Driving down Glenwood Avenue around Crabtree Valley is a headache at best; the Glenwood Road-Lead Mine Road intersection is graded “F” by Raleigh planners.
While city staff bounced ideas off the Comprehensive Planning Committee Wednesday night, the overall consensus of these ideas — from rezoning properties to curb high-traffic development to adding bus routes — was, as Councilor Bonner Gaylord said, about “mitigating the impact. But we can’t solve the problem.”
Glenwood Avenue between Lead Mine Road and Creedmoor Road has become highly congested as high-density retail and residential developments have grown around it. It’s a trend that needs to be redirected, said deputy planning director Ken Bowers, who discussed his department’s “Vision for the Valley” with the committee.
Nine acres in Crabtree Valley are up for a final rezoning vote by the Raleigh City Council this week, which would add more than 500 residential units and 7,500 square feet of retail at the intersection of Lead Mine and Charles roads. City staff and councilors worry what that high-density development will do to existing traffic problems.
Looking at the big picture, Bowers recommended rezoning five areas around Crabtree Valley from retail to lower-density zones such as office and research.
“Basically, it’s bringing down the development density from 60 units per acre to 28 in office and residential mixed-use development areas,” he said.
An overall plan for the future of this area, he added, “includes getting people within walking distance of their destinations.”
This requires a renewed focus on mixed development.
But, what about the thousands of commuters stuck in traffic every day? asked Councilor Russ Stephenson.
Raleigh’s most immediate and most cost-effective answer, bus service, doesn’t easily fit into this plan.
Throughout Raleigh, city planners are integrating a commuter rail system into long-term plans. Crabtree Valley, however, is one of several high-traffic areas where this rail service won’t be expanded.
Offering more bus routes to the area will do little to lessen congestion, said Stephenson.
“Unless we dedicate bus lanes on this road, people will just be stuck in the same traffic, but on a bus,” he said.
Taking away a traffic lane for bus service would potentially worsen existing traffic, said Gaylord. He pointed to a recent study that showed 94 percent of people traveling to Crabtree Valley Mall ride in a car to get there.
But a great deal of the congestion isn’t just the mall crowds, said Councilor Randy Stagner.
“Most of the folks going down Lead Mine Road aren’t turning right to go to the mall,” he said. “They’re turning left to go downtown.”
Raleigh may not have a quick fix, but there are options on the table to keep from making the matter worse.
“We don’t have a solution for this which is why we looked to change the future land use map,” said Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
“The real issue isn’t a land-use issue,” he said. “It’s a roads issue.”
“We’re beyond roads,” Stagner said.
“We can keep adding buses, but it won’t change the capacity [of travelers],” Stephenson said. “What we’ve got is a future land use map that we can’t accommodate.”
One thing missing from potential alternatives for the Crabtree Valley area, Powers said, is public input. Stephenson agreed, adding that he wants to get the full council’s opinion on this problem.
While the city wants to take careful steps in further Crabtree Valley-area development, one development plan is already up for approval.
The council will review a rezoning request at Tuesday’s meeting for nine acres at Lead Mine and Charles roads in preparation for a proposed mixed residential and office building. Plans call for 533 residential units with accessory office space and 7,500 square feet of retail space.
Traffic studies show no significant impact on the current traffic around Lead Mine Road. One of the 13 conditions set by the planning board and comprehensive planning committee asks the development to “support an enhanced pedestrian environment and better connectivity within this area to the north of Crabtree Valley Mall.”
Furthermore, the developer will have to dedicate a portion of the property for easement in preparation for future plans to connect Charles Road to Marriot Drive, said planner Dhanya Sandeep.
“We still need a couple more properties to provide easements,” she said. “Once they’re in place, we can make that connection.”
However, until that connector road is built, traffic will go in and out of Lead Mine Road, which has raised some concerns.
“Staff cannot approve plans if it exceeds the comprehensive plan’s traffic plan,” said Ira Botvinick, with city attorney’s office. “We’re already at an ‘F’ and we’re proposing more ‘F’ development.”
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