The Chapel Hill Economic Development Office is reviewing a proposal for traffic lanes in downtown Chapel Hill to be repurposed this summer to accommodate social distancing while encouraging economic recovery.
Matt Gladdek, executive director for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said he submitted a five-part request of downtown modifications to Laura Selmer and Dwight Bassett of the Chapel Hill Economic Development office last Thursday.
The temporary modifications included in Gladdek’s five-part proposal include:
- Using the sidewalk for dining and sidewalk sales, and transforming the lane closest to the sidewalk as a pedestrian walk-through lane
- Designating specific spots along the street for curbside-pickup use only, not allowed to be on-street parking
- Ceasing enforcement of sign ordinance rules for things such as a restaurant advertising curbside pick-up
- Let parking be free during this period of phased reopening
- Allowing parking lots to be used for socially distant special events or entertainment
Gladdek said the temporary modifications are intended to be in place as long as restaurants can't serve at full capacity.
“Many of our favorite restaurants have a very small capacity, which means adhering to good public health practices and social distancing makes it difficult for them to pay their rent and their employees since they can’t fill up their restaurant,” Gladdek said. “This is the best way we could come up with providing them more space to help them get through this pandemic.”
Mary Parry, a Chapel Hill resident and self-employed communications consultant, said she began to notice “the roadways around town kind of turned into a giant sidewalk” due to the low volume of driving since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and she created a petition to advocate for lane closure after she read articles about other towns transforming their downtown roadways.
“As we start reopening in a safe way in our community, we are going to need more outdoor destinations that feel safe, and our downtown seems like the perfect place for people to social distance and support our community,” Parry said.
Parry created a petition to the Chapel Hill Town Council on May 17 called “Feet on Franklin,” advocating for Chapel Hill to repurpose the two outermost traffic lanes of Franklin Street into a protected pedestrian lane and a space where restaurants can expand outdoor seating. The petition currently has over 550 signatures.