Raleigh City Council hears ideas for enhancing Six Forks Road

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A widening project is proposed for Six Forks Road in Raleigh.

How best to enhance Six Forks Road? There are a lot of ideas, and a city staffer charged with presenting a plan to the Raleigh City Council made his pitch:

"We wanted a unique sense of place."

He described the streetscape plan with two different looks: urban and suburban, with a landscaped median zone, raised bike lanes that are set apart from the sidewalks and public art.

The lanes would boast better connection points to neighborhoods and the plan would consolidate the existing 20 bus stops along the 3-mile stretch of Six Forks down to 5.

RELATED: Find out more about the Six Forks Project

The project would be divided into three phases, with the stretch between Lynn and Rowan getting serviced first.

City planners asked the city council for $1.8 million to hire a company for the design phase of the project. With that complete and if all else were to fall into place on schedule, planners said they could "turn dirt" in late 2019.

"The challenge would be traffic management because it's such a heavily traveled corridor," explained staff to city leaders.

It's a point echoed by many who work and drive along that major city artery.

"About 3:30 or 4 (in the afternoon) it can get pretty nasty," Mike Barker said. He owns the Exxon on the corner of Lassiter Mill Road and Six Forks, nestled into the outer skeleton of North Hills Shopping Mall. "Things can get pretty backed up and it makes it a little tough to get in and out. You've kind of got to pick your moment."

Barker has lived in the area since 1957 and has seen Raleigh explode in popularity and density. He's watched as both business and traffic have steadily ticked up along Six Forks and says he knows something has to be done but he worries about business as that "something" unfolds.

"It's gonna make it very tough to make a left turn like you can here now," explains Barker, referring to new medians called for in the plans. "You'll probably have to go to the stop light and turn around into the shopping center to come back to us. So that's a little concerning. It creates quite a challenge for your customers."

Barker isn't the only one with concerns though. City councilors peppered staff with questions ranging from bus access and pedestrian safety to the project itself. Councilor Russ Stephenson returned again and again to the question of whether new technologies and demographic patterns will make a wider road obsolete in the coming years.

"Is putting millions into road widening a 21st century solution?" Stephenson asked his colleagues. "It makes me wonder the extent to which widening Six Forks is a long-term, forward-looking solution."

Stephenson cited a recent public forum on the project at which, "more than 50 percent people said they didn't want it wider."

"If we keep designing our city for cars and not people," Stephenson went on, "we're going in the wrong direction."

Another council member, after learning the project doesn't include dedicated bus, asked, "Why wouldn't we automatically dedicate a bus lane when in the end we all know that's what we're trying to get to?"

And another council member asked whether consideration had been given to a pedestrian bridge over Six Forks connecting the two halves of the North Hills Mall (Staff said that had been considered but that it was cost prohibitive and potentially came with strings and land entanglements attached).

City council members agreed to take the project under consideration at an upcoming "workshop."

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