This summer, the Town of Chapel Hill is planning to add bike lanes to Ephesus Church Road as part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation's repaving project.
The bike lanes will begin at Ephesus Elementary and end before the intersection between Ephesus Church Road and Pope Road.
To accommodate bikes, the road’s 16-foot lanes will be narrowed to a range of 11 to 14 feet, giving bicyclists at least 5 feet on each side of the road.
"That will make it so that more kids feel confident riding to school," Town Council Member Adam Searing said. "It will also help parents who are out there riding."
Josh Mayo, transportation planner for the Town of Chapel Hill, said the repaving process will take place over the summer to minimize conflicts with school traffic from Ephesus Elementary.
The plan has received mostly positive support so far. An online survey has garnered 125 responses with 85 percent of the responses backing the project, as of last week.
Mayo, who is leading the project, noted there have also been some concerns raised in the survey responses, such as questions about the plan’s call for narrowing lanes and prohibiting parking on sides of the road.
Recently, a biker on Franklin Street was struck by an individual exiting their vehicle and died as a result of subsequent injuries. The incident has led to a large number of Chapel Hill leaders and residents to raise concerns about pedestrian and cyclist safety in the area.
Searing, who attended Ephesus Elementary as a child and has been biking in Chapel Hill for almost 50 years, said the new lanes are a step in the right direction but do not offer protection for bikers, as they will be designated by paint only.
"I think we really need to get pedestrians and bicyclists off the road completely," Searing said.
He said there are ways to make more greenways and natural surface trails that accommodate bicyclists, older folks and people in wheelchairs.
Tab Combs, a research associate in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning, said the lack of protection for bikers fails the demographic that could best use bike lanes: students and parents.
"I wouldn't let my child ride on a bike lane on a road that busy if there's not protection on it," Combs said. "And so that was one of my initial thoughts: This might be good for some bicyclists, but probably not for the people who could benefit from it the most."
She noted that, without barriers to shield bike lanes from cars, bikes can potentially be blocked by parked cars or parents picking their kids up from school.
“It's going to be a parking lane, people are just going to park there — unless there's some form of protection," Combs said.
Searing said the bike lanes being added to Ephesus Church Road will not extend the full length of the road.
Although he wishes the lanes extended farther, he said the narrower roads will slow cars and make the roads safer for pedestrians and students.
Mayo said that one limiting factor is that the North Carolina Department of Transportation's repaving and resurfacing does not allow for new pavement to be added.
“We're working with what we have or trying to paint on the existing canvas," Mayo said. "And that kind of limits us and what we can do."
Mayo encourages the community to provide feedback via the online survey that will remain open until Feb. 28. Those interested in learing more about the project can register for a public information meeting set for Feb. 24.
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