If you're my age (29 with a bullet), you're probably too young to remember the days when Hillsborough St. was not an eyesore. In fact, you could probably be a good 10-20 years older than me and still not have enough good memories of State's main drag to keep from bemoaning the current state of things when driving it.
Yes, it's been a long time since the days when the number of bars and nightlife spots on Hillsborough St. weren't outnumbered by the number of ink and toner cartridge stores or Hookah bars.
I wistfully read accounts of the days when folks would line up at Blimpie's for a sub at 4:00 in the morning following a night of awkward alcohol-fueled dancing and romancing at institutions long gone on Hillsborough St. and wonder what it must've been like to have been a student at State when the drinking age was 18 and good times were only a 1/4 mile away.
But times change, and so has Hillsborough St., for the worse. Freshmen living off campus is no longer an oddity. Folks hop in their car when any trip requires more than 10 paces--after all, that's where the AC, iPod and in-dash NAV system is. And today's students were BORN after they bumped the drinking age up to 21.
All of these things, along with too many factors to name, have transformed a once vibrant meeting place for students, alums and professors into a nasty three-lane commuter thoroughfare that is to be avoided at all costs--especially if you're a prospective business.
I've seen the poison of Hillsborough St. kill a Raleigh institution closer than I care for. I worked on and off at Brother's Pizza during and following my time at State, and from the time that I started in the late 90s to when Brother's finally closed its doors almost two years ago, I watched the weekend business fall from a respectable amount Friday and Saturday nights down to a mere trickle. And truth be told, while the landlord's ridiculous rent rate had a lot to do with its demise--choking out any profit to be had--the lack of off-peak business (due to a lack of parking) meant that cuts had to be made in areas where you just can't (staff, food quality) if you expect to survive. So the food and service on the weekends suffered. That would be all she wrote.
Is there a solution? A way out of this current mess?
I think the answer is a tentative, hopeful "yes," spelled R-O-U-N-D-A-B-O-U-T-S.
You can call me crazy, but I'm drinking the roundabout Koolaid, by the gallon, no less.
If you're not familiar, Raleigh city council and the DOT has been exploring the idea of replacing the myriad of stoplights along Hillsborough St. with roundabouts--mini traffic circles--that will decrease the speed and volume of traffic and (hopefully) increase the amount of pedestrian traffic of students, alums and professors to levels that State's strip once enjoyed.
I think they're a great idea for a couple of reasons. One, there's far too much thoroughfare traffic zooming along Hillsborough St., coming or going to either downtown or the fairgrounds. Roundabouts would discourage folks using Hillsborough St. as a traffic corridor since the speed limit would be reduced to 25 (though the number of cars mean it likely would move slower than that). Slower traffic means less risk to pedestrians. That's a good thing.
Two, the changes would mean increased parking during the day. We can't change Americans' obsessions with their cars, so it's best instead to accommodate that burning desire. Had there been adequate parking during the daytime hours, perhaps Brother's (and countless other businesses) would still be alive today. Increased parking = increased business = business viability. Big plus.
Three, it would change Hillsborough St. into a unique destination in Raleigh and into a talking point on the lips of those across the state and country. Whenever State plays a team in basketball or football, fans of the opposing team often make a beeline toward Hillsborough St. to see what State's college culture is all about. For decades these fans have been leaving with a very negative impression of N.C. State. Having a sparking new strip with landscaped roundabouts and (hopefully) bustling foot traffic would do wonders to impress those visiting State's campus.
Sounds great, right? [Jerry MaGuire]"Who's coming with me! C'mon! Who's coming with me!"[/JM]
Well, apparently not Philip Isley of Raleigh's city council. From Monday's N&O:
"I can't get over how reducing four lanes to two helps reduce congestion," council member Philip Isley said. "I may just be dense."
Well, Philip, I don't want to start putting words into your mouth, but since they're already there I'll just echo your own sentiments:
You are dense.
At least on this issue. You see, Philip, when you discourage the thoroughfare traffic and route it over to Western Blvd., the only ones driving down Hillsborough St. are the folks that intended to be driving it in the first place--patrons. Patrons with dollars to spend and time to kill. Those are the folks that Hillsborough St. and N.C. State have been sorely missing all these years. And if you can't see what a revitalized Glenwood South or Fayetteville St. can do for the businesses on those streets, then you've missed the forest for the trees altogether.
Convincing Philip, and other council members that are hung on the idea, will be key to getting this idea done. But if they need an example of how successful roundabouts can be, they need only look a few hundred yards away from Hillsborough St. for a shining example. For right in front of Holliday Hall on State's campus, on Pullen Rd., sits a roundabout that was built just a few years ago in a spot that was notorious for traffic backups in the afternoons as folks leaving campus battled it out with folks leaving Raleigh. It got so bad that State had to assign a parking officer to direct traffic there--otherwise the poor folks turning left onto Pullen likely would still be sitting there to this day. After installing the roundabout, traffic leaving and entering campus there is much, much smoother.
Is the traffic there on Pullen slower? Yes. But it's much safer, and it's much, much easier for those poor souls leaving campus who never thought they'd ever been able to make a left turn again at 5:00 in the evening on a weekday.
So let's give the roundabouts a spin. A new Hillsborough St. is something folks in this area are clamoring for.