This is a fascinating forty-nine mile loop. Bike one direction from central Raleigh to Clayton along the Walnut Creek / Neuse River bicycle path. Drink a coffee in downtown Clayton then bicycle back to Raleigh along Old US 70. There is a lot of new and old North Carolina spread along this route.
I drove our car with my bicycle in the back the half an hour from our home in Chapel Hill to the near side of Raleigh. Exiting I-40 onto Wade Avenue, just after passing Whole Foods on the left I took a right on Dogwood Lane and parked the car on that street in a wooded neighborhood. I pulled the bicycle out of the back. This was my bike ride.
Raleigh’s real estate market is booming and has been so for thirty years. A lot has been written about gentrification where young white people are moving into African-American neighborhoods. The New York Times recently had an article that used Raleigh as an example of this trend. What was not discussed is a parallel teardowner trend, previously “affordable” 1960’s white neighborhoods of inside-the-beltline Raleigh where “normal” houses are being replaced by much larger mini-mansions.
Homeowners and developers are tearing down houses that look like this:
The torn down house is replaced by houses that look like this:
The above photos were all taken near where my bicycle ride started, in the Dixie Forest and Forest Hills subdivisions. The parallel trend on the other sided of town is the one The New York Times was covering. I biked east along Hillsborough Road, then through downtown and then through mostly African-American neighborhoods south and east of downtown. Houses that look like this:
are being replaced by usually wealthier young white people moving into newly built houses like this:
and even very attractive but expensive modernist row houses like this:
I biked past these neighborhoods into the greenway system. In these same past thirty years Raleigh has developed what has to be one of the best systems of greenways in the America. Most follow stream beds and sewer lines. Only one of many greenways in Raleigh starts in the mostly African-American southeast side. One can bike on greenways first along Walnut Creek, then along the Neuse River for almost twenty miles on perfectly paved and manicured greenways, ending in the town of Clayton in Johnston County.
When biking on public thoroughfares one has to learn when to ignore signs. The first part of the Walnut Creek trail was “closed.” What could I do? I had nowhere else to go. I did not want to bicycle on busy roads during a weekday. I just ignored the signs, the trail was fine.
The Neuse River Trail ends about a mile from downtown Clayton. From the trail parking lot take a left on O’Neil Street, bicycle up the hill.
I have bicycled over many parts of America. In past five – ten years I have noticed that locally owned coffee houses are opening up in previously vacant downtowns, functioning as a “third space” for all sorts of people. They are opening in towns that one would not think would have a coffee house. Maybe Starbucks has awakened a market. On my previous trip to Boulevard in Clayton the barista was wearing something you would not see in Chapel Hill or Durham; a hat and shirt professing his Christian faith. On the other hand here in Clayton at 10:30 AM on a Monday another barista was pouring a round of mimosas into champagne glasses for a group of middle aged women who were clearly celebrating something! I got a soy milk latte and read The New Yorker on my kindle.
If you include I-40 there are about four parallel highways covering the seventeen miles from Clayton to Raleigh. Main Street in Clayton is part of the oldest, the original US70. On the newer routes these seventeen miles into Raleigh are mostly a continuous line of Walmarts and strip malls. Nevertheless Old US70 from Clayton to downtown Raleigh is a trip back in time and a very nice bike ride. It has very little traffic, even on a weekday.
For those interested in historic gas stations, (what you are not?) Old US70 has several. The first is right here is Clayton.
Notice the prerequisite old men sitting on the bench out front.
I told these guys that this was the oldest looking gas station I had ever seen that still sold gas. The guy on right seemed to know a lot about it; he knew the names of the current and past owners. He claimed the building is from the 1920’s. If so, that is a very old gas station.
Here are three other gas stations I noticed on Old US70.
There is also this modernist car wash.
About halfway to Raleigh I was confronted again by a closed road. There is construction where Old US70 crosses I-40. I ignored the signs and soldiered on. It certainly reduces the car traffic! Crossing the overpass through the blocked road on a bicycle was not a problem.
I passed these interesting buildings.
Old US70 approaches downtown Raleigh from the African-American side of town. Likely because of the intrinsic racism of the commercial real estate market there are very few stores close to downtown when coming from the southeast. Near downtown the road passes by metal recyclers and other waste industries. One can bicycle right into downtown with hardly any traffic. Downtown Raleigh and its adjacent warehouse district are booming.
Even with all this new development it is striking how much of America’s downtowns was built in the 1920’s when money was flowing freely. The Sir Walter Raleigh, currently being redone.
It was just a couple miles further past downtown to my car parked on a residential street. I passed by the NC State Campus fronting Hillsborough Street. It has a long recognized architecture school. A lot of 1950’s-60’s modernist public buildings survive around here. I got back to my car and was home in Chapel Hill in time for a late lunch.