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Chapel Hill and Carrboro celebrate Transit Equity Day, hope to improve safety

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Melissa McCullough, a Chapel Hill resident, speaks at the Transit Equity Day hosted by NEXT at Steel String Brewery on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

On Saturday, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community celebrated transportation accessibility on Transit Equity Day, which lined up with Rosa Parks’ birthday. NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro, a grassroots advocacy organization, hosted an event at Steel String Brewery in Carrboro.

UNC senior and NEXT Coordinator Simon Palmore said Transit Equity Day falls on Parks' birthday because of her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was a key part of the Civil Rights Movement and progression towards national racial equality.  

“I think the day asks us to think about how we get around, and how different members of the community get around, and whether we all have equal and equitable ability to make use of the public space here in Chapel Hill and Carrboro,” Palmore said.

John Rees, a board member of NEXT, said transit equity is about access for everyone and that, while issues previously related to discrimination on public buses, they now concern the safety of transit and transit infrastructure.

Both Rees and Palmore said infrastructure is key to ensuring equity, with elements such as sidewalks, bike lanes and bus stops. However, these elements can also be dangerous to transit users if they are not careful.

“There’re some bus stops along NC 54 near Kingswood that are just dangerous, and the danger is beyond the control of the transit agency,” Rees said.

Crystell Ferguson, community navigation manager for Inter-Faith Council in Carrboro, said two people have been killed and several have been injured using public transportation infrastructure in the past year — especially in areas near affordable housing.

Christian A. Ball, who Ferguson personally worked with through shelter services IFC provides, was killed last December trying to cross four lanes of traffic to reach a convenience store because there were no crosswalks on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near his home at Ashley Forest.

Thomas Filter was killed in the same area on Sept. 8 after getting off a bus.

Ferguson wrote a petition following the incidents to the Town of Chapel Hill asking for a crosswalk at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Taylor Road, reflective vests for pedestrians crossing the street and better lighting near bus stops and crosswalks.

She said it is difficult to see in that area and that IFC sees people nearly getting hit by cars almost every day.

In addition to increasing the safety of residents, Transit Equity Day also focused on environmental equity. 

Melissa McCullough worked for the EPA for over 30 years and held a senior position in its Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program. She is now a climate activist and chair of the Orange-Chatham group of the Sierra Club, which is one of the oldest environmental advocacy organizations in the U.S.

The responsibility of transit equity does not just fall on transit providers, McCullough said, as citizens can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by limiting car transportation.

She said a non-polluting solution to individual transportation would be getting people out of their cars and into electric transit. This also helps to allow for more green space, since there are far more parking spaces than cars in the U.S.

“There’s a great visual of how much road it takes to move a bus load of people in a bus, versus how much road it takes to move that same number of people in cars,” McCullough said. 

Without individual cars, Reese and McCullough said people still need to travel to their destination, which emphasizes the need for adequate bike lanes and sidewalks. 

Rees, a public transit user and bike rider, said he often attaches his bike to the front of buses and uses it in between bus stops.

@carolinehorne22

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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