The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. Sue Hunter is running for a seat on Chapel Hill Town Council.
Trying to get around Chapel Hill without a car is hard. If you’ve ever taken the valiant step of ditching your vehicle and trying instead to take the bus, walk or bike, you’ll know that despite the talk about how walkable and bike-friendly our town is, the reality is a Chapel Hill that lacks adequate “Complete Streets.”
We have a good sidewalk system — mostly. But there are still far too many places in our town where sidewalks are crumbling, or simply not there. Our greenway system is beautiful and well used, but it has serious gaps and they’re closed after dark. So commuting on foot is hard. We see walking only as recreation. Our town’s map shows an impressive number of bike lanes, but most are right next to fast-moving traffic, and many are downright scary to use. The gold standard for cyclists — protected bike lanes that place a physical barrier between cars and bikes — only exists in a small stretch along Rosemary Street. The best time to add and improve bike lanes is when roads are being widened or repaved. But so far our town hasn’t been vocal enough in pushing for these opportunities.
Meanwhile, most of us in Chapel Hill spend hours of our week stuck behind the wheel. Of course, there are car trips that are difficult to avoid, and members of our community for whom other transportation is more difficult. But many of us are forced to drive because of the absence of good ways to get around. Right now there is no good, safe way to get downtown by bike from east Chapel Hill. Good pedestrian facilities are not connected. In addition, we make land-use choices, like the Wegman’s grocery store with a significant amount of parking, that encourage more driving, not less.
We are entering a new age of transportation. Electric bikes are relatively affordable — a fraction of the cost of a car — and render our town’s namesake hills unimposing. In fact, the Town and University are close to launching an electronic bike-share program. Electric scooters are also on the rise, and make getting to transit easier.
We shouldn’t overlook the good work our town has done. Three years ago, excess car lanes on Sage Road were removed and a nice buffered (though not protected) bike lane installed. And the town’s small staff focused on bike and pedestrian issues is working hard pushing forward several projects like the great bikeway planned for Estes Drive near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
But the town needs to be doing so much more. We need to focus on implementing our excellent Mobility and Connectivity Plan. Where this plan calls for bike lanes, we should be repainting those roads immediately. We need to invest to connect up the gaps in our sidewalks and bike lanes. We should add bike parking at some of our busiest bus stops to make it easier to bike to the bus. And we need to take full advantage of NCDOT’s updated Complete Streets policy so that every time the state does work on roads in our town they are also funding bike and pedestrian improvements.
These changes are important for our citizens, but also to ensure Chapel Hill remains a leader. Facing serious climate change, we have signed a pledge to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions. As transportation is the number one emitter nationwide, rethinking how we get around is essential.
There’s so much to do to complete our Chapel Hill streets. Let’s move!
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