Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ring of Fire

Now that the concrete and asphalt are curing, time to drag the jackhammers out and fix Hillsborough Street. The entire misconceived project is as the Yogi (Berra, that is) put it, “deja-vu all over again,” the spiritual progenitor being the doomed-out-of-the box Fayetteville Street mall. The difference being that the Mall was never allowed to work (no outdoors dining, DON’T dare try to vend. Eat your f**king hotdog and LEAVE!) whereas the All New Hillsborough was a dead dog when the plans were approved.
Most everyone who regularly travels on Hillsborough would grant it needed something. But what we have ended up with is so flawed one could be excused for thinking there may be something behind the scenes, like perhaps North Carolina State University jumping like a forest fire across Hillsborough, poised to trudge north and swallow an entire neighborhood in its path. What, you didn’t know about your new neighbor? Silly mortal. Keeping in line with standard city “policies” exemplified by the “secret” Central Prison hospital/psych ward surprise for Boylan Heights, NCSU has plans for a 6-story building to be situated where successful small businesses between Enterprise and Maiden Lane have managed to survive for decades. That’s right, sub level parking, storefront retail, conference and condos, Glenwood South with an academic flavuh. But that’s off in the mists of the future.
The here and now is that Hillsborough has become a perfect specimen of the sort of pricey urban fads Raleigh fails at every generation, a succession of ill conceived projects serving mostly to enrich the unusual suspects, your consultants, planners, contractors, suppliers, at the expense of you’n me. The crystal ball sees a car flying through the project maiming or killing a nonmotorista, pedestrian or bicyclist, because the designer(s) [a] didn’t do their homework, or vis-a-vis the above, [b] did, the plan being to make conditions so inhospitable many will simply avoid it. The primary failure mode stems from ignoring roundabout geometry the rest of the world seems to have worked out, the plan seeming to be to get the cars through as fast as possible and count on evolution to weed out the non drivers, especially the blind and mobility challenged. Those naughty European socialist roundabout designers understand that civilized transportation includes more than automobiles (Heretics! KILL THEM!), and accordingly force automobiles to slow in congested areas with tight approach-arm curves up to right-angle entry where those lanes intersect roundabout circulatory paths, similar to the accompanying visual aide. The jackhammers mentioned will be employed within ten years to adjust the generous approach lane radii, which, while conforming to US Department of Transportation models designed to facilitate auto capacity, at the same time present serious risks to the pedestrians and bicycles forming a sizable percentage of university traffic.
None of this is a mystery; the details are available to a smart sixth grader online. All available data and literature clearly and consistently are in concordance. For instance “Bicycles (a major component of education traffic) do not receive the same safety benefits from utilizing roundabouts,” reads a Florida Department of Transportation Summary of Final Report, WPI# 0510824, a finding echoed in papers from Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Florida paper goes on to state that “bicycle accident rates at roundabout are 15 times higher than those of cars.” Further, a Belgian paper states that “roundabouts that are replacing signal-controlled intersections seem to have a worse evolution” as regards crashes.
Then, assuming you’ve made it through the high speed roundabout, there are the varying widths of Hillsborough, bottlenecks that give cars another opportunity to sideswipe you and your bike. There are no plans for signage stressing the necessary practice of kamikaze abandonment of right side bike lanes for the lane center. If I decide to toy with the disaster, I’m using the brick median if only to see what happens.
If you wish to see the project at its pedestrian worst, with an “eye” perhaps for the visually impaired from the nearby Governor Morehead School, check out the “ramp” (for that is what it really is) connecting the Oberlin connector to Hillsborough west. Cars enter through a blind curve followed by a gentle rise and fall midway, both obscuring all but the head of the misbegotten footbound loser trying to cross from the right as hotheaded motorists itching to goose it are glancing left to see if the coast is clear.
The most withering contempt is for the dickweed who approved for the Oberlin roundabout an enclosing concrete ring, a de-facto sidewalk, of polished concrete. Anyone who has encountered this stuff in wet or low traction condition knows what this means. The good news is the maimed won’t have far to crawl to secure capable legal representation. Gus Gusler, owner of the nearby Player’s Retreat, will discuss your lawsuit over a beer as you wait for the ambulance.


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