The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

Town of Chapel Hill surveys community about the future of Franklin Street

Cars passing by on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.
Buy Photos Cars passing by on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.

Chapel Hill Town staff invited community members to share their thoughts on the current and future design of Franklin Street in an online survey.

The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering transferring maintenance of Franklin Street from the North Carolina Department of Transportation to the Town. They are also exploring design options for the street and potential reconstruction challenges. 

The survey was posted on the Town’s website on Sept. 23 and includes a link to a design specifics and challenges presentation. Town staff presented the survey results to the Chapel Hill Town Council during its meeting on Oct. 12.

There are six proposed design options, according to the survey. Two options will not transfer maintenance from NCDOT to the Town. 

Of the two options, the first is to keep bike lanes and add biking and pedestrian improvements to the road, according to the presentation. The second is to return to the pre-COVID-19 design with no bike lanes, four lanes of traffic and on-street parking.

According to the presentation, a third option is to keep bike lanes and install pedestrian amenities, such as creative crosswalks or curb extensions. Depending on the design options, the Town may transfer maintenance of the street.

The last three options on the survey involve transferring maintenance of Franklin Street to the Town:

  • Keep bike lanes and install parklet dining or commerce areas along the curb.
  • Reconstruct the road to include a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Completely reconstruct Franklin Street.

The survey lets community members rank the designs, share their thoughts on the current design of the street and leave feedback for Town staff.

Carol Hee, a professor in the Environment, Energy and Ecology Program at UNC, said she voted for the most radical option on the survey: reconstructing Franklin St.

“For that very small amount of real estate, it would be nice to make that more pedestrian-friendly," she said. "More like a European-style small town without the traffic, safety and pollution issues that come with cars and trucks." 

Hee said it is great for the Town to have the chance to demonstrate leadership by making changes that point it and the world toward sustainability. 

Paula Gilland is the CEO of the Purple Bowl, a family-owned eatery on West Franklin Street.

The Purple Bowl uses the space between the street and the eatery for patios and seating — about half their seating is outside, Gilland said.

“We are integrated to bleed into Franklin Street on a daily basis," she said. "Even when it is cold out, people are sitting out there and enjoying Franklin Street."

The street is important to the business, but it is also important to her, Gilland said. She said she eats lunch with her husband outside on Franklin Street almost every day and they walk down the street to go to the post office and other businesses.

Gilland said she would like to see safer connectivity between Franklin Street and Rosemary Street. She added that she thinks these passageways could be used better.

“I love what is happening down by Franklin Motors with the funky, outdoor space that invites people to sit out and enjoy Franklin Street I want to see more of that,” she said. 

Chapel Hill resident Elizabeth LoFrese has lived in the Town since 2008. LoFrese said she thought it was cool that sidewalks were extended so people could dine and walk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think Chapel Hill is a much more walkable town for students and locals than driving so much,” LoFrese said.

Over half of the survey respondents, about 350 community members in total, are neutral toward or like the current design of Franklin Street, according to survey results presented during the Oct. 12 Chapel Hill Town Council meeting. 

However, there are significant desires within the community for infrastructure improvements, the survey found. 

Town Council member Camille Berry said the Town should wait to make any changes until experts can provide research and guidance moving forward. 

"We don't need to jump just yet because we don't have a plan,” she said.

Town Council member Adam Searing agreed with Berry’s request and said he wants to know what other communities have done in similar situations.

Town Council member Michael Parker said he wants to know what this process will look like, how long it will take and what it will cost.

Community members interested in learning more about the projects or filling out the survey can find more information here


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