The mile of Lake Wheeler Road nearest downtown Raleigh hasn’t changed in decades. With the old Dorothea Dix Hospital campus on one side and the Fuller Heights neighborhood on the other, it’s still a two-lane road without sidewalks or bike lanes or even much of a shoulder.
The city plans to change that. As the former psychiatric hospital campus becomes a city park and developers move to build high-rises in Fuller Heights, Raleigh is planning to overhaul the road that runs between them.
The latest designs would keep Lake Wheeler a two-lane road but would add a median down the middle, sidewalks on both sides and a two-way bike path on the west side along the park. There would also be four roundabouts, including the Triangle’s first elongated roundabout where two side streets meet Lake Wheeler a couple hundred feet apart.
The city is seeking the public’s feedback. It has posted a summary of the designs and a link to an online survey at raleighnc.gov/projects/lake-wheeler-road-improvement-project. The survey will be live through June 1.
City planners presented preliminary designs last fall. Since then, they’ve decided to replace the current signal at Lake Wheeler and South Saunders Street with a roundabout. The intersection would be reconfigured, using a corner of the park, to make the roundabout work, said Brian Roth-Roffy, the project manager.
At the other end, near the N.C. State Farmers Market, an elongated or peanut-shaped roundabout would tie Goode and Mercury streets into a single intersection with Lake Wheeler. With everyone turning right into the roundabout, the design would make getting out of both side streets easier and safer, Roth-Roffy said.
“Roundabouts always perform better safety wise,” he said. “There are a lot less severe accidents when you’re doing right turns instead of trying to cross over and go left.”
Another roundabout would be built at Lake Wheeler and Hammell Drive, where developers are planning a $600 million apartment, office and retail project on 7.5 acres. Traffic from that development will use Hammell to get to or from either Lake Wheeler or South Saunders.
The fourth roundabout would go in at Lake Wheeler and Daladams Street. The street would be extended into Dix Park, becoming the entrance to the Gipson Play Plaza, a planned playground area that marks the first phase of the 308-acre park’s development. Construction on the play plaza is expected to begin this year.
The city doesn’t know when work will begin on Lake Wheeler Road, Roth-Roffy said. It’s likely the Gipson Play Plaza will be finished before the new entrance from Lake Wheeler is built, and visitors will continue using other entrances off Lake Wheeler and Western Boulevard in the meantime.
With a median, sidewalks and the bike path, the new Lake Wheeler Road will require more room than the existing one. Most of the additional space will come on the park side of the road, Roth-Roffy said, but it’s possible the city will need easements on some of the front yards of houses on the Fuller Heights side of the road.
It’s not clear how long those houses will survive. The city’s land use plan calls for “high-density residential” development along this stretch of Lake Wheeler, and houses have already disappeared for the project around Hammell Drive.