- It's already a transit route. Roger Henderson, the traffic engineer-planner working with the Hillsborough Street Partnership, counted a high of 29 buses per hour running in front of N.C. State at peak times. That includes CAT (Raleigh), Wolfline (N.C. State) and TTA (Triangle Transit) buses. Hillsborough Street used to have streetcars, and city planners hope it will again someday. But in the meantime, it does have buses.
- Everyone rides free on the Wolfline. That's right, if you get up close enough, those red N.C. State buses clearly state, "Open to the Public." And since the Wolfline runs regularly to the Fairgrounds (to State's remote parking at Carter-Finley Stadium) and the adjacent NCSU Biosciences Campus, free transit is usually available to the big game.
- There's free parking in the N.C. State lots. Most of State's parking lots are available for public use after 5 p.m. (until 7 a.m.) and on weekends. The university's signs have always told the bad news ("permit required," etcetera), with specific hours listed in the fine print. Now they're being paired with signs that tell the good news too ("public parking").
- The stacks are wide open at D.H. Hill Library. Just get on the elevators. True, the library's Hillsborough Street door isn't there any more. But walk around to the Brickyard entrance, and you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn how accessible the university's best resource is to you. Not only are the stacks open, so is the free Wi-Fi in the carrels. And State's helpful library staff consider it part of their job to assist the community. For $100 ($150 if you'd like borrowing privileges) you can help back by joining Friends of the Library and becoming, uh, full-fledged.
- There's a golf course on Hillsborough Street. It's a sweet little par-three course hidden behind the NCSU University Club up by the vet school (now part of the Biosciences Campus). Each of the nine holes has two tees, making for an 18-hole challenge. It's not exactly open to the public, but I'll bet you know a member. One of the nicest baseball stadiums in America, State's Doak Field, is also a short walk from Hillsborough Street, or it would be if you could somehow get over the raised railroad bed in between. (Under—via a tunnel—is a future possibility, according to Ralph Recchie, State's director of real estate.)
- Horse Track Alley and Garden Place were just that. The former was the route into the old state fairgrounds, which was located where the Raleigh Little Theater and the Rose Garden are today. The latter was home, 60-plus years ago, to an N.C. State professor's giant garden. Both are tucked away in the area between Hillsborough Street and Clark Avenue near State's North Hall.
- The number of restaurants on Hillsborough Street. The Hillsborough Street Partnership lists five dozen eateries of various kinds located between the area around St. Mary's School (the Hillsborough-Morgan roundabout location) and the Meredith College area. They include high-end places, coffee shops and a wide assortment in between. One place you've probably never been to (or seen): Laziz Biryani Corner, an Indian restaurant—a very good one—which is tucked into a convenience store called Go Paks at 2316 Hillsborough (in the block east of Frazier's). The owners are a current State student, who's majoring in engineering and business; his brother, a recent State grad; and their mother, who does the cooking.
- For the roundabouts, thank Michael Wallwork. He's the Aussie traffic engineer (Australia-born, he never lost the accent or the charm) who introduced Raleigh to the concept of small traffic circles during the '99 Hillsborough Street charette. Actually, Raleigh had numerous roundabouts even then. But Wallwork gets the credit for persuading the community that by eliminating left turns and the traffic backups they produce (to turn left, just go around the roundabout), Hillsborough Street could carry just as much traffic with two vehicular lanes as it was then carrying with four. The traffic would move more slowly, but also more steadily, making for a more pleasant street for drivers and pedestrians alike, Wallwork argued. And by eliminating the other two vehicle lanes, there'd be room for wider sidewalks and, periodically, for designated bus stops and beer-truck delivery spaces.
In 2000, the automobile insurance industry issued a report showing that roundabouts reduce traffic accidents when used instead of left turns and stop lights. That helped clinch the case for roundabouts, Roger Henderson says, though it took another seven years to convince a majority of the Raleigh City Council that revamping Hillsborough Street would be worth the cost.
- At $9.9 million for Phase I, the project is under budget. Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen says the winning bid from Hamlett & Associates was almost $3 million under the city's estimate, doubtless owing to the lousy economy right now. The work includes, in addition to the roundabouts, putting utilities underground, building wider sidewalks, and installing a 7-foot-wide median strip down the middle of the street from Oberlin Road to Gardner Street. Later phases are contemplated, but are unscheduled as yet, that would extend the improvements west from Gardner to Gorman Street, at Meredith College's doorstep, and east from Oberlin to the soon-to-be-built Hillsborough Street-Morgan Street roundabout.
Correction (June 2, 2009): The first state fairs in Raleigh—before and after the Civil War up to 1873—were conducted on land east of the Capitol. See comments below; the text above has been corrected.