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Chapel Hill hosts panelists, community for downtown streetscape workshop

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Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Chapel Hill has been awarded $2 million from Community Project Funding that will go towards downtown streetscape improvements.

On Tuesday, the Town of Chapel Hill hosted the Great Streets Workshop, a part of its Downtown Public Right-of-Way Plan, a plan to revitalize the town's downtown area.

A panel of four speakers from other municipalities that have undergone downtown changes shared their knowledge about undergoing streetscape improvement projects, which are designed to enhance pedestrian experience.

In 2022, the town council approved American Rescue Plan Act funds for multiple downtown projects, including a two-part streetscape and mobility plan. The workshop is part of the second phase of the project — the Downtown Public Right-of-Way Master Plan — which began in February and will continue until the end of this year. The first phase of the plan was the Multimodal Mobility Study, which concluded in 2023.

The Downtown Public Right-of-Way Master Plan continues the efforts of the mobility study by working to find ways to improve the economic viability of the downtown area and creating an interconnected street system.

Along with representatives from towns and cities in Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina and Georgia, staff members from Toole Design, the consultant firm assisting with improvements in Downtown Chapel Hill, were present at the event.

The representatives and panelists discussed balancing the amount of stoplights for aesthetics and pedestrian safety, using both state and local funds, widening sidewalks and improving public transportation.

“All of the communities sharing with us tonight were once in our shoes, recognizing the need to invest in their downtowns to secure long term relevancy,” Chapel Hill Mayor Jess Anderson said. “They've moved from a vision through construction and are now reaping the benefits of their great streets projects.”

Jim Alexander, who has lived in Chapel Hill for 25 years, said the speakers at the event were very well-informed and had great ideas. He said he hopes the Town will have the chance to get the master plan and its financing in place.

Ian Voos, another Chapel Hill resident and product development engineer, said he attended the event because he wanted to show his support of the project. Voos also said the community engagement templates from the panelists were interesting and that the panelists had a strong focus on community engagement in their own cities.

“Making sure that they are heard and focused on was definitely something that I hadn't thought about as much previously,” Voos said. “So it was something that can help make the project successful.”

In addition to the workshop, Town staff and Toole Design hosted downtown community walks on Wednesday designed to give community members an opportunity to share feedback on their experiences and ideas for sidewalks and street improvement.

Kevin Bacon, a regional director of urban design at Toole Design, said the firm plans to gather feedback from community members and start design work over the summer. He said Toole Design will return in the fall with another week-long event and more engagement activities with the Town.

“We have designed this to be a process that the design is driven by what everybody wants to see here,” Bacon said. “And we really hope that you all will be a part of that this week and going forward."

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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