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Focus groups examine Chapel Hill Transit's NS route replacement, the NS-BRT project

community input session 3.jpg
Residents share ideas for the N-S BRT bus stations at a community input session at The Franklin Hotel on Saturday, July 13. Photo courtesy of Amy Groves.

Community members and leaders gathered at The Franklin Hotel this weekend for open houses and focus groups on Chapel Hill Transit’s North-South Bus Rapid Transit (N-S BRT) project.

The sessions were part of a multi-year plan to implement a rapid transit bus system in Chapel Hill. The Rapid Transit project, which is expected to cost $140 million, is a planned bus route running between the Eubanks Road and Southern Village Park and Ride lots that will use dedicated bus lanes and traffic signal priority to decrease travel times. The route is scheduled to open and replace the NS Route in 2024. 

“The idea behind BRT is so that it is more predictable and reliable,” said Drew Joyner, transportation planning department manager for engineering company AECOM. 

Part of the Rapid Transit plan includes decreasing the number of stops made along the route and constructing enhanced bus stations. While the stations will include covered seating, improved pedestrian crossings and cyclist access, the specifics of the stations have yet to be decided. The July meetings aimed to gain community input on the stations and land use development of the nearby areas. 

The information compiled at the Friday, Saturday and Sunday community events will be presented to the Town Council at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, July 15 at Chapel Hill Town Hall.

The weekend kicked off with a Chapel Hill Town Council work session on Friday, July 12, where representatives from Chapel Hill Transit, Dover, Kohl & Partners Town Planning and AECOM presented to Council members on the project’s progress. 

Chapel Hill Transit also hosted focus groups that included the interests of business; institutions and local government; seniors; developers and property managers; cyclists, pedestrians and commuters; and persons with accessibility needs.

The concerns of the focus groups varied. A moderator from Dover, Kohl & Partners said members of the seniors focus group discussed shuttles that would circulate around bus stations to shorten walking distances to and from the stations, while the cyclists and pedestrians focus group said they wanted the north-south corridor to have lower speed limits and "No Right Turn on Red" signs. Members of the accessibility focus group spoke about bus and crosswalk features they hope to see implemented. 

Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board member Sam Blank attended one of the weekend’s focus groups. He said he is excited to see the bus rapid transit plan affect traffic on roads like Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 

“This is going to decrease traffic, it’s going to increase transit use and increase the positive outlook on transit because the trips are going to be faster,” Blank said. 

While the Rapid Transit plan will decrease the number of bus stations, it will not get rid of the stops along the corridor. 

“The underlying service is still going to exist, so all the small bus stops in between those stations will be served,” Chapel Hill Transit Development Manager Matt Cecil said. “They won’t be served by the N-S BRT, but things like the A, the G, the T, portions of the NU and the HS that are serving this corridor as well will still be able to pick up at those stops.”

The N-S BRT is in its "30 percent Design Phase," where a draft design is finalized and non-federal funding sources are identified. Chapel Hill Transit can then submit an application for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Small Starts funding. 

Around 80 percent of the project’s funding is expected to come from the FTA, Cecil said. 

While the completion of the Rapid Transit plan is years away, Chapel Hill Transit is already looking at other Bus Rapid Transit routes, including one that would run east to west. 

“This weekend is not the end of it,” Cecil said. “It is going to continue all the way through.”


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