Commentary by Matt Bailey
When I was a high school exchange student in Germany, one of the biggest differences that struck me was how school kids in Germany get to school: almost everyone rode their bikes. It wasn’t just us high school students; even eight-year-olds rode their bikes to school. There were no school buses in Germany and I never once saw a parent drive their kid to school.
What made biking the normal way to get to school in Germany? It was a greenway that connected the school to the outlying suburban villages. The paved greenway was fully separated from the cars on the main highway and tunneled under major roads, so it was totally safe from automobile traffic, even for elementary school kids. It was a delightfully scenic place to bike, too.
It was a lot like the Bolin Creek Trail here in Chapel Hill, the greenway that currently connects Community Center Park to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The difference between the Bolin Creek Greenway and the one in Germany is that while our greenway is a great place for recreation, the greenways in Germany actually go places you need to go, such as school, work and shopping.
The good news is Chapel Hill and Carrboro currently have a plan to expand our greenway so you can ride your bike all the way from the East side of Chapel Hill to Carrboro, with connections to Chapel Hill high school, and ultimately downtown and UNC. That would transform our greenway from merely a nice place to bike on the weekend to a real transportation option on weekdays. Chapel Hill just started work on a tunnel under Prichard Avenue for its portion of the expanded greenway and Carrboro is working on one of their segments as well.
The bad news is plans to complete our greenway system are under attack from a small handful of naysayers who falsely claim greenways are, of all things, bad for birds. Where did they get those alternate facts? Making biking a viable way to get to school or work could take thousands of carbon-emitting cars off our local roads. It’s arguably the easiest way we could clean up our environment for birds and everything else that breathes.
Critics claim we should leave greenways as dirt paths, that bicyclists don’t need a paved surface. Not only would that render it useless for everyone from parents with strollers to wheelchair users, most cyclists aren’t rugged mountain bikers. Would those critics support making U.S. 15-501 a dirt road?
Finally, some say it’s enough to merely paint a bike lane or a “sharrow” along the edge of busy roads. While that might be enough of a marginal improvement for die-hard cyclists, would you let your eight year old ride beside 45-mile-an-hour automobile traffic the way German kids ride their bikes to school along their safe and separated greenway?
If you support expanding our greenways so more of us could ride our bikes to school, work, or shopping, or simply so we could all get a little more exercise, email the town council in Chapel Hill and the board of aldermen in Carrboro and make sure they know you support plans to expand our greenway.