Imagine long, glass-encased bus stations in the median of New Bern Avenue, with special bays for buses to stop while passengers board and disembark.
That's one of the possibilities in a long-term plan to remodel New Bern Avenue, an aging corridor that the city has targeted for modern amenities.
After months of community workshops and outreach with residents and business owners, Raleigh city planners are drawing up a makeover that will bring wider sidewalks, on-street parking and, potentially, a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor for a busy stretch between downtown and WakeMed.
Senior planner Martin Stankus showed off some futuristic-looking visuals Monday night at a meeting of the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.
The visuals showed special lanes where buses could park, separated from regular travel lanes, while they move up and down New Bern Avenue.
This is what's known as bus rapid transit, a concept that has gained popularity in urban corridors around the country. However, the city is still studying a different possibility: a streetcar line that would run down the center of the road, making stops at stations in the median.
A streetcar would cost more than a bus rapid-transit corridor. But at Monday's bicycle and pedestrian commission meeting, some members said the streetcar would be a more attractive option.
Transit advocate Sig Hutchinson said a streetcar has more "sex appeal" than buses, and would be more effective in attracting riders.
With the right mix of changes, planners hope to turn New Bern Avenue into a gateway that can serve as a model for urban street design.
There's talk of a 60-foot "super transit strip" with a sidewalk, bike path and gravel jogging path on the south side of the corridor.
The one-way portions of New Bern Avenue and Edenton Street could be converted to two-way traffic between St. Augustine's College and downtown - allowing views of downtown for travelers approaching from the east. This change would require further study - separate from the New Bern Avenue corridor project.
"We've had a lot of inquiries over the years about trying to restore that vista for drivers coming into the city," said Eric Lamb, the city's transportation planning manager.
Executives at WakeMed have voiced support for the New Bern Avenue improvement project, saying a more attractive corridor could bring more stores, hotels and restaurants to serve hospital visitors and employees. WakeMed wants to brand the area around its campus as Raleigh's medical district.