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Durham public reacts to traffic changes

By Cam Tranchemontagne, Contributing Writer

This past summer the town of Durham underwent a very significant change in the downtown area. The section of Main Street between Pettee Brook Lane and Jenkins Court was changed from two lanes to one in order to create more parking spaces and decrease drivers’ speed.

The main reason behind this change came from the severe lack of parking spaces in the downtown area and from concerns over biker and pedestrian safety. Designated bike lanes were also added to the new pattern.

But despite the good intentions of the town council, some residents and students are unhappy with the new pattern.

“The traffic has definitely gotten worse this year with the changes downtown,” said Adam Howard, a senior political science major. “I don’t remember anything like this happening in the three years that I’ve been here.”

Many students on campus are pedestrians or bikers and must be cautious when crossing the streets. When traffic comes to a crawl or even a stand still, it may make it easier to cross the road as a pedestrian, but student drivers are frustrated.

“It’s kind of a hazard,” said senior Nathan Battey. “You have to pay attention to not hitting a [parked] car and trying to merge at the same time.”

Students have not been the only ones affected.

There have been mixed feelings about it from the citizens of Durham. At a public hearing on Sept. 8, the townspeople were given a chance to voice their concern.

“A third of the people were very critical; a third of the people understood what we were trying to do but didn’t think it worked; and about another third of the bikers and others were actually appreciative,” said Wayne Burton, a member of the Durham Town Council who also sits on the Strafford Regional Planning Commission. “They thought that having the bike lanes, if we gave it a little more time, that the traffic would sort itself out.”

Burton went on to say that the prevailing feeling was that Main Street should revert back to two lanes.

Feelings from Durham business owners are also mixed. Some, who cater partially to out of town drivers, have been negatively affected. Graham Smith, a manager at the Durham House of Pizza, noted that even with the new parking spaces, the congestion has been so bad that out-of-town people avoid the area entirely.

“We’ve had some customers complain about it,” said Casey Mazar, a Breaking New Grounds employee. “Some say that they didn’t want to come because of the traffic pattern; they’re going to avoid town all together.”

Breaking New Grounds still gets enough traffic, however, from students and other pedestrians.

“I haven’t really noticed anything,” Mazar said. “I don’t think it’s really affected business at all.”

There is also the issue of the bike lanes. In late August, a man was killed in a bicycle accident while riding in the bike lane, and  struck a car door. His death raises the question of whether bicycle lanes actually improve safety.

According to Burton, the best defense a biker has is awareness, and without any physical barriers between bicyclists and traffic, “it can create an illusion of safety which might have people let down their guard.”

On Wednesday Sept. 17, Main Street returned to the two-lane system.

“We did the pilot; we learned something. We’ll go back to two lanes all the way through town, we will take out the bike lane that was dangerous and make that a sharrow,” Burton said. “We are inextricably intertwined in this town, so we try to work in unison with the university on anything that affects both students and townspeople.”

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