Chapel Hill Transit has upgraded 11 bus stops to meet American Disability Act requirements, with eight more in construction and 42 in the design phase.
Three years ago, Chapel Hill Transit assessed the quality and accessibility of its bus stops in order to make sure each stop met ADA requirements. But Chapel Hill Transit discovered many stops did not meet those requirements because most were installed 20 to 25 years ago – before ADA requirements changed.
For example, Brian Litchfield, the Chapel Hill Transit director, said many bus stops in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area lack sidewalks leading up to the stops, which poses an accessibility issue.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro have exactly 527 bus stops, 100 of which have shelters.
“We have a legal obligation, once we make an improvement, to make sure that it meets the ADA,” Litchfield said. "So we said, well let’s get these done first and make sure they’re right.”
In 2019, Chapel Hill Transit received community feedback from neighborhoods and groups like Chapel Hill's Building Integrated Communities and the Refugee Community Partnership.
Litchfield said based on feedback from the Refugee Community Partnership, Chapel Hill Transit is also adding solar-powered signs to several bus stops that will share information in multiple languages.
Meagan Clawar, program manager at Refugee Community Partnership, said she hopes these changes will help make the stops more accessible.
“A lot of our families have talked to us about just the difficulties of navigating the bus system and so I think these new signs, being able to clearly see when the bus will be coming, having it be pretty simplified and easy for folks to identify what bus they have to take – I think that’s going to hopefully make the process a lot easier for folks," she said.
Other changes Chapel Hill Transit is making to bus stops include altering the slope of the ramps and adding landing pads, tactile warning slips and sidewalks, Litchfield said.
As of February, most of the bus stops affected are located on the west side of Chapel Hill and in Carrboro. With over 500 stops, Chapel Hill Transit has completed construction on 11, is continuing construction on eight and is designing another 42. Due to bus stop material-shipping delays from COVID-19, Chapel Hill Transit is unsure of when it will finish repairing and upgrading all the bus stops.
Litchfield said the town is primarily looking at bus stops in locations that frequently service people with disabilities, as well as stops in low-income neighborhoods.
“Those are the locations that have priority at this point in time," Litchfield said.
Damon Seils, a Carrboro Town Council member, said the need to upgrade these bus stops is important, especially in areas of the community where ridership is high. He said Chapel Hill Transit use is highest where people don’t have access to a car.
“Bus stops and shelters are an important part of any bus system, any transit system,” said Seils. “If we’re not taking care of riders at the stops, we’re not taking care of them, period.”
Seils uses public transit out of personal preference, but said he has other options that some people in the community may not in terms of transportation. Beyond people with disabilities and the elderly, many people who depend on Chapel Hill Transit are from low-income and/or minority communities.
"Equity plays an important role in all of our decisions and recommendations to the transit funding partners," Litchfield said in an email.
Corey Root, the Orange County Homeless Programs coordinator, works with colleagues and individuals – some housed and some not – who use public transit. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, people with disabilities are disproportionately represented in those experiencing homelessness.
“When things are made ADA-compliant and made more accessible, physically that just enhances this for everyone,” Root said. “Easy access for all our community members services everyone.”
Clawar said she hopes Refugee Community Partnership and Chapel Hill Transit continue to collaborate on updating these bus stops by creating multilingual videos to be shared in the community to further distribute information.
“We’ve appreciated partnering with them (Chapel Hill Transit) and them just considering communities that often get overlooked," she said.
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