what our second round of deployment will look like. In some stations we’ll be filling in spaces, and in others we’ll be expanding.” 

Recently, there has been interest in the Five Points and North Hills areas. But Lamb says a lot of the decision making on where stations will be established depends on being able to develop good bicycle infrastructure between stations.

Last month, Citrix Cycle and the city announced a partnership with Loden Properties to buy two new stations and bikes on Lane Street in front of the Longleaf Hotel and at Gateway Plaza on Crabtree Boulevard. The city will continue looking at opportunities for public-private partnerships so it can grow the system.

“Citrix has outperformed its goals up to date, even through the pandemic,” says Moore. “It has been, to me, very rewarding to see how that system has performed and provided people an option throughout everything we’ve been going through. We’ve been pleased with how Raleigh has warmed and adopted to Citrix Cycle.”

As of mid-September, riders have traveled 146,462.30 miles on Citrix Cycles and have taken 63,925 rides. The most popular check-out and return stations are at Fayetteville Street, Tucker and Glenwood, and Citrix Station on East West Street.

Greenway Connector and Pedestrian Safety

This month, the city will finish the Downtown North-South Greenway Connector on southbound Harrington Street and northbound West Street, from North to Martin Streets, that will connect two future proposed greenways and add a bike connection from Glenwood South to the Warehouse District. The ultimate goal is to extend to Devereux Meadow Park, just north of Peace Street, when it is developed.

The greenway connector creates a dedicated bike lane with plastic posts that act as a visual cue for drivers to stay out of the area. Having some degree of separation makes the lane much more comfortable for casual cyclists who may be intimidated riding parallel to traffic.

Raleigh’s transportation department has also been working with the city’s parks, recreation and cultural resources office to develop a new east-west connection between Dorothea Dix and Chavis parks, a promising way to provide for connectivity along downtown’s southern edge. 

“A lot of our downtown streets don’t have bike lanes,” says Moore. “If we could get folks to some of those more comfortable streets in a more comfortable way, we’ll see some things really come together.”

In 2016, Raleigh’s city council adopted the BikeRaleigh Plan, a citywide bike plan that serves as a framework for expanding the city’s biking network while improving safety, comfort, convenience and accessibility. Changes to the Blount, Person and Wake Forest Road corridors have been finished and more buffered bikes lanes are being installed, with some plans for vertical separators. 

The city also implemented its first two-stage left turn boxes, indicated with green paint on the Person and Blount Street crossings at Hargett and Martin Streets. With a council allocation of $500,000 for more separated bikeway installations last year, there’s a lot of public interest in seeing these networks continue to grow.

The city is keeping both cyclists and pedestrians in mind as it moves forward. It is implementing 10- to 12-foot shared-use paths, leading pedestrian intervals at crosswalks to give pedestrians a head start when crossing the street and is working with the parks department to increase the use of parks as commuter corridors.

“Every day, every person is, at some point, a pedestrian,” says Moore. For 2019, Raleigh reported 250 collisions with pedestrians, 50 of them fatal. “It’s critically important to us to keep people safe regardless of their mode of transportation. It’s really alarming the rise in pedestrian crashes and fatalities we’ve seen in the last two years.”

The city is engaging with a consultant to see what a Vision Zero Plan—one that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities—would look like for Raleigh, the resources it would take and the timeline to get there.

“We take our transportation users’ safety very seriously,” says Moore. “We want to make sure we’re doing as much as we can to protect the most vulnerable users in the transportation system. If that means changing the way something used to work, we’re willing to do that.”

Bus Frequency and a BRT Future

Raleigh’s bus system is changing for the better and, before COVID-19 hit, the city was seeing increased ridership. Between increasing frequency of current routes and the development of approximately 20 miles of transit lines along four Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors, riders still have much to look forward to in terms of timing and accessibility. 

Part of the Wake Transit Plan moved the city’s transit strategy away from a coverage-based system to more of a frequency-based system. Buses come more frequently and are much more reliable, which is crucial to building a ridership. The goal has been to expand the deployment of buses that operate on 15-minute headways. Up until recently, the city had only about 11 miles that met that criteria. By 2027, the goal is to get up to 81 miles.

“People get focused around BRT because it’s new and different, but some of the big things we’ve done in the transit program is adding service and adding frequency,” says Moore. “We’re trying to take down some of the barriers of use and look at frequent service so you’re not having to plan every moment of your day to catch a specific bus at a specific hour. If you have a bus or train that comes every 10 minutes, you might not want to mess with, or pay for, parking. You can catch a bus and be downtown in 10 minutes.” 

Over the next few years, the development of the BRT system will add to these initial improvements with added frequency, enhanced stations, elevated platforms, dedicated lanes, traffic signal priority and off-board fare collection. 

The first in the state, with our closest neighbor being Richmond, the goal of Raleigh’s BRT system is to bring reliable and consistent service to provide more flexibility to people who have a variety of jobs. During weekdays, the service will run at 10 to 15 minute intervals for 20 out of 24 hours per day.

Fare capping, where customers will be able to purchase their bus fares as a daily, weekly or monthly pass on a stored value or virtual wallet, is also under discussion. Fare capping tracks the money you’ve spent over a week or month and automatically upgrades you to a weekly or monthly pass. Today, you’re paying more every day if you pay daily than you would if you just paid for a weekly pass.

To date, the east line along New Bern Avenue is at approximately 30 percent designed. There will be more public outreach and involvement on what the footprint looks like, where the bus stops are going to be, how the system will operate, what the stations will look like and how they are accessed. The city is targeting 2023 for service, with Western Boulevard and the Southern Corridor to follow in 2024 or 2025. Planning for the Northern Corridor has not started yet. 

“The Wake transit plan is one of the region’s first efforts in trying to balance some of that growth in a way that doesn’t create more and more lanes and roads,” says Moore. “We are giving folks another choice to use a high-quality transit option.”

Triangle Bike Study

Agencies from across the region are studying the idea of a 17-mile bicycle path that will link Raleigh, Research Triangle Park (RTP), Durham and Chapel Hill along I-40 and NC 54. Both of the regional transportation agencies, NC Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization, allocated funds to study this bikeway in detail and, specifically, to look at how these major greenways can be incorporated into interstate highway footprints safely and functionally.

The bikeway could connect Triangle communities, accommodating those traveling for the distance of their choosing. Input from residents is encouraged, including a public comment crowdsource map available at trianglebikeway.com. The planning process is expected to take approximately 18 months.

The current planning effort includes design and construction recommendations for routes between Raleigh and RTP, and a corridor assessment for the connection west to Durham and Chapel Hill. The bikeway will connect Triangle communities making both short and long bike trips for work, play and daily errands possible. Ideas from residents will shape the plan.

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