Cary committee split on ‘road diet’ for Walnut Street

aspecht@newsobserver.comDecember 6, 2013 

Cars pass through the intersection of Walnut Street and Cary Towne in October. The town might reduce travel lanes on the street and add a median.

JILL KNIGHT — jhknight@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Plans to upgrade Walnut Street will go before the Town Council without a recommendation from Cary’s operations committee.

Walnut Street is badly worn, and the town plans to improve it using funds from the $80 million bond referendum passed by voters. But three Cary council members briefed on the project Thursday were split between two options for upgrading the road.

The town could give Walnut Street a “road diet” by reducing the road to one lane in each direction and adding bike lanes and a median.

The other option is to repave the road under its current traffic pattern, which includes two lanes in each direction and a middle turn lane.

Some Walnut Street residents prefer repaving the road as it is because a median would restrict them from turning left into and out of their properties.

But Cary staff recommend the road diet because Walnut Street leads into downtown. Town leaders have placed high priority on making its downtown more appealing.

Adding a median and bike lanes would also be less expensive than repaving the road, according to Laura Cove, director of facilities design and transportation services.

To repave the road, construction crews would have to excavate it as much as 10 inches below the surface because it’s in such poor condition, Cove said.

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said she was leaning toward the road diet, while fellow council members Lori Bush and Don Frantz said they favored repaving Walnut Street under its current pattern.

Bush and Frantz said they once favored the road diet, but their opinions had changed since hearing from Walnut Street residents.

“I was really struggling with the value of improving downtown,” Bush said. “If it doesn’t make any of the people that live downtown happy, why are we doing it?”

Frantz, who lives just off Walnut Street, said neighbors ask him about the median possibility nearly every day.

“It’s aesthetics versus function,” Frantz said. “There are quite a few people that would like this. They don’t live on Walnut Street.”

Robinson, meanwhile, said she thought putting a median on Walnut Street might slow traffic and make the road safer.

She recalled Cary residents had similar objections when the town considered putting a median on the southwest portion of Maynard Road.

The council chose not to build a median on that road – a decision Robinson said she has “never stopped regretting” because of the increased traffic and speeding.

“There are major benefits to the median,” she said.

The committee’s discussion was preceded by comments from Cary Fire Chief Allan Cain and Sid Cowler, a resident who submitted a petition with 168 signatures opposing the road-diet option.

Cain said a median would add 40 seconds to emergency response times – not enough to be considered an added risk to the public. His department has no problem with either option, he said.

Cowler said residents wouldn’t mind a bike lane, but that the median would be inconvenient.

“Please don’t force this on people who will be most affected,” he said.

The Town Council is expected to discuss the issue at its meeting on Dec. 19.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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