There have been many trail renovations and additional bicycle lanes proposed this year in Durham, North Carolina, but the one that walkers, runners, and bicyclists seem to be most eagerly anticipating is the proposed Durham Beltline.
As proposed, it will be a collection of micro-parks connected by a greenway running from the Durham Amtrak Station downtown to Avondale Drive using the existing abandoned rail line that was once owned by Norfolk Southern.
by: Josh Factor
Before construction on this grand project can officially break ground, however, the Durham City Council Monday must approve and adopt the master plan.
The City of Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Dale McKeel, appeared before the City Council on Monday, August 6th, to discuss the plan.
The new trail is set to run for about 1.75 miles. The Durham Beltline Trail, as proposed, will also connect to the American Tobacco Trail, as well as the Ellerbe Creek Trail, and even, it is imagined, one day, the Durham Light Rail station.
The existing rail line was first constructed in the 1890’s and was used to connect many of the old warehouses in downtown Durham. Jackie Turner, a consultant on the project with Stewart, said the design team drew inspiration from other urban trails throughout the country. She noted project managers have gathered feedback from the Durham community and used this information to shape their proposal.
The goal of this project is to prompt more people to enjoy the great outdoors, as well as to encourage more people to commute to work via walking, biking, or easy connections to the bus line. Safety measures such as trail lighting and pedestrian connections will be installed at all trail intersections. The proposed project will integrate a boardwalk overlooking the newly converted wetlands at the demolished Rice Diet Center, aka the South Ellerbe stormwater restoration project.
The plan also proposes art work installed along the trail.
The Durham Beltline Trail project, as proposed, is projected to cost a total of approximately $15.1 million. During the August 6th meeting the City Council voted to accept $8.4 in federal funding support for the project.
There were a number of residents who came to express their opinions on this issue, most of them in favor of the proposal.
However, there were some concerns about the Durham Beltline project and gentrification. Will it cause housing prices alongside the proposed route to skyrocket?
Some speakers were also concerned that amenities being planned for the trail are nonessential, causing the overall project to be more expensive than necessary.
Another speaker claimed that the City of Durham didn’t do a sufficient job of gathering input from the community and urged the council to put the project on pause until sufficient community feedback is acquired.
Some speakers argued that the money should be invested in the education system. (Durham Public Schools budget is not set by the City Council.)
Others aired their concerns that the trail may displace long-time, lower income, and elderly residents.
Of course, every step in the planning process costs additional dollars on the front end before construction overruns even begin.
Mayor Steve Schewel came out strongly in favor of the Durham Beltline proposal. He noted with a tone of dismay that the state wide transportation system heavily favors roads over trails (and thus cars over bikes and pedestrians, with all the attendant environmental impacts).
In the end, the City Council passed a motion 6 to 1 which allots the Durham Beltline project managers 90 days to tweak their existing proposal and resubmit a more detailed plan with a racial equity component.
The City of Durham is moving forward with acquiring the land from the current stewards, the Conservation Fund.
If all goes according to schedule, the Durham Beltline is to be completed in 2020.
To learn more about the new Durham Beltline and to find out how you can become involved in the shaping of the city’s newest urban trail, you can visit the Durham Beltline website and follow the City’s Twitter account.
Only by attaining maximum community engagement can we ensure that this will be a trail for everybody.