The public transit and planning nightmare that is our region.

Having lived in other parts of the country and visited other parts of the world that have livable, walkable, dense communities, it's sometimes hard to come home and be too positive about the state of affairs in this area. Just as grand old Durham always seems to be on the cusp of something big and grand and wonderful before plunging off the precipice into bad planning and disastrously bad governing decisions, the region as a whole seems to have good ideas and good people and decent governance but just can't seem to quite get it on track (pardon the pun) with planning and public transport.

We can blame it on a lot of things. The differing development patterns in the Sun Belt DID create a mess that's hard to "clean up". The lack of physical constraints such as an ocean or large lakes DOES make for an endlessly developable horizon. The state government and its laws ARE more friendly towards single families and the homes and yards and sprawl that seem to be a byproduct of the birthing process. But those are still simply excuses and they cripple us into believing we can do nothing. And as the reports come rolling in about the costs of developing land the way we do (decreased water quality, increased health care costs due to rampant obesity, lack of space for parks, increased pollution from cars) it becomes that much more clear that the traditional way of doing business will severely cripple this metro area soon if we don't change.

First off, we've got to start pushing for real urban development where appropriate.

Second, we can't allow new developments to be anything less than exemplary in terms of usage of space and economy. Yes, the free market is going to dictate much of this because the market isn't going to allow us to build 4-5 story buildings on land that isn't worth much. But in downtown Chapel Hill, the Eastgate/UMall area, Carrboro, Southern Village, and Meadowmont, we can continue to push for high density development and increase public transportation opportunities to those areas (can everyone say BUSWAYS?). We also need to be realistic about the situation and find VIABLE alternatives for those commuters who want to get to downtown Durham, downtown Raleigh or RTP. I commute to work on bus when I can, but most people aren't going to be willing to endure a 1 hour trek each way that involves a bike and a bus and I wouldn't expect them to.

Third, and most importantly, we've got to have big new developments be much more transit friendly. It is unforgivable and irresponsible for Carolina North to have even the potential for 20,000 parking spaces (and don't even get me started on Southpoint Mall). This development will perpetuate the SUV lifestyle to which most of us have become accustomed. We need the rail corridor to be converted first off to a multimodal transportation corridor (preferably rail and bike paths). And we must make this alternative faster than driving a car, which would be completely possible considering the parking situation and traffic on campus and downtown now.

I know we can do better that the current plans. Anyone else have good ideas about how we can change our development and transit patters so that our cities can continue to thrive and continue to be considered the livable and wonderful places all these magazines claim we are?





On Thursday, April 15, 2004, the USEPA will announce that our 8 county Triangle Region is designated nonattainment for ozone (Wake, Durham, Orange, Johnston, Chatham, Person, Granville and Franklin). For the past two years, the Greater Triangle Regional Council (GTRC), has been working with the NC Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to address the economic and health impact of this designation. GTRC developed a task force of regional stakeholders, chaired by Jim Roberson and Scott Gardner. The task force asked NCDAQ to write a report for use to help the region understand the causes of ozone pollution, identify the required EPA regional regulations and timeline, and to use to develop clean air strategies. GTRC will present this report to the public on Monday, April 12, 2004, 2:45PM at the RDU Center. Secretary Ross will be present to speak.

The event will also address the process the region will have to follow once in nonattainment, including a State Implementation Plan (SIP), describing how pollution will be reduced to levels meeting the standard. The SIP is due from the NCDAQ to EPA in 2007.

EPA requires that three regulatory measures be implemented in addition to those control measures included in the S

Under new source review, any new emitting industry wishing to locate within the nonattainment area, or any existing industry wishing to expand its operation, faces stringent permit requirements. Because new point sources and major expansion projects at existing sources cannot increase emissions in the nonattainment area, new or expanding industry will need to purchase emissions credits from other industry in the area. The practical implication of this measure is that many industries will not locate within a nonattainment area because the new source review requirements increase the cost of doing business when compared to an attainment area.

GTRC will present a detailed inventory of current air quality initiatives, and recommend regional strategies to begin to improve air quality. Information will also be provided on the schedule the region must keep to reach attainment status.

For further information, please contact Pam Wall, 919-840-7372, ext. 16 or

I thought the imminent release of the EPA report regarding air quality in the Triangle made this thread worthy of getting bumped into discussion again. If we don't do something to decrease traffic, we're getting an early look at what is going to happen to our air quality. I'd like to see the various communities around the Triangle stop arguing and address this very real problem.

Any idea on when it is getting released and how we can get our hands on this report to examine it?

Well, that was a fascinating walk through the dark side. From that brochure, I went to the Triangle Comm.Coalition (subsidized by real-estate interests obviously) which ranted endlessly about how impact fees, storm water run-off control, and every flavor of infrastructure should not be included in the cost of housing. Nope, it should all be paid by general sales taxes, so as not to prevent those low-income people from getting out of rentals into homes. Oh, and lets be sure to build lots of highways, paid with bonds, which are repaid with tax dollars, and keep us in debt to the Arab oil interests, or the military forces which we raise to seize the oil.

The one useful factoid was that we can expect huge population growth in the next 20-30 years, and need somewhere for people to live. Now if I could buy a townhouse in an interesting and safe urban area, walk to museums, restaurants etc, I might live my little suburban dead-end. But as long as the only housing built in downtown is $200/sq.ft, I don't think I can afford it.

Heads up for anyone interested in Transport/Growth issues: The John Locke Foundation is hosting a seminar on Saturday Jan 10th, with a really nifty speaker list featuring a lot of national speakers (e,g, Randal O'Toole).

Pretty good schedule even if you don't agree with JLF on much

Sat 10th Jan, 8:30am - 3:30pm, RTP Radisson Governors Inn

$10 for the day, registration available online at

OK, so I looked at the MPO document at the following link (as referred to us by "Thedogatemytransitplan":

And it includes all kinds of fixed busway lines and bike lanes. But what does this mean? They are supposed to be built by 2025, but how do we advocate for putting certain things on the list ahead of others? It seems like the fixed busway that is on the list for UNC to 9th Street and the one from UNC to RTP would be something we'd want ASAP so that we can be immediately tied into the rail line and help make it more viable by adding ridership from our area. But does anyone know what the process is now that the MPO document exists?

my simple minded understanding is chapel hill transit will be responsible for the Airport north south corridor related to Carolina North.

If they are busways - I don't think we need to wait for regional transit via 15-501 or 54 or Frankliln.


Here's my response to the transportation "plans" at Carolina North:

1) To lessen the impacts on the immediate area, UNC should connect to fixed guideway transit and complete the connection to Estes Drive extension by Phase 2, at the latest. Putting these off will dump countless cars onto our already congested roads. (This guideway could be either on Airport Road or the rail corridor.)

2)The amount of parking provided should be roughly half of what is currently proposed.

3) Most importantly, the Town needs to insist that UNC adhere to its 1997 agreement to not develop beyond the existing transportation capacity of the community. See page 3 of “UNC-Chapel Hill Planning Panel, Final Report: Assessment of UNC’s Land Use Plans for the Horace Williams and Mason Farm Tracts” :

“UNC Plan: A University Planning principle for this property is to link the overall development intensity to the traffic carrying capacity of the current and planned transportation system. A variety of trip reduction strategies will also be promoted.”

(This is available at, more detail is on pages 3-23 and 3-24 of the JJR Technical report.)

I rode the rail line on a Norfolk Southern coal run about five years ago. The track is so bad/old/thin that the train can't run over 10 mph.The trip from Glen, at the Durham/ Orange line took about an hour. Fixing the line up for a commuter rail line would be a very expensive prospect. A dedicated busway, though, likely could work.

Rail has a lot of supporters, but the difficult question they have to answer—in addition to where all the riders would come from—is where the passengers would be dropped off. If we're talking the power plant, then they still would have to transfer another mode to get to campus. The line used to run all the way to Manning Hall. From the power plant it ran along a corridor between Vance and Cameron.

In the next year, BTW, the university plans to replace the aging steam tunnel that runs along the former corridor. If you need to better understand what a major infrastructure retrofit looks like, sounds like and so on in lovely old Chapel Hill, keep an eye on that project.


It seems that all of these design issues have one foot in the world of engineering/mechanics, and another in the world of personal behavior/motivation. My understanding is that the current parking system on UNC campus involves payment for parking priviledges and that some of that money goes to support the existing (fare free) bus system. Can anybody imagine a "win-win" plan for Carolina North that sets REASONABLE dis-incentives to driving (such as parking fees), rather than just flat out engineering a parking shortage from the get-go.

Yes, this kind of a busway is EXACTLY what I think a lot of folks had been led to believe was not only feasible, but an important part of the plan. Maybe we should form a group? Citizens for Busways? Anyone want to be a charter member?


here is the 2025 plan for those of you who want it.

There are apparently only 2 north south corridors


and the rail corridor. Eubanks to southern Village is all the buses would need to get to for now.

how difficult is it to pick 1 or parts of both to have some dedicated busway solutions?

Since Estes is being co-opted and reconfigured why isn't it being reconfigured for a busway or mass transit.

Isn't all the construction a good time to see how to work in mass transit and dedicated transit corridors?

at one point in a 2000 plan there was a dedicated busway on or near the rail corridor.

see slide #28

where did it go?

some truly futuristic bus system that can go in and out of dedicated busways and could use hybrid or electricity seems to be much better than what was unveiled for Horace Williams development before.

As my tiny mind sees it that corridor from Eubanks to Horace williams needs to be used for something "futuristic" and to not even try but let everyone drive will seem like a horrible legacy or tree with bark disease to leave for future generations.

A north south chapel hill transit style connection from Hillsborough to CN and the main campus that intersects with some east-west TTA solution from 54/franklin/or 15-501 would seem to be better than what was proposed which was zero.

Passenger train service to Carrboro ended around 1939. At one point, the rail line ran as far east as across Pittsboro Road from the Carolina Inn. The right-of-way is still actually there if you look carefully, there is a steam line buried underground from the power plant on the old RR corridor. It is still clear above ground from the power plant almost to the parking lot behind the credit union.

Yes, I'm assuming that this right of way was what Jay or Simon or someone was referring to when they mentioned that there might be opposition to such a line from neighbors. But then again Cameron is a pretty wide street and it could probably accomodate electric buses and such all the way into campus.

I really hope the rail system will go to Southpoint - more expansion planned and it seems to be doing well. Plus they draw a ton of cars there.

Instead of 15-501 rail how about rail along I-40 that could interesect with futuruistic bus depots near Airport/I-40 and elsewhere.

From a purely selfish perspective, I would love to see some kind of energy-efficient and close-to-cost-efficient mass transit connection with dedicated lanes/lines between Chapel Hill and downtown Durham that is (1) reasonably quick as compared to driving and (2) integrated well into the local services. For example, if I could take a bus from Carrboro to Franklin Street, switch to a route that made a stop at, say, Duke North, and do it all in less than hour, I'd do it every weekday (and I'd pay!).

Existing options for such a trip -- local buses plus TTA, or local buses plus Robertson Scholar buses -- simply take too long. And only the former is available for everyone.

I don't expect my individual needs to be catered to. Obviously, any transit solution will have to account first for the biggest volumes of traffic. I certainly see a lot of people driving from Chapel Hill to Durham and back every day, but I have no idea where exactly they're going, and I don't know what it would take to build a system that caters to their commuting needs in a way that would make mass transit appealing. But I do agree with Rickie; even if we start by perfecting the local transit system, as we must, we have to set it up in a way that it can be integrated into whatever regional options are on the horizon.

I think that there is some negotiation needed, as Jay and Eric both seem to suggest. Maybe a rail line isn't the best idea, but that shouldn't keep us from thinking about the best way to go about getting people from place to place more efficiently and without huge increases in parking lot space and pollution. I was daydreaming about a San Fran hybrid bus that could run off of gas or electric (they have them now in Cali) so that maybe the rail line could be replaced by a bus lane with electric lines overhead (completely quiet). The bus could then use the electric lines when possible or go to gas power when not on the busway. There could be timed traffic lights at the intersections at Main in downtown Carrboro, at Estes, and at Eubanks that only change when the buses come through. Or better yet, put a bridge over Bolin for Estes Drive that accomodates both the new greenway AND the busway?

And as for the idea of continuing the bus/rail line to campus, perhaps we just need to be innovative in addressing neighborhood concerns and try to find a way to make it work rather than just throwing our hands up and giving in to the car?

So being a bit of an outsider on the transportation planning for the region, it feels to me as if we're being left in the lurch. Does anyone else feel that way? At least an HOV lane to RTP and downtown Durham? Anything?

I am not one who opposes using the rail corridor for something thoughtful.

There are people with issues and I was hoping they would be raised here even anonymously or at least in the paper.

I lived in San Francisco near a "light" rail corridor. That one was noisy so I don't know if the rail planned here is going to be quieter or the same but it is noisy. (In fact when we moved 2 blocks further from the rail line we had a hard time adjusting our sleep to the "quieter" area because we became used to the rail noise.

I also live off Weaver Dairy extension and can see the rail line when I walk 75 feet from my house. I am personally willing to have the noise of rail (although hopefully minimized) if it replaces new automobile roads. I am willing to exchange what I deem a greater societal good - moving people in mass and hopefully in a less polluting way for the noise tradeoff.

I think a few dedicated busways (a single lane) next to the rail line which could then enter CN and enter or leave other busways or regular roads depending on neighbors/environment is intriguing because of reduced noise and futuristic hybrid buses (which I believe will be introduced in California very soon) with better fuel usage.

I just meant that CH transit with fare free seems to work very well whereas TTA buses seem more empty. People have used the defense of nothing is perfect to do nothing at all. If there is a solution that works great for Chapel Hill now but may not fix every regional transit solution - so be it I think it should be pursued. It doesn't even seem the corridor for TTA rail into chapel hill - however many decades out has a consensus for where it will be.

The draws now and forever for chapel hill/carrboro will be UNC North and South with 54, 15-501, Airport, Franklin Street and perhaps the rail corridor as the only corridors to consider. It doesn't seem that hard to have some smart informed people to sit down and figure it out.

1. what is best for Chapel Hill now and in the future.

2. what will work for the region

3. some solution that meets most needs of 1 and 2.

Eric -

having lived in San Francisco for years the rail cars (called Muni) have stop signs and signal lights that they obey just like everyone else. They sometimes have dedicated corridors but also meld in and out of car traffic too.

I have no idea what TTA has planned but the SF rail is not at all what you are thinking about - they are not like choo-chool trains with crossings and boards that come down to stop cars. They generally don't exceed 40mph.

They stop and have stop signs (have a driver) and go through signals just like auto drivers. They act just like buses and sometimes go over the same routes.

The real factors are noise and whether environmentally sensitive areas would be disrupted. I don't think Estes - which by the way I have no idea what it will look like when it is reconfigured - would be "blocked" as much as you think. Again - there are many types of rail so I defer to you on this.

Buses that could go in and out of busways or street traffic sound the most intriguing.

Also, this excerpt comes from a C hapel Hill News article by Kathleen Hunter:

"Some people advocate using a rail line that runs through the property as a rapid-transit system while others staunchly oppose such a move. A connector road the university is planning to link the development to Homestead and Weaver Dairy roads also has sparked debate, as has the number of parking decks planned for the site."

Who are the "some people" who "staunchly oppose" a rail line and why?

A rail link from downtown Chapel Hill (which is to say, Cam Hill's soon-to-be-former house ;-) ) to Carolina North along the existing rail line will create significant issues for the neighborhoods through which it runs. There are the obvious (and significant) issues of noise, safety, and aesthetics. But I don't think people are yet thinking at all clearly about the impact of an active rail corridor on Carrboro-to-Chapel Hill access along Estes Drive. Trains frequently going back and forth along that stretch of track will bring traffic along Estes to an intermittent standstill all day long and well into the night. A bit further north, frequent train crossings of Seawell School Road will further isolate the public school complex (Seawell Elementary, Smith Middle and Chapel Hill High) from Chapel Hill and significantly impede school bus and car access to that complex.

Much as the image of commuter trains buzzing along that stretch of track does appeal to the environmentalist in us -- and much as it might (and only might) ease traffic flow into CN off of Airport Road -- it will have major effects on the southern and western side of the Carolina North development.

Jay, I'm not sure I agree with your premise that the regional transit project is a foregone flop. I think we need to be prepared as a town to integrate our systems with the regional systems if we are ever to address the real transporation issues of the region. To me, and lots of folks I've talked to, the real transportation challenges involve commuters trying to get from Chapel Hill to Raleigh or Durham to Chapel Hill or Raleigh to Durham. Until we better integrate our system with the proposed rail system, I think we're going to be the traffic losers of the Triangle. And we already are, since we're being left out of the regional planning loop for all intensive purposes while millions of dollars are being forked out to create the rail line that will never make it to us due to physical constraints and the lack of an easy level corridor to use.

So I think when we look at our transportation problems in the city, it would be a mistake to dismiss the larger regional transportation issues since most of the traffic we're seeing seems to be folks commuting out of town.


Simon, could you explain viable? I think I understand that you mean to say that any expansion of the current system will simply look similar to the the TTA buses that currently run at 5-10 persons per trip, which means a major loss of money. But no one can really expect public transit to pay for itself, just as we can't expect cars to pay for themselves (road maintenance costs, etc.). So why can't we come up with a system that seems to be economical enough and implement and hold tight to any land use plans that cluster development around the "nodes"?

ANd what of the Seattle model? I've heard tell that they have buses that run as normal buses from the suburbs in, then as electric buses once they reach a connection, then as underground "subways" int he center city. I like the idea of a dedicated road of some sort for buses and maybe HOVs. But my point, again, is that in our sparsely populated area, we're going to need to find ways to move people faster than cars to get anywhere with this.

I guess I think we will have lots of ridership coming from a few places and going to a few places.

I40- carolina north - carolina south to 15-501/54

What about this... convert as much of the railroad right of way as possible to a busway for TTA and Chapel Hill Transit buses. Also try to add a bike/ped lane where appropriate. Then extend the current TTA line so it goes from RTP through Southpoint to Chapel Hill through campus and then joins up with the new dedicated busway to Carolina North, coming out just up at Eubanks Road park and ride and then out I-40 and 15-501 to downtown Durham to connect with the rail station. And as funding became available sections of all of this route could be converted to speed up the bus system by dedicating a lane... If we could get a bus coming down 15-501 to Chapel Hill to go between the 2 downtowns in a reasonable amount of time, then I think we would be competitive with other transit options. Thoughts on specific routes?


as far as I can tell there is no "regional system" even planned that would ever link Hillsborough to chapel hill to durham to RTP to raleigh as a single transit mode by TTA?

I think the heavy street level rail planned - as I understand it is a mistake as it will have problems gaining access to dense residential areas. (was a monorail ever considered?? if not why?)

That said I think chapel hill should focus on having great buses on both roads and a busway or 2 that would get people out of their cars on the outskirts. Someday they could link to regional if it ever gets here. In that way the town system is not diluted by any regional one that may never be as good, but at least provides an alternative for some who live in town.

The main burden to chapel hill residents will be monday through Friday 8AM-6PM commuters. Anyone know the numbers? I am sure it is most of the car traffic - people getting to UNC and its affiliates. yes transit may never allow you to easily go clubbing at 1AM but I hope that doesn't mean we should just give up and provide 1 parking spot in town for each commuter.

shouldn't the "corridors" be specified before transit is determined? Is it Airport - if so how does this tie in to durham or raleigh or RTP?

If Airport is the corridor - unless someone is going to build a monorail/or ground rail down the middle of it - it doesn't seem like chapel hill will ever really tie into a true regional system.

educate me.

San Francisco has a slightly higher population density than the Triangle, and real estate is a little bit more expensive... even there, the rail part of Muni serves a much smaller area than the bus part. Plus Caltrain stops running at about 11pm, which means that if you live in the bay area and you want to go out clubbing, you'ld better own a car.

LRT has very high fixed costs, and is extremely inflexible. It's only effective when there are a large number of riders going to and from a small number of locations.

Feeding an LRT link from Park and ride lots won't do much to control air pollution due to cold start effects on emmission control systems, and imposes a mode change on the passengers.

Remember, like John Hibbs said, LRT really stands for Like Running Trams :-)



I strongly recommend that anyone interested in this subject read some of Prof Hibbs stuff. I just noticed that he's got a new book out,:

Transport Economics and Policy is a systematic study of the performance of the various modes of inland transport in the UK today. A comprehensive handbook for students and managers, this work returns to the first principles of economics. Avoiding analytical over-sophistication, John Gibbs writes about conceptual economics in a way that is accessible to both students and the non-specialist reader.


Earlier I referred in passing to paratransit ; I didn't realise that under the ADA the word is used to describe transit for people with special needs; I was using it in the context described here

It sounds lilke the towns of carrboro and chapel hill need to decide what to do first before asking for the Universities plan.

As a complete ignoramous it would seem the rail corridor - not equivalent to a noisy rail car - (at least northward from HWT) as far as I know goes through much less environmentally sensitive land than the proposed road through the northern part of Horace Williams - would be something worth exploring. North from HWT the rail goes along weaver dairy and under a major transmission tower clear cut area to Eubanks.

If the developer is projecting 10,000 commuters from I-40 per day to Horace Williams isn't that enough ridership to justify some sort of rapid busway from I-40ish into Horace Williams?

I thought it was existing policy to have commuters get out of cars at the periphery of town as much as possible (if not get out of cars all together).

simon can you explain the "obvious reasons".

San Francisco has street rail and is hilly so besides noise what??

A few quick points (so I don't spin off into full on transport geek mode)

1) Rail is not a viable option for this area, for the obvious reasons.

2) Busways are somewhat better, as rubber tired buses can travel on regular roads for part of the journey, then use the busway for express segments. However, articulated buses still require a very high ridership to make them viable.

3) The most common form of busways are Kerb Guided Buses, or KGB. This allows Chapel Hill Transit staff to leverage prior experience.

4) Bus lanes are cheaper than busways, and can be used as regular lanes in off-peak hours. They can also double up as bike lanes, but this can increase your laundry bills (double deckers are scary :)

5) Bus lanes could also be treated as HOT lanes (High Occupancy/Toll lanes). These seem to be a lot more succesful than the older pure HOV systems, but there haven't been as many pilots yet)

6) Mass transit is not the same thing as public transit ; paratransit , kerb rights, and operating franchises are worth looking at.

7) The transport mode of the 21st century is going to be the passenger car; however the internal combustion engine is likely to become a much smaller factor over the next 70 years. These vehicles will need parking spaces.

8) Last night I got back to (downtown) Durham from Chapel Hill around 1:30 am. I drove. How would this trip have been handled under various transport scenarios? (cf Caltrain in the bay area)

would someone please elaborate on problems they see with using the rail corridor:

1. as a true rail line - either from horace williams northward only - or the whole line.


2. using a single lane rubber tired busway along the rail corridor between horace williams and the Eubanks parknride.

I know there are issues.

But after parking spaces are severely reduced and housing onsite increased these would be important things to reduce people from driving in town.

I know there are noise and sprawl type issues but I'd like to hear them elaborated.

thoughts please .

There appears to be precious little detailed consideration of any kind how the transportation system (such as it is) proposed for CN would interface with, and impact, any of the existing, or planned surrounding infrastructure. Unless I'm missing something, the only analysis done based on the anticipated population and employment numbers is contained in the Durham-Chapel-Hill-Carrboro MPO's 2025 Long Range Transportation Plan--Which is now underway to be updated to 2030. It might be valuable to examine this document, and see how the proposed projects contained therein mesh with what's been put on the table by the University thus far. The question in general has been raised at DCHC, and it might be useful to get a more detailed response from our staff.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, a major factor will be the outcome of the current disagreement in Chapel Hill about the use of the current rail corridor. Over here on the Carrboro side, I think it's fair to say that we view intensive use of the rail corridor as a critical, central element of any long-range transportation strategy to serve CN and integrate it with the community and regional transportation infrastructures. To do less would result in vehicle trip generation rates triggering an avalanche of asphalt infrastructure requirements. As I mentioned in my previous blatherings on the subject, this state of affairs is aggravated by the insufficient on-site housing provisions as well. These issues will not go away, and need to be analyzed and addressed in detail before the communities agree to anything.




Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.