Aug 16, 2022 - News

The "Western Wall" of Raleigh

A busy intersection in Raleigh.
The intersection of Western Boulevard and Avent Ferry Drive. Photo: Zachery Eanes/Axios.

Six lanes of traffic and cars whipping at speeds sometimes in excess of 50 miles per hour.

Western Boulevard can feel like an impenetrable wall to pedestrians trying to cross the major thoroughfare by foot or by bike.

Why it matters: Its high speeds and many lanes present major obstacles for two of Raleigh's most important and fastest-growing developments: N.C. State's Centennial Campus and the ambitious Dorothea Dix Park.

What's happening: Leaders from N.C. State and the city have proposed multiple pedestrian bridges and tunnels above and below the road.

What they're saying: Randy Woodson, the chancellor of N.C. State University, recently told Axios that a pedestrian bridge over Western Boulevard would be the first feature he would add to the school's campus if he could.

  • Centennial Campus is not just home to N.C. State's growing engineering school, but dozens of tech businesses. The school is also planning a large expansion of the campus, which could add even more density to the area.
  • "It's one of our biggest challenges," Woodson said. "We've got 10,000 to 15,000 students every day trying to get between Centennial Campus and Main Campus."
Map of where Western Boulevard runs along the northern border of Dix Park
Western Boulevard runs along the northern border of Dix Park. Photo courtesy of Dix Park Conservancy

Janet Cowell, the CEO of the Dix Park Conservancy, told Axios that pedestrian access is critical for Dix Park, pitched as the city's grand central park, to reach its potential.

  • "It's a massive issue, because you’ve got downtown here," Cowell said pointing to a map of the area, "and you've got Western Boulevard" separating Dix Park from all of the people that live and work there.

Yes, but: Making it happen is tricky, given how many stakeholders are involved. The road is managed by the state's Department of Transportation — and other projects, like Bus Rapid Transit, could delay any efforts at building new pedestrian crossings.

What's next: Construction on a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel immediately west of Avent Ferry Road and Western Boulevard is set to begin in 2025, said Marty Homan, a spokesperson for NCDOT.

  • But that project could get delayed by the city's planned Bus Rapid Transit project, which would add bus lanes to four corners of the city, including Western Boulevard.

Meanwhile, the Dix Park connections are much more theoretical. NCDOT is aware of a proposed plan for a pedestrian bridge over Western Boulevard to connect Dix and Pullen Park, Homan said, but so far it's only at the level of schematic renderings.

  • "There's been a lot of infrastructure money flowing, but you have to get people to put it in the pipeline," Cowell said. "Or you need a really deep private sector — but even if it was private sector [funding], you've got to get all the right aways to crossover."

The bottom line: Several important stakeholders want better pedestrian access across Western Boulevard. But a solution could take years to come to fruition.

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