You see the Carolina blue bus turn onto Franklin Street; the bright orange letters say "U" — University Shuttle. You sprint towards Carolina Coffee Shop, hoping to make it to the stop before the doors close. You know missing it means another 45 minutes until the next bus comes. In desperation, you scream at the bus as if it can hear you.
It pulls away.
That all too common feeling of missing the bus is part of a larger problem: not having enough buses. If we provided more funding to transit-oriented development projects, we could make Chapel Hill more environmentally friendly and accessible.
However, making Chapel Hill more accessible starts with improving public transit infrastructure. That means more buses, more frequently.
It also means, dreaded as it may sound, less parking.
“But it’s already so hard to park in Chapel Hill; we can’t afford to decrease it even more!”
I get it. I, too, struggle to find parking in this town on a consistent basis. It’s either too expensive or too scarce. No matter how you slice it, parking in Chapel Hill sucks for everyone.
But making Chapel Hill a more transit-oriented town means making more space. Parking and transit are inextricably linked; making more parking creates induced demand — if you build it, individuals will come. So when we build more parking, we give way for more cars on the roads, further increasing the reliance on our cars to get us from point A to B.
But what if we didn’t have to rely on our cars so much to get around?
Making that a reality means relying more on buses.
Of course, there are issues with that as well. It’s hard to time the bus just right; weekend service is limited, and missing it means waiting around with time you might not necessarily have. All of this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Chapel Hill Transit is doing what is necessary to keep bus riders safe by limiting the capacity and frequency of buses, but it has simultaneously turned people away from using its services, especially if they have other options.
The way to revive public transit in a post-pandemic world and make Chapel Hill a less driver-dependent town is by funding bus projects. The consistency of transit is a top priority for riders. Imagine not having to time the bus perfectly, but instead reliably knowing that it would come every 10 minutes. That comes through funding more buses and more routes.
Transit consistency also means ensuring that once people are on the bus, the trips themselves are short and quick. The speed of bus trips can be improved by creating separate designated bus lanes, which can be made possible through Bus Rapid Transit projects.
Luckily, Chapel Hill already received funding for one such project late last year. The North-South Bus Rapid Transit (NS BRT) Project received federal grant money to proceed with its design plans. However, that money covers only a fraction of the total cost of the project.
Chapel Hill’s leap into BRT is a great step, but getting massive projects like that up and running is a slow and bureaucratic process. The current timeline doesn’t expect service to begin until 2026.
However long it may take, the truth remains that implementing these transit-oriented projects is the best way to make our town more accessible. More projects like BRT and increasing bus frequency mean reducing our carbon footprint, stimulating the local economy, and ultimately making Chapel Hill a more desirable place to be.
And maybe next time, missing the bus won’t be such a moment of panic and despair.
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