The white plastic tables in the basement of Refiner’s Fire Community Church remain mostly empty on this Wednesday night, giving the Durham Transportation Department open house the feel of a high school prom. Soft jazz from the congregation’s nearby choir practice wafts in and plays into the flirtatious energy. Durham is dancing with change: potentially re-striping lanes along East Main Street, from Elizabeth to Alston.
Spectrum News shows up for the occasion, which gives the room a sense of importance. A videographer captures the action at the sign-in table as people start to trickle in.
Across the room, to the subtle melody of a hidden chorus, people discuss where the painted lines should go on Main Street. The Transportation Department has set up two folding tables with mirroring displays of the proposed projects. They show a birds-eye view of the road with the potential changes. One option provides parking on the north side and a buffer to protect cyclists in the westbound bike lane. The other offers parking on the south side and protects eastbound bikers.
Durhamites in business casual stand around them, looking puzzled and clicking their city-issued pens contemplatively. At one table, a few landlords and developers from the area chat up transportation representative Ellen Beckmann about unmarked loading zones. At the other, cycling safety carries the conversation.
Bike Durham board member James Nishimuta is here to represent the cause. He decided to get involved after moving here from San Francisco and noticing the “lack of bike infrastructure.”
Bike Durham is advocating protective measures, such as four-foot lanes with protective buffers on both sides. But Nishimuta, helmet in hand, says the group is often frustrated with the city’s tired response, “That’s not what we do.”
The distant vocals start to fade as the meeting comes to a close. The project blueprints, pristine and promising at the start of the evening, have been marked up. Red pens lay strewn across the table, exhausted from the night and all the mansplaining. Beckmann says that the evening was a success, but the department has plans for further outreach. This is only the beginning.
In photo above, open house attendees appear engaged as Transportation Department representatives explain where paint will dry. | Photo by Carmela Gualiano, The 9th Street Journal