2/18/2020 Meeting Summary: greenways, transit, Dix Park, and community engagement

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Yesterday we had the work session I previously requested on greenways as transportation corridors, and we had an afternoon council session. Below are some pertinent updates:
1) During the greenways as transportation corridors work session we learned that our greenway system was created in 1976 with an emphasis on recreation. The last update to our greenway masterplan was several decades ago. We currently have 117 miles of greenway trails, and staff is in the process of updating the masterplan. Council directed staff to focus on making investments to position select greenway trails as transportation options, linking connections between different modes. Potential investments include, pavement markings, signage (including wayfinding), lighting, increasing neighborhood access points, design standards, and standards for closures and detours. These investments will of course have to be weighed with other priorities and are not feasible or appropriate across the entire greenway system. But in certain areas, as we shift focus to getting folks out of cars and using other modes of getting around, I see greenways as a thread that could tie together our transit system, connecting bike, micro-mobility, bus, and rail systems.
2) During the afternoon council session, we received an update on ongoing implementation of the Wake County Transit Plan. Planned improvements include new transfer facilities in midtown and East Raleigh, improved bus shelters (and in certain areas, shelters that include amenities such as real time schedules), and increased bus service to Crabtree Valley Mall, Briar Creek, Duraleigh Road, and towards Garner (Caraleigh route). The station site design plans for the New Bern Avenue BRT line are also expected this fall. All of these improvements are incredibly exciting as we continue our work to create a transit system that is frequent, reliable, and safe. We still have a ton of work to do, but I am committed to this cause.
3) We authorized staff to engage in negotiations with a design firm for the Gateway Plaza at Dix Park. The Gateway Plaza is one of seven planned Phase 1 projects identified in the Dix Park Master Plan. Once completed, the Gateway Plaza will represent the new and principle entrance to Dix Park, with play spaces, public art, plazas, cookout zones, and shaded areas. Even better, the Dix Park Conservancy has pledged the funds, $2 million, to support the design of the Gateway Plaza. Once a design firm is selected, the contract will come back to City Council for approval. I’ve attached some pictures of how the Gateway Plaza could look (I pulled them from the presentation and the quality is really bad, I’m sorry).
4) During the “Report from Mayor and City Council,” which is a part of every agenda where we bring up issues for discussion or vote that are not otherwise on the agenda, I asked the council to authorize the city attorney’s office to provide us with options of what we can do to require acceptance of Housing Choice Vouchers or other tenant-based housing subsidies for housing projects that have received city financial assistance. I understand that we cannot legally require private landlords to accept vouchers, but when the city is a player, we need to do all we can to support our most vulnerable residents. Many individuals and families have qualified for housing choice vouchers but can’t find a place that will accept them.
5) We received an update on our efforts to improve community engagement. Staff has initiated the process of identifying a consultant to help us build a new Office of Community Engagement, with an emphasis on borrowing national best practices. Cities like Minneapolis and Seattle are already leading on this issue. We also learned about programs we already have in place within the existing Housing and Neighborhoods Community Engagement Division, including the neighborhood registry, which allows and encourages neighborhood groups to register with the city to receive assistance, funds, access to staff, and access to city facilities free of cost up to four meetings per year. The program was created in 2002, and to date 351 neighborhoods have registered throughout the city. If you’re interested in forming and/or registering a neighborhood group, more information here.
I also want to take a moment to thank everyone who has communicated with me about this process in the past two weeks. I have heard from many folks who are excited about the council decision to create a new system of community engagement, and I have heard from many folks who are upset and frustrated with the council decision. I hope we can continue this conversation and work towards bridging this gap in positions. I am committed to continuing to listen to your ideas or frustrations, and I hope you will engage with us in this process. I truly believe that we are working to build a new system that will work for the next 50 years, shifting focus to engaging with residents where they are, increasing access, and providing the public multiple opportunities to engage in the city planning process.
My email is jonathan.melton@raleighnc.gov. I look forward to connecting with you.
Our next regular session council meetings are at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, 2020.


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