Crabtree Valley Causing Headache for City Planners

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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.

Gaylord disagreed.

“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.”

Share your comments: What do you think about growth and traffic around Crabtree?

6 thoughts on “Crabtree Valley Causing Headache for City Planners

  1. Build a Mall Access Exit ramp off of 440 and feed it into Edwards Mill/Blue Ridge – direct mall traffic that way instead of Glenwood. Also, build a exit ramp for Lead Mine and North Hills, and allow residential traffic to flow that way instead of onto Glenwood. This ramp could run down Century Drive.

  2. I’m no traffic engineer… But… What if cars from North Hills Drive had to go straight onto a new road that merged with Glenwood northbound? Instead of a light at North Hills Drive and Lead Mine Road, one would go under the other. I don’t even know if the topography makes this feasible—let alone the costs, which would be enormous. I’m just trying to think outside-the-box.

    It makes logical sense to have rail going into town following the Glenwood corridor. Of course, any light rail would have to go above or below ground at Creedmoor on it’s way into downtown.

    I can’t really speak about the whole corridor—where pedestrians, bikes, and light rail are envisioned.

  3. Patrick: Currently, the light rail is planned to run from Cary up through NC State along the existing railroad tracks – that way, they don’t have to secure additional right-of-way for the run into Raleigh. Though if the first two light rail projects are successful, they may build one that goes that way…I don’t know that area quite as well.

  4. Seprate local and thru traffic. Provide alternatives to/from the beltline to Creedmoor, Lead Mine, and North Hills Drive. Improve capacity on Blue Ridge (two lanes) and improve connectivity overall. The first step would be extending Crabtree Valley Avenue to Glenwood Aveunue on both ends and creating an interchange. The city/public would have to decide which would be thru and which would be local and then design accordingly.

  5. The problem is essentially hopeless and has its roots in the 1960s when the design of the US 1 Bypass (what we now know as I-440) was completed and approval was given to turn a rural pond into Crabtree Valley Mall. It was a colossal failure in city planning: not only has the traffic design turned out to be inadequate, but flooding problems at the Mall required building large numbers of flood-control lakes upstream.

    Does the City and NCDOT really want to spend $50-100M to fix Crabtree? I doubt it. I like the idea of prohibiting further development within a one-mile vicinity of the Mall, but real estate speculators ain’t gonna like that one but.

  6. ^Then let those real estate speculators dish out the cost to fix things.
    The folks behind North Hills are now talking about financing monorails to link the east and west halves of North Hills Development plus a finger out towards Duke Raleigh hospital area. If the big-money gurus in the Crabtree area had any sense, they’d start immediately working out a deal to link to that.