Initiative closes off some streets in Durham to give residents more space outdoors

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in North Carolina, Durham started an initiative that has closed off some residential streets to give residents more space to social distance outdoors.

The City of Durham’s Shared Streets Initiative has fully launched as a total of seven residential streets have closed to thru traffic so that families can have more space for running, walk, jogging, and biking.

Glendale Avenue and Watts Street were the first streets to close to thru traffic in September. An additional five streets — including Alma, Benjamine, Spruce, Maple, and Taylor — were all implemented into the program throughout the month of October.

Aidil Ortiz, who is a member of Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, sat at the intersection of Taylor and North Maple streets on Friday afternoon where she touched up the paint on a colorful traffic circle in the intersection.

“This is all an attempt to calm the traffic,” Ortiz said.

City officials say four of the shared streets have these traffic circles.

“The city is going to put up white reflectors and delineators around these circles so that way we can make sure people see them,” Ortiz said. “The hope is that when people see these elements, they will slow down and this will protect people on bikes and people who are walking.”

Ortiz said when the pandemic first hit, a lot of people turned to the outdoors for recreation. But some streets didn’t have sidewalks, including the street where Ortiz lives.

She said that this made it difficult for her to ride her bike on her street.

“It feels really challenging and sometimes really unsafe because people don’t pay attention and they don’t slow down,” Ortiz said.

But now, with the Shared Streets Initiative in full swing, people who live on seven different streets now no longer deal with thru traffic as they now have more room to safely bike, walk, and run.

Beth Kendall lives on Watts Street. She said this is something her street has needed, especially in the midst of the pandemic.

“It just makes it safer so that people don’t have to worry about getting too close to others,” Kendall said. “It gives them more space.”

While COVID-19 may have sparked the idea, Ortiz is hoping this is something that will last beyond the pandemic.

“I’m just so excited to do this,” Ortiz said. “I’m just excited to do this with the love and support of our neighbors and also it gives people an opportunity to be creative and safe.”

City officials said they are open to expanding the Shared Streets program to more streets in the future. However, right now, they do not have the resources to make that happen.

Durham residents can submit a request online for their street to be included in the Shared Streets Initiative.

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