Why The Person and Blount Street Corridor Study is Important for Mordecai

posted Oct 21, 2012, 11:28 AM by Philip Bernard   [ updated Oct 21, 2012, 12:00 PM ]

With the beginning of the City of Raleigh’s new 30 Year Comprehensive Plan, numerous corridor studies have been proposed and conducted for Raleigh’s outdated city streets which everyone will agree need some major improvements. These studies have been an excellent way to bring together City staff, neighborhoods, and CAC’s to discuss how these crucial corridors flow through and serve our residents and businesses,  and how they can be brought up to date and into the 21st century. The Person and Blount Street Corridor study which includes Wake Forest Road through Mordecai will be Mordecai residents' chance to be heard and participate in one of the most important planning events in recent history.

The Capital Boulevard Study was the first study to take place with over two-hundred citizens crowding into the showroom of Bobby Murray Chevrolet to give their input and vision of how this major expressway, in the heart of downtown Raleigh, should be redesigned to become the great gateway it could be. New Bern Avenue, Blue Ridge Road, and Six Forks all followed. And now our turn has come with the officail kick-off of the study this coming Monday, October 22, 6:30pm at the AIA Building on Peace Street.  Please plan to attend - - your help and support are crucial.
It Has Been a Long Road

Long before the new comprehensive plan and corridor studies were begun, the Mordecai CAC and traffic committee have been engaging Raleigh City Council and City staff in an ongoing dialogue regarding streetscape changes that are needed in our area particularly on Wake Forest Road and in the struggling Person Street business district.

One can readily admit that Wake Forest Road has become a joke as it cuts our quaint Mordecai neighborhood in half with residents on both sides fearful to cross it. Crosswlks are either non-existent or poorly marked. With a stark, quarter mile straight-a-way  mid-section uninterrupted by traffic lights or designated turn lanes, it quickly becomes evident that Wake Forest Road was not built for our neighborhood but  for neighborhoods in North Raleigh who race through our midst for their morning and afternoon commutes to and from downtown. For the rest of the day the street is mostly an asphalt ghost town with no opportunities for on street parking and little pedestrian or bicycle traffic.

In the 1980’s when Wake Forest was widened to its current width, it was originally planned to be even wider.  But front yards along the road would have been sacrificed  more than they have been, so the the western sidewalk and the middle turn lane were rejected by residents in favor of a narrower corridor.

As Wake Forest Road heads south and splits into the one way pair of Person and Blount Streets, a new set of challenges arise for the Person Street business district.  Business and property owners along Person Street rightly complain that the speeding, one-way traffic is bad for business.  City staff will readily admit that their hands are tied as the road is under the jurisdiction of the NCDOT and only minor changes  have been allowed.  Nicole Kennedy of Nicole’s Studio on the corner of Person and Franklin Streets has witnessed many "hair-raising" traffic incidents where cars rush to beat the red light at Franklin Street.  And as recent as this week, an effort was made to insure that the parking regulations are enforced on Person Street that crack down on time limits.
Neighborhood Action up to Now 

In the past ten years, the Mordecai CAC has sponsored many attempts to correct these problems. In 2002, the Mordecai CAC created a traffic committee to specifically address the traffic problems in our area.  In 2004, the Traffic Committee presented a list of Traffic concerns to lead traffic engineer Eric Lamb in Public works which primarily addressed Wake Forest Road.  Eric eloquently addressed our concerns in a well thought out presentation to the CAC which early on presented many workable solutions to problems with Wake Forest Road.  In 2007, representatives from our CAC petitioned City Council to make changes to Person Street in the business district such as diagonal parking and changing the street to two-way.   

As a result of this petition, a list of short term traffic solutions was addressed but many of the major concerns were left untended.  Still not satisfied, in late 2007 neighborhood residents met with Council member-at-large Russ Stephenson and then new Planning Director Mitchell Silver at Nicole’s Studio where Silver agreed to personally conduct a planning charrette for the Person Street business district. The charrette was held at Peace College in April 2008 and many of the ideas discussed and presented there now form the basis of many of the current solutions proposed for the Person Street business district and streetscape.

With all the proposed changes in place, the lists of concerns acknowledged, and the charrette of ideas filed away there was still not an adequate framework in which to implement a complete corridor plan until the corridor study list was announced in early 2009. And yet after all our planning, Person and Blount Streets along with Wake Forest Road corridor was not even on the list! Thanks again to Councilman Stephenson it was added  and then later added to the bond referendum for funding to hire outside consultants in fall of 2010.
The Road Ahead
While waiting for the study to begin, the Person Street Partnership was formed by our CAC to continually advocate for and generate momentum in the business district by bringing together the business and property owners, City Council and staff, and the stakeholders in the area such as William Peace University and the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood.  With Piebird opening as the district's first full service restaurant,  Rapid Fitness moving into the former Super 10 building, and the Person Street Plaza scheduled for renovation, the area is more ready than ever for a new streetscape plan as additional retail shops and restaurants move into the area.   
More importantly, as the NCDOT begins to embrace the national Complete Streets Initiative, their traffic engineers and designers are beginning to design roads with the idea that pedestrians and bicyclists are just as important as motorists.  So as the corridor study moves forward, the hope is that these new design practices can be integrated into Wake Forest Road and Person Street for calmer streets that are more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The kick-off meeting will be Mordecai's chance to summarize all the ideas and initatives up to now and present them to AECOM, the professional planning consultants who have been hired to conduct the study. They will wlecome your comments whether you live on or off Wake Forest Road, own property or a buiness on North person Street, walk or bicyle, or are simply interested in improving life in downtown Raleigh.  Once the study is complete, the Mordecai CAC and the Person Street Partnership will continue to work with City Council and staff to see that the proposed changes are funded and implemented.