The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday April 2nd

Get Creative Instead of Just Getting Wider

The Town Council passed a resolution endorsing widening sections of Weaver Dairy Road to three lanes. This resolution goes against a recommendation from Town Manager Cal Horton to widen it to four lanes.

Growth means more people and more traffic and should mean more road space, right?

Not really.

Chapel Hill officials are, for the most part, anti-Urban Sprawl. And, environmentally speaking, that's sound policy. But one of the symptoms of urban sprawl is starting to add more road space.

When you add more road space, you take away green space -- which, incidentally, seems to be one of the council's favorite phrases -- and that has a negative impact on the environment.

Yeah, it makes sense -- these new people will all need somewhere to drive. But there are smarter ways to grow.

Instead of focusing on where people will drive their cars, the Town Council should be focusing on other ways to get people to move from one place to another.

Council members have certainly not been neglecting transit, but they haven't been that creative about it either.

Conversations about transit tend to focus on expanding bus service. Once in a while, someone might bring up the idea of regional rail.

While council members don't seem exactly opposed to the idea, they're reluctant to champion it, saying they'll need more information about the environmental impact.

Fair enough, but then why wasn't there a big skirmish about environmental impact when it came to passing the Weaver Dairy Road resolution?

Light rail and other transit improvements might have a negative effect on the environment, but they also have a great potential to have a positive effect on the environment in the form of fewer cars on the road.

Road expansion, on the other hand, is like cutting someone's arm off and giving him a bandage.

It'll help for a little while, but you'll have to go through a lot of bandages and eventually you'll have to come up with a better solution so your patient doesn't die.

Town officials can't keep expanding Weaver Dairy Road forever.

Of course, good transit solutions can't be implemented overnight or even as quickly as a road expansion project.

The Triangle Transit Authority's regional rail plan won't be completed until 2025. The first phase of it, which doesn't include Chapel Hill, won't even be in place until 2007.

But Chapel Hill has been a growing town for a long time, and Town Council members have had years to plan for this growth.

The board's makeup does change every two years, so current members are obviously not responsible for the lack of transit planning on the part of past members.

And perhaps those members couldn't know that simply adding more buses wouldn't cut it in 2001.

And that's part of the friction between the University and the town concerning UNC's Master Plan.

The Master Plan is a blueprint for the University's growth for the next 50 years, involving additional residence halls, new research facilities and other campus services.

Chapel Hill hardly seems to know where it's going. So how can it even start to work with University growth issues?

Town officials and residents certainly should have a voice in University growth, but before that can happen effectively, they need to figure out Chapel Hill growth.

Columnist Erin Mendell can be reached at mendell@email.unc.edu.

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