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The people, news and ideas that shape NC State University

Roundabout Route

By D'Lyn Ford

This fall, orange barrels, construction barriers and heavy equipment are delaying traffic on historic Hillsborough Street from the base of the Belltower to the D.H. Hill Library.

When the dust settles on the $9.2 million city of Raleigh project in September 2010, project designers hope that traffic on Hillsborough will still be slower – although more free flowing – and safer for pedestrians and drivers alike, following the installation of two new roundabouts.

laying brick sidewalk
New brick sidewalks, lighting and pedestrian signals are being added. 

“I have heard people liken going down Hillsborough Street to a video game,” says Michael Harwood, university architect. “You’re constantly changing lanes and speeds to anticipate when someone’s going to stop or turn left, or the light is going to change. People seem to build up momentum and they don’t want to stop.”

Sometimes drivers don’t stop in time. Nearly 70 traffic accidents took place last year on the stretch of Hillsborough that’s now under construction, from Oberlin Road west to Gardner Street. State Department of Transportation statistics show that drivers struck four pedestrians and two cyclists. Fortunately, none of the eight injuries reported in 2008 was serious.

On the Way

On the NC State side of the street, the first phase of Hillsborough’s transformation to a two-lane street with a center median and parking on both sides is well under way.

“The goal is to turn Hillsborough Street from a barrier into a bridge to the community,” Harwood says.

A dual-lane roundabout, sometimes called a traffic circle, will replace the signal at Hillsborough and Pullen Road. Sidewalks will bulb out at the intersections and in the middle of the blocks, where pedestrian signals will be installed for easier crossing, along with LED street and pedestrian lighting.

Construction crews are installing underground sewer and water lines and utility ducts. Slogging along 125 feet at a time, they’ve unearthed artifacts from Raleigh’s past: pipes and sidewalks that don’t appear on modern maps, says contractor Jamal Mention.

Pullen Road will be extended where it crosses a current parking lot behind Red Hot & Blue, Player’s Retreat and Sam & Bill’s. New sidewalks and brick pavers at the base of the Belltower will improve the look of the campus gateway.

In January 2010, work will move to the opposite side of Hillsborough, home to 200 neighborhood businesses that have struggled with the seasonal loss of student business, construction detours and a lingering recession.

“We took on the hardest part of the street first,” says George Chapman, president of the Hillsborough Street Partnership.“It will be uncomfortable while it’s going on, even painful. We’ll work hard to see the businesses that start out here stay here.”

Sidewalks and streetscapes will get a facelift to brighten the area’s appeal as a dining and shopping destination. The city hopes to duplicate the successful revitalization of districts like Glenwood South, Chapman says. A business improvement district with authority to raise money has been formed.

To wrap up the second phase, crews will build the eastern half of the second roundabout, at Oberlin Road and Pullen Road extension/Groveland Avenue.

The final phase, scheduled to begin in June 2010, includes finishing touches to the roundabout islands, center medians and landscaping. Completion is expected next September.

pedestrian crossing
Making Hillsborough Street safer and more appealing to pedestrians is one of the goals of roundabout construction.

Full Circle

The orange barrels along Hillsborough sprouted in May because of a community effort that began 10 years ago. At the request of neighborhood organizers, NC State hosted a five-day design conference to brainstorm next-generation ideas for Hillsborough. More than 500 people participated.

The design solution they favored involved a European staple: the roundabout.

“At the time the idea came up, it was forward-thinking – a little innovative, not easily accepted in the general community,” says Chapman, a former city planning director. “Today, these kinds of design principles have proved well accepted around the country.”

Original plans that called for 10 additional roundabouts were scaled down to include only two on  the eastern end of Hillsborough. Although some remain skeptical of  roundabouts, campus drivers adapted quickly to the Stinson/Pullen circle in 2002, Harwood points out.

In the sister city of Compiegne, France, there’s one landmark named for Raleigh. You guessed it: a roundabout.

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