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NCDOT announces updates to state bike routes after calls for safer streets

First-year environmental science major Tasso Hartzog poses with his bike outside of Greenlaw Hall. Tasso was injured after being hit by a car while riding his bike but still relies on his bike for local transportation.

The N.C. Department of Transportation recently announced plans to update its bike route system. The department will take public input on areas for improvement until March 14.

The updates will be made as part of NCDOT's WalkBikeNC, a bicycle and pedestrian plan that was last reevaluated and updated in 2013. The state's bike route system itself was developed decades ago, after the Bicycle & Bikeway Act of 1974 was passed in North Carolina.

The plans to update the route system follow a recent surge in pedestrian and bicycle accidents in Chapel Hill. Many community members and groups have been advocating for more bike- and pedestrian-friendly measures to be put in place.

The NCDOT Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation will shift sections of existing intercity routes away from high-traffic areas to be safer, said John Vine-Hodge, deputy director of planning and programming for the NCDOT Integrated Mobility Division.

These updates will be reflected in new maps and signage as part of the WalkBikeNC plan.

NCDOT recently created an interactive map to identify problems and suggest changes to bike routes across the state. People can leave their names and a brief description of their concerns on the map.

A large number of the public comments are located around Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“A bike lane that town buses can not enter would make bike travel on Franklin Street much safer,” Erica Sparkenbaugh, an assistant professor at UNC, said in a comment.

Vine-Hodge said the website was intended to be used for public feedback on the long-distance state bike routes. He was surprised to see so many posts in urban areas.

“I don’t think we anticipated getting some of the information we’re seeing now,” Vine-Hodge said.

UNC first-year Tasso Hartzog, who relies on his bike for transportation, echoed the requests for more bike-friendly streets.

He cited recent traffic accidents in Chapel Hill as evidence of insufficient protections for cyclists.

“It's a real 'rock and a hard place' situation,” Hartzog said. "You can't legally be on the sidewalk, don't want to be in the road because that's very unsafe, so people often stick to the edge of the road where they're right next to parked cars and very vulnerable to people opening doors."

He said he was struck by a car and severely injured while biking in his hometown of Philadelphia in 2019. This experience has led him to call for changes to downtown Chapel Hill’s bike lanes.

“I would feel much safer riding on Franklin, one, if all those obstacles on the bike path were removed, but two, if the bike lane were actually protected by more permanent infrastructure,” he said.

Chapel Hill and Carrboro are home to active communities of cyclists, represented by several advocacy organizations like Carrboro Bicycle Coalition and Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill, as well as social cycling groups such as Queer Ride Carrboro.

Ricky Pimentel, a doctoral student at UNC, volunteers at the RECYCLEry, a Carrboro bike co-op that helps community members build and repair bikes for free.

He said the best way to make cycling safer and more attractive is to create a safer biking network in urban areas.

“It’s good that we have state routes, but the majority of cyclists are just riding around town,” Pimentel said.

He also called for more bike lanes and safe places to bike in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to avoid unsafe situations for both cyclists and pedestrians.

“The main thing is just having safe spaces for people to ride bikes,” Pimentel said.

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The full WalkBikeNC plan can be found here.

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