Estes Drive, Light Rail, BRT On Town Transportation Agenda

Interested in biking? walking? busing? light railing? just getting around in general?

Next week, the Town of Chapel Hill is holding a pair of public meetings on the future of local transportation.

The first will be on Tuesday, February 9, from 5-7 pm in the first floor conference room of Town Hall. It’ll be a “drop-in” session (you don’t have to be there for the full two hours) to gather public feedback on a trio of proposals for new bike lanes and multi-use paths along Estes Drive from MLK to Caswell, to make biking and walking safer and easier. The Estes Drive project grew out of the Chapel Hill Bike Plan and the Central West Small Area Plan; it will be a $2.3 million construction project, with most of the money coming from federal funding. (Town planners are gathering feedback to develop a final proposal for the Chapel Hill Town Council, with a vote planned sometime before the Council breaks for the summer. Construction itself is slated to begin later this year.)

Get more info on the meeting, including a look at the three alternative designs for Estes Drive.

The town is also holding a meeting on Wednesday, February 10, on various topics related to public transit including buses, bus rapid transit, the ongoing North-South corridor study, and the future of light rail. This meeting will take place in Town Council chambers (also in Town Hall) from 7-9 pm. The town’s Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board is hosting the meeting; board members will use public feedback to provide future recommendations to the Town Council.

Chapel Hill Long Range and Transportation Planning Manager David Bonk discussed both meetings this week with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

Residents Roll Out To Support Chapel Hill Bike Plan

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.

Central West Group: Off-Road Bike Path A Priority For Estes

CHAPEL HILL- Residents involved in planning the future of the Estes Drive/ Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard area unanimously endorsed a plan on Tuesday to create an off-street bike path to help children get safely to school.

The proposed path could run parallel to Estes from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Caswell Road, allowing students at Phillips Middle and Estes Hills Elementary to bike or walk to school while avoiding vehicle traffic on one of Chapel Hill’s busiest roads.

Members of the Central West Steering Committee agreed the multi-use path would be the top priority for bike and pedestrian improvements to the area. They also called for bike lanes in the street, along with a sidewalk that runs the full length of Estes Drive.

Although committee members agreed turn lanes might be necessary in some places to ease congestion, the group rejected a plan to add a third lane all along Estes, saying that would widen the road too much.

Transportation Planning Manager David Bonk said the town has about $2.5 million in federal grant money available to bring bike and pedestrian facilities in the area in the next few years.

The group also discussed land use plans for the undeveloped parcels on Estes closest to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Currently, the Horace Williams Airport Hazard Zone prohibits those parcels from being developed, but committee members said once the airport closes, they’d like to see mixed use development with a focus on retail that serves the nearby residential communities.

Committee members stressed that whatever is built on the corner should complement the Carolina North campus eventually slated for the other side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The group is still in the early stages of land use planning discussions, with a goal of crafting a small area plan for the town council to review by December.

The committee will continue its work next Wednesday, meeting at 6 o’clock at the Chapel Hill Public Library.