paved trail

Future-Proofing Cul-de-Sac Carrboro

This piece was originally published on WCHL’s Viewpoints. If you are interested in updates about community efforts to urge the town to build out Carrboro’s greenway network, sign up for the email updates over at the Carrboro Linear Parks Project.

I live in one of the northern Carrboro neighborhoods, one of the suburban neighborhoods. The suburban end of Carrboro is full of families and kids and older folks, too, some of whom are the original owners of the 1990’s-era homes that line these streets.

And these are really great neighborhoods, where kids make lifelong friends, Halloween is definitely a thing, and your favorite local bands practice in their driveways. If you live on this end of Carrboro, your household is probably within walking distance to something that many folks in town cite as their favorite thing about Carrboro, which is the path running along Bolin Creek.

But suburban Carrboro suffers from a lot of the typical pitfalls of suburban development, which is to say that the neighborhoods are not well connected and a lot of folks end up driving a car anytime they need to go somewhere. I have especially noticed this for the kids in my neighborhood when they start attending Chapel Hill High School.

As the crow flies, the high school is just over a mile from the houses on my street, but kids often drive or get driven on a four-mile circuit around Hillsborough and Homestead Roads. Driving four miles instead of walking or biking a little over one mile is the quintessential suburban rub: a great neighborhood, but you’re trapped in it without a car. And it’s not as though having a car in a suburban neighborhood is particularly liberating, unless you enjoy contributing to the town’s traffic and dutifully making your monthly car payment.

If you live in suburban Carrboro and you’re interested in the possibility of your children having independence that doesn’t involve handing over car keys, you will be very interested to know that the Carrboro Town Council might soon be discussing a fix: the future of the large missing segment of the town’s greenway network (known officially as Phases III and IV of the Bolin Creek Master Plan ).

This project would provide a connection between the existing greenway that runs under Homestead Road near the high school, all the way to Estes Drive using the existing sewer easement that runs alongside Bolin Creek. What’s a sewer easement? It’s a strip of land used by the utility company in order to maintain the sewer line that runs alongside (and sometimes across) the creek. The utility is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the pipes and manholes you see along the creek, and the easement is required for vehicle access and to keep trees from growing too close to the pipes where their roots might become a problem. This 30-foot wide sewer easement has been located next to Bolin Creek for decades and is well used by local residents as a footpath, but it is not maintained in a manner that allows for easy mobility.

To be more accurate, parts of the sewer easement are downright treacherous to walk on, and biking its length is nearly impossible for the average cyclist. If you’re pushing a stroller or use a wheelchair, you’re excluded completely from this natural area. However, if the Town of Carrboro were to complete the long-planned greenway network along Bolin Creek and make this corridor transversable, the kids in my neighborhood would have a short and quite beautiful walk or bike ride to school.

Going in the opposite direction along the creek, neighborhood kids could ride to Wilson Park without having to share space with cars at all. And if Chapel Hill extends its leg of the Bolin Creek Greenway to Estes Drive, then kids from Carrboro could safely ride their bikes on dedicated greenways to Umstead Park to play volleyball, or visit Flyleaf Books, or even ride to the movie theater at University Mall.

The benefits of completing the greenway network in Carrboro don’t just accrue to kids. Many adults in town have indicated that they would like to ride bikes for errands and recreation but are concerned about road safety and mixing with car traffic. The town’s biennial community survey also showed that there is a huge interest in greenways and dedicated bike and walking paths. With a clear desire for separated bike and pedestrian facilities, the town could significantly reduce the number of miles driven and increase the joy of active transportation in a way that scales with the kind of growth Carrboro has said it wants.

In fact, this has been one of the key takeaways from the planning expert hired by our neighbors in Chapel Hill. Jennifer Keesmaat is the former chief planner for the City of Toronto and has been advising the Town of Chapel Hill on the long-term direction of the town as part of its Complete Community initiative.

Keesmaat has told town leaders that if Chapel Hill is to grow in a way that is consistent with the town’s values (i.e. equitable and sustainable growth), then the town should build out a complete greenway network to reduce the need for personal vehicles. If Chapel Hill adopts Keesmaat’s recommendations and invests heavily in its greenway network, there is a multiplier effect for Carrboro’s greenway network if we can connect the two systems effectively at Estes Drive.

The Town of Carrboro, like every community in the area, is going to have to build out smart and scalable ways for our community to grow. We cannot design our communities around personal car trips on arterial roads as the town increases in density. Carrboro can connect our neighborhoods and our towns by constructing the greenway network we have been collectively envisioning for many years already.

If you are interested in updates about community efforts to urge the town to build out Carrboro’s greenway network, sign up for the email updates over at the Carrboro Linear Parks Project. You can also write directly to the Carrboro Town Council at council@carrboronc.gov and tell them that it’s time for the town to build our greenway network!