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.