Academy Street in downtown Cary, North Carolina, has received a 2018 Honor Award for Engineering Excellence in Transportation from the American Council of Engineering Companies of North Carolina. The awards gala announcing this year’s winners was held November 16 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The winners are selected by a panel of judges based on overall engineering excellence, demonstrating the highest degree of achievement, value, and ingenuity. Providing transportation, civil and electrical engineering, planning, and landscape architecture, Clark Nexsen worked closely with the Town of Cary to create a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly downtown environment that promotes the emerging arts district, and serves as a destination for both residents and visitors.
Today, Academy Street is a dynamic streetscape that integrates a unique concept dubbed “outdoor rooms,” widened sidewalks with intermittent seating, a variety of public art, electrical infrastructure to better serve festivals, and enhanced parking. These attributes celebrate Cary’s rich arts culture while creating an engaging connector between the Arts District, Village, and “Main Street” areas. Elevated by attention to detail in all aspects of engineering and design, Academy Street safely accommodates drivers, public transit, cyclists, and pedestrians in an environment focused on walkability and functionality for businesses and events.
Many transportation projects are primarily focused on solving the one problem of safely reducing traffic delays; however, Academy Street achieved multiple different components of the Town’s vision for transforming the street into a signature street and vibrant public space. The street improvements were not only to accommodate daily vehicular traffic to the downtown Cary elementary school, churches, restaurants, and other businesses, but needed to easily transform into a plaza for street events; have electrical infrastructure to support a variety of festivals (including bands and vendors); realize Cary’s high standards for aesthetics and appearance; accommodate daily motorist, bicyclist, and pedestrian activity; create outdoor living spaces; and promote temporary and permanent art.
Engineering Innovation was accomplished in working with the Town to advance the desired outcome of the street environment and how that outcome was realized beyond common roadway engineering practices. Innovative engineering practices included electrical infrastructure for lighting and event power, providing pavers in the street (not just the intersections), accommodating non-standard storm inlets, and integrating sculpture pads into the streetscape.
Completed in the spring of 2017, this project involved extensive public outreach and community engagement, which has contributed to its positive reception and impact. The downtown area is flourishing, with local shops reporting an increase in business and foot traffic. Academy Street serves the Cary population of roughly 162,000; hosts events such as Lazy Daze, which attracts more than 50,000 visitors; and is also part of the network of thriving, Raleigh-Durham area downtowns with a total population of more than one million people.