A big win for transit: The FTA’s Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Planning got a great write-up today in Governing. Chapel Hill received funding to plan for TOD at 16 stations of the proposed 8.2-mile North-South BRT project. This is a game-changing grant that opens the doors to other federal grants.

Okay, what is the North-South Bus Rapid Transit (NSBRT)?

The North-South BRT will be Chapel Hill’s first Bus Rapid Transit line, connecting the Eubanks Park and Ride with the Southern Village Park and Ride.

For current bus riders, you know it as the NS route. But the NSBRT will be faster, more reliable, and nicer in all ways, from the moment you arrive at the station to the time you arrive at your destination. There will also be a multi-use path on both sides along most of the route (except for downtown, which already has sidewalks), connecting you safely to your destination after getting on or off the bus.

Here’s a map:


How is it different than the NS bus?

The bus will have its own lanes along most of the route

As part of the project, curb running dedicated lanes for the bus are being constructed or converted (except through campus). This allows the bus to stay on schedule any time of day.

Along with dedicated lanes, the BRT will enjoy traffic signal priority (TSP)

This means that if a traffic signal receives a wireless message that a transit vehicle is approaching, green lights will be held a bit longer and red lights will change to green a little faster. This helps keep BRT on schedule!

The stations will be level with the bus entrances

This means that people who use mobility scooters, a bike, or have a sleeping kid in a stroller, will be able to get in and out of the bus without any trouble. This makes boarding time faster and more accessible for everyone.

Premium station amenities will be included

This could include secure and sheltered bike parking, wifi, charging stations, water filling stations, and more.

We’re getting a multi-use path!

A multiuse path is being constructed as part of the project on both sides of the route (with the exception of downtown and campus which already have sidewalks).

Do you live between two stations? No worries, you’ll have a safe, easy way to get there and home again, whether you’re walking, biking, or rolling.

Added service, including at night and on weekends

If you want to go out to eat downtown at 8 pm, you can take the bus and not have to worry about getting back at a reasonable hour. And you won’t have to pay to park!

Real-time schedule information

While it’s coming back soon to Chapel Hill Transit, BRT stations and vehicles will feature integrated vehicle tracking and real time schedule information. You’ll never have to wonder when the next bus is arriving!

An all-electric BRT fleet of vehicles

Why are we excited about this?

Because buses make Chapel Hill a great place to live, and the BRT will make it even better. Already, Chapel Hill Transit is the second largest transit system in North Carolina, with more than 3,000,000 (!) trips taken each year.

Our bus has been fare-free for twenty years, and tens of thousands people rely on it to get to UNC’s campus and other destinations in Chapel and Carrboro everyday.

The NSBRT will supercharge this success by creating rapid and reliable service along one of the town’s busiest travel corridors. The town is already working on plans to support more housing, jobs, and  services within walking and cycling distance of the BRT stops (transit oriented development or TOD). A focus on equitable TOD (ETOD), hopefully means more people who work in Chapel Hill will have the opportunity to live here, too.

Investments in high quality transit like the NSBRT makes it possible for people who work in Chapel Hill (UNC, UNC Hospitals, and businesses downtown, etc.) to rely on transit as their primary mode of transportation. This could allow a family to go from two cars to one car, or from one car to car-free, because they can rely on frequent, useful, affordable bus service.

We’re also excited because the NSBRT’s multiuse path helps connect currently disconnected neighborhoods and communities.

Imagine safely riding an electric bike from the Aquatic Center at Homestead to the Chapel Hill Public Library (connecting to the path under construction on Estes), or from a downtown coffee shop to your apartment complex on MLK. This project will make it so easy to bike, walk, and bus places that you won’t even think about driving.

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....