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City plans road diet for stretch of Hillsborough Street

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Get ready for more changes on Hillsborough Street, this time on a stretch between Morgan Street and Oberlin Road just west of downtown Raleigh.

This section will receive a road diet, which is planning-speak for measures intended to reduce speed and improve safety conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.

Currently, the section has two travel lanes in each direction as well as a center turn lane. The result is a wide expanse of asphalt that can be difficult for pedestrians to cross.

Why is this a problem? This stretch of Hillsborough Street is home to rows of homes, apartments and offices, as well as a YMCA branch that is attracting big crowds from surrounding neighborhoods.

"We definitely have a pedestrian issue," city planner Jennifer Baldwin told the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission at a meeting Monday night.

City transportation planners say they are considering several scenarios, but this much is clear: The number of travel lanes will likely be reduced, possibly to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane in between.

The city would also like to add on-street parking and bike lanes, but the exact layout of these additions has not been determined. It's possible that parking could be added on both sides of the street, though early indications are that it makes more sense on the south side closest to the YMCA.

At an open house last week to discuss options, neighbors voiced support for on-street parking, said Eric Lamb, the city's transportation planning manager.

Bike lanes are also in the mix. One concept calls for a type of bike lane known as a cycle track, which is a pair of lanes separated from car traffic by special striping. One bike lane is for eastbound travelers while the other is for westbound.

The impetus for the project is a road resurfacing scheduled for next year. It makes sense to do all the work at the same time, city officials say.

Hillsborough Street carries more traffic than streets typically targeted for road diets. The stretch from Oberlin to Morgan draws 17,000 to 18,000 cars per day. Road diets are usually done on streets with traffic volumes in the 12,000 to 14,000 range.

But Raleigh has stepped up its efforts in recent years to improve safety for walking and biking. This spring, the city was named a bicycle-friendly community by the nation's top cycling advocacy group, a distinction that puts Raleigh on a list that already includes Durham and Chapel Hill.

The bicycle and pedestrian group will delve further into the options in January before making a recommendation to the City Council. For questions, email Baldwin at jennifer.baldwin@raleighnc.gov.

The work represents another phase of renovations along Hillsborough Street, which received a $12 million overhaul last year on the section near N.C. State University.

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