Fixing Chapel Hill's Bike Paths

On the agenda for this week's meeting of the Town of Chapel Hill Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board is a discussion of bicycle safety improvement. Much of this is in response to the death of a woman on a bicycle who was hit by a motor vehicle near the intersection of Hillsborough Road and MLK Jr. Blvd, a notoriously dangerous part of town on which to ride a bike. 

The Town has decided to make bicycle safety a priority and has already taken several steps, including an awareness campaign, changes to pedestrian crossings on MLK Jr. Blvd and adding green-painted sharrows to roads on certain popular bike corridors.

Given this attention, I thought it a good opportunity to reiterate my concerns about the pedestrian and bicycle side paths along NC 54 in Chapel Hill. Back in 2012, I pointed out to the Town that the intersections were dangerous and that bicyclists were put at high risk. I wrote the following letter to the Transportation and Connectivity Advisory Board and hope that at least some of these improvements will be implemented in the near future.

I've included an image of one of the intersections below, followed by the letter.


November 16, 2014

Dear members of the Transportation and Advisory Connectivity Board:

In light of your scheduled discussion at your Tuesday meeting (November 18) on bicycle safety improvements, I wanted to suggest other critical bicycle facility issues that should be addressed.

Some of you may recall that in 2012, at a meeting of the former Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, I delivered a short presentation on the deficiencies of the sidepaths along NC-54 near Meadowmont (Raleigh Road). While these sidepaths are an excellent alternative to NC-54 along most of their stretch, the intersections are substandard. The conflicts at these intersections pose a substantial danger to bicyclists and are inconvenient to pedestrians. The presentation is available here.

The key problems are:

  • Lack of visibility for cyclists traveling two-ways at intersections
  • Conflicting traffic control devices — stop signs, walk signals, and traffic lights are confusing and mean that most bicyclists likely violating the law
  • Very long pedestrian cycle times, and inadequate walk times
  • Poor geometry at the Finley Golf Course road intersection in front of the UNC Imaging Center
  • The abrupt termination of the facility at Burning Tree Road without any signage.

These facilities seem to behave like cycletracks, but the intersections fall far short of meeting basic requirements. It is only a matter of time before a bicyclist is hit and injured at an intersections due to the high volume of traffic on NC-54 and lack of clear guidance for all vehicles.

In light of the renewed attention being paid to bicycle safety issues, I thought I would recommend some treatments that could improve these intersections for all:

  • To improve the visibility of two-way travel of cyclists at intersections, paint the crosswalks green and use sharrow symbols painted within. See this post at Greater Greater Washington for details.
  • Eliminate right-turn on red at the intersections which cross the cycle path; on the south side, Barbee Chapel Road (both intersections with NC-54) and Meadowmont Lane; on the north side, Finely Golf Course Road, driveway to The Exchange complex, and Friday Center Drive.
  • Add bicycle signals to alert two-way bicycle traffic that they may proceed during the times that straight-ahead (not turn) vehicular traffic has the light.
  • Eliminate the stop signs on the sidepaths and clarify between new bicycle signals and pedestrian signals
  • Eliminate permissive right-turn off NC-54 onto roads for which right-on-red has been eliminated, and allow right turns only on green arrow. Since there is a dedicated right-turn lane at each intersection, this should have no impact on through traffic.
  • Re-time the pedestrian walk cycle so persons have time to cross the street, particularly at the crosswalk in front of the Exchange building (see presentation for details). I recognize this may be challenging during rush hour, due to the need to prioritize vehicular traffic in and out of Chapel Hill, but off-peak and certainly on weekend mornings the walk cycle could easily be lengthened.
  • Similarly, reduce the signal cycle time so that pedestrians do not need to wait as long to cross.
  • Provide clear guidance to motor vehicles and bicycles as to how to merge at Burning Tree Road heading west.

Many of these suggestions mirror those I made in my August 2012 presentation, none of which have been implemented. However, in light of the new emphasis on bicycle safety, such as the use of gren painted sharrows on key roads, I thought now would be a good time to raise them again.

I hope to attend your meeting to further discuss and answer any questions you might have, but I hope you find this helpful and that you deem it wise to implement at least some of these recommendations.

Yours truly,

Geoffrey F. Green

(Cross posted from my blog)



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