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Wednesday September 28th

Chapel Hill begins developing Bus Rapid Transit project to improve service and safety

<p>A Chapel Hill Transit bus driver buckles in their seat belt on Wednesday Sept. 15, 2021.</p>
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A Chapel Hill Transit bus driver buckles in their seat belt on Wednesday Sept. 15, 2021.

The Town of Chapel Hill has started to look for sponsorships to help with the development and implementation of the North-South Bus Rapid Transit (N-S BRT) system in order to provide faster bus services for residents.

 In an Aug. 30 request, Chapel Hill Transit said it is looking to “maximize the value of its transit assets” through sponsorships, which would come in the form of naming rights to the bus line and sponsorship opportunities on 12 N-S BRT vehicles and 28 stations.

The North-South corridor study began in 2012 to identify an alternative to the existing corridor that connected Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd to South Columbia Street and U.S. 15-501.

In 2016, the Chapel Hill Town Council adopted the alternative: the North-South Corridor. This path connects several major stops from Eubanks Road to Southern Village, including UNC hospitals, downtown Chapel Hill and several stops on UNC's campus. 

According to the N-S BRT's website, this corridor is "one of the town’s busiest and most vital thoroughfares."

This project aims to make travel times shorter while improving the rider experience. To accomplish this, the N-S BRT corridor is set to include bus-only lanes and traffic signal priority, meaning that minor modifications will be made to the traffic signal cycle so bus rapid transit vehicles spend less time at red lights.

The N-S BRT plan is also aimed at creating more regional transit connections to the Durham, Raleigh and Greensboro areas.

According to the program’s website, the service plans to begin running by 2028.

Brian Litchfield, the director of Chapel Hill Transit, said this 8.2-mile corridor will serve as a regional project over time and that Wake County is also currently developing a BRT project.

“It’s important to understand that this is not just an improvement for Chapel Hill, Carrboro and University,” Litchfield said. “It’s something that over time will also be something that’s important for the region.”

The plan outlines several goals to be supported by the route, including meeting sustainability goals, future affordable housing development and improved pedestrian safety.

Chapel Hill’s Transit Development Manager Matthew Cecil said the climate is of the highest importance to the Town, so any steps that can be taken to meet its climate goals will be a part of the project.

Litchfield said that one of these steps is the implementation of electric buses in the N-S BRT route. He said he thinks the BRT will encourage more people to use public transportation, resulting in a smaller environmental impact.

Litchfield also said the N-S BRT corridor will implement multi-use paths by expanding the Town’s greenway system to improve pedestrian safety.

“That is going to be a huge improvement not only for transit, but certainly for folks who may never even use the bus will be able to use those things,” Litchfield said.

He said the program is currently entering its 60 percent design phase, entailing more specific designs and entering an environmental review process through the National Environment Policy Act.

Thomas Jones, a student at UNC, lives off campus and takes the NS bus route to class. He said he has been late for classes after waiting longer than anticipated for buses and has concerns about pedestrian safety while walking along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Jones added that he wanted to see more accessible and safer bus stops, which is another goal of the N-S BRT project.

“I guess it’s not even about, like, improving the bus system,” Jones said. “It’s also about improving pedestrian accessibility.”

Cecil said Chapel Hill Transit has and will continue to hold public engagement opportunities, and encouraged residents to find information at nsbrt.org.

@madelynvanmeter

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com


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