I’m a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School District, and since the school year started, we’ve received a text, phone call and email almost every day telling us that our kindergartener’s bus is going to be late.

The school district has said there are a number of options on the table to help with the bus issues, but many parents – including myself – are idling in car lines outside our elementary, middle and high schools because of the ongoing bus issues and because there’s no safe way for many of our kids to bike and walk to school.

If you’d like to learn more about a group of parents and kids working to make biking and walking to school safer, please join the mailing list for the Carrboro Linear Parks Project.

The blue parts already exist. Building the green parts (in Carrboro) and the purple parts (in Chapel Hill) will connect us all the way to the Chapel Hill Public Library!

A Greenway = Safe route to school

That’s a big reason why I’m really looking forward to Carrboro restarting a discussion around the next phases of the Bolin Creek Greenway. The greenway, which will connect to the existing greenway up near Homestead, will make it possible for my kids to one day bike and walk to Smith Middle School and Chapel Hill High School — and they’ll be able to take a direct, safe path through the woods without car traffic.

For years, anti-greenway advocates in Carrboro have discussed alternatives along roads that kids can use instead of the woods. The alternatives might be good for biking in general – people on bikes need to go all of the same places that people in cars need to go –  but they are simply not interchangeable with a fully separated path in the woods.

The alternatives don’t connect the same places, and they aren’t separated, in many cases, from high-speed traffic. So they might work for the road bikers in Spandex (who already use roads) but won’t work for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable alongside traffic (or anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with their kids biking along traffic.)

One suggested path uses the roads Pathway and Cobblestone. This route has several steep hills and one that’s so hard that it’s a segment on Strava. (That means grownup bikers in the area compete to get the fastest time on it.) Not only is it not shorter than the direct route through the woods, but it would be really, really hard for 7th graders with backpacks to do. That’s why we don’t currently see any kids using it in the mornings and afternoons to get to those schools.

Another, along Sewell School Road, could be an important and overdue connection for people on bikes and on foot, if a truly separated multi-use path can be constructed in that location. However, Seawell School Road is currently a narrow, two-lane road with no sidewalks for most of the long stretch between Seawell School Road and Estes Drive Extension. The blind curve is scary. It lacks a paved shoulder, much less sidewalks or any multi-use path. There’s no plan to add these facilities in the near future, and one big challenge is that the route crosses the still-active railroad that brings coal to the UNC cogeneration plant. Along with the safety issues that poses, there are massive coordination challenges in building bicycle and pedestrian facilities across active railroad tracks.

Another route is dependent on UNC footing the bill — The C2C connector was proposed as part of the development agreement for Carolina North between UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill. Aside from some preliminary public engagement activities more than a decade ago, no work has been done on this project. There is no preliminary route, no plan for further study, and no identified safe way to get from campus to the Carolina North area. We don’t expect progress in the next few decades. It’s a no-go.

I do know one kid that currently mountain bikes to school through the woods — his mom is a mountain biker and they use actual (and very expensive) mountain bikes to make the daily journey.

A paved path would open up doors for the many, many more kids who bike to McDougle and Carrboro Elementary and then are driven or bussed to high school or Smith Middle School. It would also help our ongoing bus issues — a lot of parents (myself included) who don’t feel comfortable with their kids biking or walking in shoulders along busy roads would feel comfortable with them biking or walking along the Bolin Creek Trail in Chapel Hill (and by extension, the extension planned for Carrboro.)

If you’d like to learn more about a group of parents and kids working to make biking and walking to school safer, please join the mailing list for the Carrboro Linear Parks Project.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....