I moved to Durham in 1984 and settled in an office in Downtown Durham in what was then the CCB building but is now the 21C Hotel. In the intervening years I’ve had several other offices in buildings around downtown. I was on the founding board of Downtown Durham Inc. and for at least 20 years I have been Downtown most Mondays for a Rotary Club meeting. For six months I was the listing agent for a condo development on Mangum Street and had to provide directions to the property, often referencing the Loop.
So, I should be familiar with Downtown. Yet, to this day, I still get confused trying to negotiate the Downtown Loop. I know that there is a small park somewhere right inside the Loop that is called the Rotary Park. But I have never knowingly laid eyes on it, much less visited it.
Until this Monday I thought that this was the biggest problem with the Loop today. The event that changed my mind was one of those Rotary meetings. A panel was assembled and led by Matt Gladdeck of DDI which presented a program about proposals to improve the loop. Joining him on the panel were developer Bob Chapman and planner Wesley Parham from the City’s Transportation Department.
The Loop was an idea born in the 1960s as a way to encourage pedestrian traffic and create way for through traffic to loop around Downtown quickly. It did its job all too well and became a noose around central downtown. It is now almost universally considered a huge mistake. In fairness, it’s designers also had no way of anticipating the revival that Durham has had in the last 15 years or so.
What I learned from the panel discussion is that not only does the loop confuse the hell out of even long term Durham residents, it is also hindering future development. It should be noted that studies have been done before on what to do with the Loop but most solutions were deemed too expensive until Downtown started blossoming. One thing that was accomplished was to take one lane of the southern side of the loop and turn it into on street parking for the growing number of visitors and residents downtown.
For additional information, Mr. Chapman suggested a website appropriately called FixTheLoop.org which describes the results from charrettes and other efforts to develop a consensus around this.
The basic solutions that this recommends would cost something on the order of $15 million. The version that solves the basic problems and adds amenities much like the cityscape project completed several years ago would be around $35 million. The city would fund this and it would take cooperation among a number of entities including the state, since the Loop itself is a state road. Basically it would reestablish the original grid pattern of two way streets.
The report is colorful and useful in visualizing this. My perspective as a real estate broker is that the implementation of this is necessary for the ongoing development of Durham as a place where people want to move and raise their families, work and retire. It also illustrates how things get done in Durham. The trio that made the presentation represented the independent organization DDI, a private developer and a government official…in other words, a lot of citizen participation. Go Durham!