Three city administrators took a literal walk in Trinity Park’s figurative shoes last week, navigating the neighborhood at morning rush hour as those who live there and kids who go to school there have to do it.
“It’s a little like one of those fancy virtual reality things,” said Rachel Raney, chairwoman of the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association’s traffic committee. But, she added, “This is not a stunt. This is real working stuff.”
Raney’s committee invited city staffers along on a “walk audit,” to identify particular hazard points for pedestrians and cyclists in a neighborhood where the level and speed of automotive traffic is a long-standing issue – an issue made immediate in September when a Durham School of the Arts student was hit by a car as she jogged across Gregson Street.
“Over the last two or three months this issue has bubbled up and become incredibly serious here,” Raney said.
“We live in an urban neighborhood,” she said. “We want to walk; we want to bike. ... Yet the conditions don’t seem very favorable.”
City Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen, bicycle-pedestrian coordinator Dale McKeel and traffic engineer Phil Loziuk spent more than two hours Wednesday morning making rounds and taking notes with about 10 residents and interested parties.
“Our hope was that maybe we can identify some trouble spots that do need some work and can be addressed relatively quickly, maybe relatively cheaply,” said Martin Steinmeyer, who organized the audit.
Walking between Duke Street and Buchanan Boulevard, from Main Street to Club Boulevard, the auditors found confusing signage, sidewalks needing repair, crosswalks that needed repainting or relocating. More than anything else, they saw fast-moving vehicles that sped across crosswalks even with a pedestrian standing on the pavement trying to cross.
“The speed during school hours is outrageous,” said Rebecca Romaine, whose children attend Watts Elementary and Durham School of the Arts in Trinity Park. Her son Paul was nearly hit this fall, she said, when a driver pulled around another vehicle that had stopped to let Paul by.
“And the fact that they do not yield for pedestrians, because they can’t,” she said. “If you’re going 55 miles per hour, you cannot stop at a crosswalk.”
Traffic is a particular problem in Trinity Park because two major thoroughfares, Gregson and Duke streets, run its length, connecting northern Durham and Interstate 85 with the Durham Freeway.
“Almost all this traffic is people that live in northern Durham, going to the (Research Triangle) Park, and there’s no other way to do it,” said Aaron Lubeck, whose home and office are both in the neighborhood. The proposed East End Connector between U.S. 70 and the Freeway should siphon off that commuter traffic, but that is still years away, he said.
It’s not just those two streets, though.
“Speeding – we can clearly see that,” said Stefanie Kandzia, walking with a group along Buchanan Boulevard. “The cars don’t care about the crosswalks, ... even the police.”
As if on cue, a sheriff’s patrol car sped by.
DATA buses, even school buses, go through faster than the law allows, Raney told Ahrendsen.
Raney said the city transportation staff have become “kind of allies” in addressing Trinity Park’s traffic problems. They’ve re-striped crosswalks, installed new stoplights and arranged with NCDOT to make a continuous school zone on Gregson Street from Watts Elementary past Durham School of the Arts.
“But there’s only so much you can do from an engineering standpoint,” she said. “If you don’t give tickets, people won’t slow down.”
After DSA seventh-grader Sophia Bradley was hit and injured in September, the neighborhood association wrote Police Chief Jose L. Lopez about the dangers schoolchildren and residents face ( bit.ly/T0uuio
), and Lopez sent an officer to an association meeting.
“We’re at the beginning of a dialogue,” Raney said. “To us, it seems just as bad as if we had a rash of muggings. ... To us, it’s just as serious. Kids are getting hit.”