Chapel Hill leaders hope a new and improved bike plan will convince more residents to ride instead of drive.
Chapel Hill boasts one of the highest rates of bicycling commuters in the state, second only to Carrboro. But town planner Garrett Davis said there are many who want to ride, yet don’t.
“A 2013 community survey question asks 2,000-plus people in Chapel Hill, ‘do you feel safe cycling in the town limits?’ Fifty-three percent said ‘no,’” Davis told the Town Council.
On Monday more than a dozen cyclists rolled out to support the town’s draft bike plan, which calls for improved infrastructure and policy changes to promote all types of cycling throughout Chapel Hill.
Davis said the first step would be to focus on ten short-term priority areas.
“It contains some low-cost options that could make some real impacts. It’s not just widening roads in the short-term,” said Davis. “The short-term network has real safety benefits on streets downtown like Rosemary Street.”
Other priority areas include Estes Drive, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Raleigh Road, and portions of Franklin Street.
The ten project list is estimated to cost approximately $16.5 million over the next decade. Planners say that total would need to include at least $9 million in state and federal money to make the projects feasible.
Cyclists came before the council with praise for the plan, which would add bike lanes, side paths and greenways. Jason Merrill is the owner of Back Alley Bikes. He told the council that prior to moving to Chapel Hill, he had never felt welcome on his preferred mode of transit.
“I started a family here, we bought a house here, I started a business here, all because I felt welcome here,” said Merrill. “As the recommendations of this bike plan become realities in the coming years, a message to potential future residents will be painted right on the street in white lines, that there’s a place for you here, you belong here, you’re home.”
Council members were largely supportive of the plan.
“The biking community in this town is incredible, the number of hours they volunteer, the effort they are putting forth,” said Maria Palmer. “In fact, I got myself a bicycle this week.”
The town is accepting further public comment to refine the proposal. The Council will vote on the plan in June.