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Bike boulevards bring hope to Durham cyclists

In a rare win for Durham’s cycling community, the city transportation department will roll out two long-awaited projects in the coming months. Eight new miles of bike lanes will be installed around the Bull City this summer, following the creation of neighborhood bike routes this spring. The routes, known as bike boulevards, will give cyclists travel priority on select Durham roads. 

Bike boulevards are slow, low-traffic streets with signs and pavement markings to help cyclists navigate more safely. Speed management measures like traffic circles will be built to discourage car traffic. 

With input from community members and advocacy groups like Durham Bicycle Boulevards, the transportation department picked routes for the first phase of the project in 2018. After years of planning, seven miles of bike boulevards will be marked within a 1.5-mile radius of downtown Durham this spring, including portions of Watts Street, Arnette Avenue, and Glendale Avenue. Bike symbols with arrows will be painted along the routes every few blocks. A flier for the project says that major intersections will also be improved, but does not specify how. 

Map of neighborhood bike boulevards (shown in dark blue), courtesy of the City of Durham.

Erin Convery, 32, transportation planning manager for the City of Durham, says more bicycle boulevards will follow. “The idea was to start with a somewhat connected network in the center of Durham that tied into some of our other, existing bike facilities” and expand the network outward in later phases of the project, she said. The department has federal funding to expand the project beyond downtown Durham, and aims to begin planning later this year.

Convery says that the transportation department is “trying to build out a safer, more connected bicycling network and provide options that are comfortable for people of all ages and abilities.” 

While Durham is years away from a citywide cycling network, the transportation department plans to install more bike safety measures in the coming months. In addition to the neighborhood bike routes and new bike lanes, the department will improve protection for existing bike lanes on some of the city’s busiest streets. 

John Tallmadge, executive director of Bike Durham, a bicycle advocacy organization, thinks the bike route project pedals Durham closer to a safer future for cyclists. 

“We’re supportive of neighborhood bike routes as a small component of building out a citywide, protected bicycle network,” Tallmadge, 53, told The 9th Street Journal. “We’re happy this is being done, but it shouldn’t end here.” 

Without comprehensive safety measures for cyclists, Durham has seen many bike-related accidents in recent years. Tallmadge says that the speed of vehicles and a lack of protection for cyclists are some of the most pressing concerns.

For now, Convery says, “the neighborhood bike routes provide an option for folks who maybe aren’t comfortable biking on some of the more major roadways.”

Tallmadge hopes the city will not stop there.

“You need physically protected bicycle lanes, you need slow streets, and you need separated trails, all working together to create a network throughout the city so that anybody, at any skill level, at all different ages, can get where they want on their bikes,” Tallmadge said.

“The city is slowly moving in that direction,” he said. “But we want them to move much, much faster.”

Above: Durham bicyclists turned out recently to rally for safer cycling conditions. Photo by Chase Pellegrini de Paur — The 9th Street Journal