CHAPEL HILL- Each weekday morning, 17,000 Chapel Hillians leave town to go to work, while 40,000 drive in. With only 7,000 who work near where they live, many residents are subject to long commutes, traffic and air pollution.
At last week’s forum hosted by the Sierra Club and the local Chamber of Commerce, candidates for Chapel Hill Town Council weighed in on how to address the in-and-out challenge.
George Cianciolo said he’d like to see more people live and work in Chapel Hill.
“For the 17,000 that are driving out we need to create more jobs so that they can have jobs here and don’t need to leave,” said Cianciolo. “For the 40,000 that are driving in, we need to make housing more affordable here so they can afford to live here.”
But Loren Hintz said many will continue to commute.
“We have institutions that employ a lot of people, and to house everyone we might have to be twice the size of Cary,” said Hintz. “So I think it’s really important to focus on the transportation issue.”
Ed Harrison said if he’s re-elected, promoting transit would be one of his top priorities.
“Keep working and working and working on transit at every level: regional, local and neighborhood,” said Harrison.
Given that half of the eligible voters in Chapel Hill are between 18 and 24 years old, moderator D.G. Martin asked the candidates what they would do to better serve the young adult population.
Paul Neebe said he’d focus on better bike routes and greenways.
“I think that we need to make sure that the town is safe for people bicycling and walking,” said Neebe.
Amy Ryan agreed, saying she’s seen firsthand the shift away from cars as a primary mode of transportation.
“I have one of those anecdotal non-driving 20-year-olds that you hear about,” said Ryan. “Watching her try to get around town and to get to jobs and back and forth to school it is quite a challenge, so I think better bike routes, better greenways and better bus systems.”
D.C. Swinton said many young people leave the area because they can’t find affordable housing.
“We also have to make sure to have affordable housing for them when they get out of school because they may not get the most high-paying jobs in Chapel Hill and will have to leave and go somewhere else,” said Swinton.
When it comes to connecting with young voters, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said elected officials just need to reach out.
“One of the things we need to do is be engaged with then and not just assume we know what they want and come up with some sort of prescription,” said Kleinschmidt. “It’s frustrating.”
An audience member asked the candidates what Chapel Hill should do to help the homeless once IFC’s emergency shelter shifts to a transitional program.
Sally Greene said at the moment, the town has no plan.
“The town, as far as I know, does not have a plan for this,” said Greene. “I’m the representative to the homelessness partnership in the county and I think this is a conversation we need to have.”
Gary Kahn suggested that local houses of worship could offer space for shelter.
“Make use of the various churches, synagogues and other centers to help the homeless,” said Kahn.
Maria Palmer said she’d like to see UNC partner with the town to provide mental health services for those in need.
“Mental health and addiction problems are big and we are not putting in the resources we need,” said Palmer. The university and the hospitals need to help us. We need to do more and I think we can do more.”
If you’d like to see the full forum, it will be rebroadcast on the People’s Channel later this month.
Early voting runs October 17 through November 2. Election Day is November 5.