'Week Without Driving' emphasizes need for improved accessibility in Durham

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Thursday, October 5, 2023
'Week Without Driving' reveals need for Durham transportation changes
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A national effort to bring attention to accessibility issues in American cities has Durham leaders refocusing their efforts to transform the Bull City

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- For Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Mark-Anthony Middleton, this week represents a full circle moment.

"I used to ride the bus quite a bit in the 90s when I first arrived in Durham," said Middleton, after hopping off a GoDurham bus Thursday morning.

He's participating in Week Without Driving, a national campaign aimed at highlighting alternate modes of travel, as well as existing accessibility limitations. On top of taking the bus, Middleton utilized rideshares and walking.

"We have been designing our transportation system for people who own vehicles for 70 years, and it's not just here in Durham, it's across the country. People who don't have access to a vehicle, whether because of their age -- this affects young people -- their physical or cognitive abilities, or money, are left out of full participation in our communities," said John Tallmadge, Executive Director of Bike Durham.

According to the non-profit America Walks, about 1 in 4 Americans cannot drive.

"Any city that's going to consider itself great, a great metropolis, has to cross the threshold where the city is negotiable without a car: the cultural centers, the educational centers, the healthcare centers," said Middleton.

"Downtown belongs to everybody. It's the cultural center of the city, it's the hub of activity. It needs to available for everyone to participate in it, contribute to it. For a lot of people, that access, the transportation access, is a key part of it," Tallmadge said.

While advocates like Tallmadge have long pushed for more ways to navigate the city, it's become a more pressing issue in recent years amidst increasing affordability concerns.

"(Affordability) is driving people away from the city center because the lack of affordability of housing, and that is limiting the number of options people have of moving around," said Tallmadge.

Middleton discussed City Council's efforts to address these existing limitations, including providing funding to keep GoDurham ridership free.

"Sidewalks are at the top of our list -- not only expanding existing networks, but repairing damaged sidewalks, particularly to areas that have been underinvested in over the years. This past budget, I asked for $10 million, which made it into the budget, to go toward the Fayetteville Street corridor, not only for infrastructure but for business improvement as well," said Middleton.

Tallmadge hopes participation this week could lead to a future change in patterns.

"Some people find that 'I didn't realize it was easy for me to get to a grocery store or a park without driving there.' Trying to open people's experiences (is important)," said Tallmadge.