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Cyclists worry that new Durham plan is just paint

The city of Durham is planning 10 miles of new bike lanes, but some cyclists are concerned the city is simply painting new lines and not providing them with enough protection.

“More bike lanes are going to incentivize new bikers, which is great, but many of them won’t be prepared for conflict zones,” said Landis Masnor, chair of Bike Durham, at a public meeting Saturday.

On posters at the meeting, Post-it notes were used to mark areas where cyclists want more protection.

Bike Durham is an advocacy group for affordable transportation and bicycle safety. The group sent several representatives to the meeting, which sought input on the proposed bike lanes.

“Our goal with this project is to fill out gaps in the network,” said Bryan Poole, a bicycle and pedestrian transportation planner for the city. “We’re expecting bike advocates to come, look at our plans and tell us their personal concerns.”

Many cyclists said painted lines aren’t enough and that they were worried about the lack of physical barriers such as plants or poles separating them from cars. But Chris Allen, an engineer with Alta Planning & Design, a city consultant, said the funding for this particular project is limited to painting bike lanes.

“We’re using peoples’ input to decide where to cut back on street parking, to allow for a buffered bike lane and more space for bikers,” he said. “But we’re limited to the width of existing lanes.”

Cyclists at the meeting kept pointing out areas where they wanted some kind of divider to separate them from cars.

Masnor pointed out one stretch of road on Stadium Drive just south of Kirkwood Drive that forces bikers from their own lane onto a “sharrow,” a marking on the street that signals bikers and cars can share the lane.

“So you get used to biking protected in your own lane, and then suddenly it’s gone and you’re sharing the road with cars,” he said. “It’s incredibly dangerous.”

Studies have found that sharrows don’t necessarily reduce crashes, despite still being a popular and affordable choice for cities looking to improve their infrastructure.

“More people are riding bikes in Durham. We need to be asking, is bad infrastructure going to cost people’s lives?” said David Bradway, a devoted cyclist and member of Bike Durham.

Bradway bikes daily from his home to Duke University’s campus with his daughter, and he is concerned about how well Duke and the city of Durham address bikers’ safety.

City officials say they are trying. Last year, the City Council adopted the Vision Zero Durham Resolution, a “commitment to eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries on Durham roadways.”

If you’re perplexed by the Durham alerts, reply YES to confirm

A storm is brewing, threatening disaster. Your phone buzzes with an urgent message from Alert Durham warning you of chaos that lies ahead. But it closes with an odd request:

“Reply with YES to confirm receipt.”

Seriously, Alert Durham? There’s no time to chat while preparing for an apparent apocalypse! Why does someone need to reply?

When you get a text message from Alert Durham, do you really need to reply?

The same thing happens with the email alert. “This is an important message from Alert Durham!” the message says. “Please click here to acknowledge receipt of this message.

Alert Durham is a service of the city-county emergency office that provides text messages, emails and phone calls that warn about dangers such as flash floods, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.

But why is it so nosey? Why does Durham need to know if people received the message? And do they ever answer?

According to Jim Groves, director of Durham’s Emergency Management Center, “the vast majority of folks don’t respond.”

Groves explained that the purpose of these messages is so that the notification system knows not to contact your other devices once you’ve confirmed the receipt of one. So if you’ve signed up for Alert Durham texts, emails, and calls, the email and call will be blocked if you reply “Yes” to the text first.

And don’t worry if you’ve replied with wisecracks. Groves assured The 9th Street Journal that the only texts Alert Durham processes are ones with the word “Yes,” so if you’ve been sending in longing messages about how emotionally exhausted you are from the exchange, Alert Durham has not been listening.

Everbridge, the critical event managing platform that provides alert systems to Durham as well as several counties in the research triangle, has a vast network of call centers that make it reliable even throughout tough weather.

The company began operations in 2002, in the wake of 9/11, with the mission of notifying people of critical information throughout a disaster. Its alert system operates globally, and served a crucial role in emergency relief efforts throughout Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombings.

Even though relatively few people click to confirm or text YES to reply, those that do avoid getting duplicate messages. And during the storms prompted by Florence last weekend, Groves said, “the system worked flawlessly.”

Florence power outage? You can still expect to have safe running water

Even if power is out, Durham residents can expect to have their water running throughout Hurricane Florence and its aftermath, Durham city manager Bo Ferguson said.

“If water is coming out of the tap, which it should be, it is safe,” Ferguson said at a press conference Tuesday on Durham’s response to the storm.

Ferguson said that Durham’s city water system is designed to operate during and after a storm, with backup power for water treatment facilities. The only problem Ferguson said that could arise would be a water main break, which can also happen outside of extreme weather. But there is no reason to believe there will be any abnormal effect on the water supply from the hurricane or a water main break.

Jim Groves, Durham Emergency Management Director and Fire Marshal, said messages would be sent Wednesday to those that need to leave their homes due to flood risk.

Flooded streets may be more of a problem. With 10 to 12 inches of rain expected, Jim Groves, Durham Emergency Management Director and Fire Marshal, has identified areas that previously flooded where people were forced to move out of their residences, roads were closed or vehicles were damaged. Starting Wednesday, messages will be sent to residents in those areas notifying them to leave and ensure their vehicles are safe.

Evacuation shelters for those who do not feel safe in their homes will open at the Bahama Ruritan Club at noon Wednesday and at Hillside High School Wednesday at 6 p.m., Groves said. He warned that once sustained winds hit 40 mph or greater or gusts at 58 mph, emergency responders may not be responding.

“Please be accountable for your own safety, the safety of your family, of your relatives, of your pets. Please do not depend on us for your safety,” Groves said, adding that responders may not be able to respond to calls.

Strong winds from Florence are expected to begin affecting the Carolinas Thursday, and the National Hurricane Center predicts that flooding is likely in the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic states through early next week.

Earlier Tuesday, both Durham City and Durham County signed declarations of emergency, Groves said. The declarations allow both municipalities to collect state and federal funding and loosen regulations for shelters to allow more capacity, Groves said.

At meeting on monuments, ‘passionate conversation…but keep it civil’

At the Rougemont Ruritan Club on the outskirts of northern Durham County, about forty people gathered in a small, warm cabin to talk about race and statues.

It was the sixth meeting of the Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials, this time in a location far from the sterile government buildings of downtown Durham.

The committee, which completed its membership in May of this year, has been holding a series of meetings in order to engage the community in a meaningful discussion about the Confederate statue that was toppled outside the old courthouse in August 2017 and how to deal with the other memorials around the city and county.

“We remind you that this meeting is not about the rights or wrongs of how the statue came down,” committee co-chair Charmaine McKissick-Melton told the crowd. “We expect passionate conversation but ask that you also keep it civil.”

Since this meeting did not take place in the city council chambers, attendees were split into four groups, and a volunteer facilitator guided each group through a series of three questions.

At the Rougemont Ruritan Club, a group of meeting attendees discuss the future of the toppled confederate monument.

The first one read, “What community values should be represented, recognized, and celebrated in our public memorials, markers, and monuments?”

Almost immediately, one group erupted into a debate about the legality of toppling down the statue, with several people insisting that “lawlessness” was rampant. The facilitators patiently reminded the group of the activity at hand, and, after some discord, managed to get everyone to participate.

Robin Kirk, the other committee co-chair, explained to The 9th Street Journal that discussion-style meetings are always more boisterous than public forums because they require attendees to collaborate and listen closely to each other’s points of view.

“People arrive with lots of anger and they just want to stand and say what they want, but in this type of meeting you have to actually listen to other points of view, and people don’t like it,” she said. “The truth is, it barely works. But then you have some really great moments.”

The second discussion question seemed to appeal more to attendees: “What memorials or historic markers do you think are missing from our community? What stories, people, places, or events could be publicly recognized?”

In one group, people agreed that laborers, particularly tobacco workers, were underrepresented in monuments and markers that recount the region’s history. One of the table’s facilitators, Eric Marsh, mentioned how people used to be able to smell tobacco in Durham’s air, and many nodded in what was a rare moment of agreement.

“It’s important to let people just get it all out, even if they have to agree to disagree,” Marsh told the Journal. “And the media will have you thinking it’s blacks against whites, but plenty of white people stand up for minorities.” He nodded towards an elderly white gentleman who’d spoken up passionately for minority groups’ rights earlier in the conversation.

“It’s not blacks against whites, its Durhamites against Durhamites,” he said.

In an effort to hear from as many of those Durhamites as possible, committee meetings have been held all over different parts of the city. The next meeting on Sept. 13 will take place at the American Underground in order to reach a younger demographic.

In addition to engaging the community in discussion, the committee has been charged with “making recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners regarding disposition of the toppled Confederate statue.” As such, the last discussion question was “Considering that there are legal constraints on altering any existing objects of public remembrance, what do you think could be done with the existing statue and monument that reflects our shared values?”

A large group wanted to restore the statue to its original state. Some said to leave it where it was now, in a warehouse undisclosed to the public.

One woman suggested putting it in a museum, while an even more creative attendee suggested to “decide on a new monument and melt the old one in order to make it.” Someone made a comment about how the monument had been erected to celebrate white supremacy, and another promptly called him a liar and a communist.

Do women and people of color get a fair share of government contracts?

Durham is a diverse city where black residents account for 37 percent of the population and people of Hispanic origin represent 13 percent. But officials are concerned the groups do not get a similar share of city contracts.

“I continue to be floored by how many of the businesses we’re working with have zero people of color,” Councilmember DeDreana Freeman said at a City Council meeting last week. “It’s really disturbing.”

The Council signed off on five deals with contractors that will cost almost $2.2 million. Only two of those deals met goals for contracting with minority and women-owned businesses. For the other three projects, goals for minority and women-owned business participation were not set.

City officials say they’ve been aware of the challenge for years. In 2013, the city commissioned a study to analyze the disparity in government contracting practices.

The study found that over a five-year period, Durham spent $206.1 million, but only $5.5 million — or less than 3 percent — was awarded to minority and women-owned firms.

The city established goals for minority and women business participation using the findings of the study. Construction contractors, for instance, should include minority-owned businesses in 11 percent and women-owned businesses in 7 percent of a project.

The Equal Business Opportunity Program requires contractors to “make good faith efforts” to meet these targets. However, some contracts are not assigned goals because there are no minority or women-owned firms available.

“If [contractors] can’t meet the goals … they have to say why,” Mayor Steve Schewel said. “And the reason usually is there are no women or minority-owned businesses that have the ability to do that certain skill.”

At the meeting, Schewel said that the city can focus on developing minority and women businesses so that they become eligible to win government contracts.

“That is a bigger societal problem we’ve got to solve in our education system,” Schewel said. “We also need to be thinking as a city about how we’re going to help some of our folks who do have technical skills but don’t have business experience.”

Earlier in the meeting, Councilmember Mark-Anthony Middleton suggested postponing the scheduled vote to appoint twelve people to the newly established Racial Equity Task Force. His reasoning was that only one of the twelve appointees is an African-American man.

“For a racial equity task force in a southern American city where nine African-American males applied — for it to be just one African-American male on the task force, I think optically, is a shortcoming on our part.”

Freeman and Councilmember Vernetta Alston echoed the concerns.

Now, the appointments will be reconsidered at the Council’s Sept. 20 work session.

Middleton ended his remarks by reminding his fellow councilmembers that until the task force is functional, people of color in Durham still have a voice.

“There is a working group in our city that should be mindful of racial equity issues: us.”