The Chapel Hill Town Council voted on Feb. 2 to implement a curb-running bike lane on West Franklin Street on following recent accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians.
Mayor Pro Tem Karen Stegman said Chapel Hill is in a crisis in terms of street safety. More than 16 people were hit by drivers on crosswalks in the last year, according to police department data.
According to a press release from the Town, The Chapel Hill Police Department will continue to increase pedestrian safety enforcement operations with a focus on crosswalks.
Pedestrian safety will be reinforced daily by on-duty and off-duty officers. In addition, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GSHP) will fund two widespread operations every week. Each GHSP operation is four hours long, and four off-duty officers are assigned to cover several areas.
Consequences of not yielding to a pedestrian could include a $100 fine, about $200 in court costs, driver’s license points, insurance rate impacts and civil litigation.
“We are literally talking about life and death when we talk about what we’re doing with our streets and how we are making them safe for everybody, and not just for cars,” Stegman said.
With the N.C. Department of Transportation set to resurface the street this summer, the restriping decision must be made prior.
Downtown Special Projects Manager Sarah Poulton said resurfacing is a process that involves scraping the top layers of asphalt off the street, leveling it and replacing the top layer with new asphalt.
“Restriping is the process after resurfacing, referring to replacing approved pavement markings back onto the asphalt,” she said. “The town has the opportunity, at this point, to have NCDOT repave the street in a way that is different from today that better meets our community’s needs.”
The restriping will be designed by Ramey Kemp & Associates.
The council was given the choice between traffic-running and curb-running bicycle lanes in the redesign.
Transportation Planning Manager Bergen Watterson said traffic-running bicycle lanes are bordered by parked cars on one side and moving vehicles on the other. Curb-running bike lanes put bicyclists between the curb and parked cars.
The Chapel Hill Town Council also approved the curb-running bicycle lanes.
“Some think of [curb-running bike lanes] as safer because it physically separates the cyclist from the moving vehicles,” Watterson said.
Poulton said the curb-running bicycle lane will continue to leave room on the street side for sidewalk diners.
With curb-running bike lanes, there is potential for conflict between bicycles and vehicles at driveways and intersections, Watterson said.
There is the possibility of further protective measures such as vertical barriers between the bicycle lane and the traffic lane.
“I’ve talked to some folks in the biking community,” Council Member Amy Ryan said. “They feel like there is a safety edge with the curb-running lanes.”
Adam Searing, council member and longtime cyclist, said curb-running lanes are inclusive of cyclists of all skill levels.
“I’ve often led bicycle tours,” he said. “I love it because you have cyclists who are not as experienced, or maybe haven’t been on a bike in 20 years, and having curb-running is so much better for the riding environment.”
Watterson hopes to design a public-input process for the future design of Franklin Street by spring of this year.
“Both bike lane designs are paint,” Watterson said. “They can be changed in the future. It’s really just to give us a better street while we figure out what our forever Franklin Street wants to be.”
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