The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday May 7th

Bill would require state approval for lane reductions

The Senate passed a bill Monday that could require, if passed into law, local officials to secure the N.C. Department of Transportation's permission to create bike lanes within state roads such as Franklin Street.

Originally about overgrown vegetation violations, the bill has expanded since February to redefine local government authority on over a dozen local matters besides bike lane provisions.

Chapel Hill Town Council member Ed Harrison said the bill exemplifies legislative overreach.

"It's called local government regulatory reform, but we didn't ask for any of this. It's the majority party trying to impose its will on local governments — the same thing they did with the University system," Harrison said. 

The bill started in the House, but the Senate heavily amended it, said Julia Covington, a librarian at the N.C. General Assembly Legislative Library. The bill will now return to the House for approval. 

Lucy Davis, owner of LCDA Architecture, said state legislators are interested in speeding up statewide traffic at the expense of each community's particular needs.

"I don't think it's particularly desirable to have more traffic flowing more rapidly and smoothly in denser areas," she said. "Narrower lanes and bike paths are very desirable because they encourage more pedestrian-oriented traffic so businesses in town can benefit from more detailed interaction. Ideal roads should have crosswalks, landscaped medians and accommodate bikes."

Davis, who co-wrote the Design Guidelines for Downtown Carrboro in the 1990s, said those design principles largely contributed to vibrant local street life in Carrboro.

"When we did guidelines for downtown Carrboro, it had — and it still has — the highest number of pedestrians in the state," she said. "It was better for the city, not necessarily for people wanting to move through town. Wider lanes and faster traffic are less friendly to pedestrians. When you just try to move traffic, people don't stop to explore the town."

The bill specifies that existing traffic lanes cannot be reduced to add bike lanes on state roads with an average daily traffic volume of 20,000 cars or more or if adding the bike lane would reduce the projected road capacity over 20 years.

John Rees, vice president of the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill, said he favors a few of the bill’s provisions.

“But taking control from municipalities to make road improvements is ridiculous," he said. "The towns know best, and Chapel Hill has the ability to do it really easily on town-owned roads like Rosemary Street."

Rees said it already can take upward of 10 years to integrate road improvements, and this bill makes the process slower. He said biking is a valuable transportation alternative.

“I'd be crazy to get in my car to go a half mile to Weaver Street or Steel String Brewery," he said. "On a Saturday night it would take me longer than if I biked because of parking issues.

“It's also a pleasurable way to get along. I always have a smile on my face after a bike ride."

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