Estes Drive Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements

On Tuesday, February 9th, the Town of Chapel Hill will be seeking public input on some rather sizeable pedestrian and bicycle improvements on Estes drive. This half mile stretch runs from the light near Phillips Middle School, to MLK Blvd. and will cost nearly $2.6 million.

This stretch of road is a key East west connector for cars, and could also be the same for cyclists. The improvement would make it more practical for children to actually walk to school, it would also make cycling practical for trips that originated from the area near Whole Foods and Staples, as well as the various new projects sprouting up in the Ephesus-Fordham area.

It is important the project address the needs of multi modal transportation. The announcement mentions:

  • Bike lanes and Sidewalks on both sides of the street
  • An off road multi-use path on the north side.

Why are all of those important? The bike lanes will make a key connector available for cyclists. While I have occasionally ridden that stretch on a bike, I find it somewhat unconformable. Because of my 'secret' connection from Elliot road, I can avoid a good stretch of Estes before I get to the stretch being improved. When a rider crosses MLK, they are greeted with bike lanes on the other side. This means a reasonable East West connector all the way from Carrboro to East Franklin / Elliot road will exist for sport and commuter cyclists that stretches over 3.5 miles.

The sidewalks will allow people to walk to the library and the school on BOTH  sides of the road (one side does have a rather crude path already) The multi use path will enable children and families to ride without worrying about mixing it up with motor vehicles in the bike lanes.

You may wonder why both the bike lane and the multi use path are needed. The main reason is - if Chapel Hill really wants to get serious about moving up to the next level of being a bicycle friendly community - real, and usable options must exist. Commuters and students will ride on side paths, but they prefer the same routes people driving cars enjoy now to get to work or school.

I have heard opponents of projects like this assert that it is not worth it, because they never see cyclists on that stretch of road.  They are not there because nearly all cyclists simply are not comfortable mixing it up with cars on such a narrow and weaving stretch of road.  If you look at the map I will attach, you will see the benefit of this improvement which, on the surface, seems a small stretch of road. It actually opens up a very practical path from the library that may not appear initially possible. It also opens up options that span far beyond this stretch of roadway in both directions.

In other words this improvement is much more than just updating a half mile section of road.  

Connectivity, and joining popular routes already widely used by cyclists, is the key to making the entire town bikeable. While I would like to see each and every road in Chapel Hill have dedicated bicycle accommodations, I realise that will not happen overnight.  The connections will start with stretches of road currently unsuitable for riding, and will join the parts of the roadways that are usable to cyclists.

I will be at the meeting, and I urge anyone with an interest in this improvement to attend as well

John Rees - Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill (BACH)

Here is a link to the map I promised. I have marked some routes I commonly ride to avoid traffic on Estes Drive. Elliot Rd. is actually a low traffic, and very pleasant road to ride. It is wide, and - in my opinion - does not require bike lanes to be a suitable place to ride. You can see how it coincidentally connects to the area to be improved, thereby extending the usefulness of this planned improvement


I encourage anyone who hasn't already seen them to check out the design alternatives the Town has posted on its website. I'll admit that I expected the project would include a typical striped (unbuffered) bike lane and a sidepath, but it's much better. One alternative is has buffered bike lanes on both sides, and one alternative has a grade-separated bike lane on the south side and a grade-separated bike lane that is buffered from the road by a tree lawn on the north side. The third has the grade-separated bike lane on one side, but eliminates the bike lane on the north side  All three alternatives have a sidepath on the north side. The alternatives with elevateed bikelanes  forward-looking designs — I'm not sure there's anything like it in the Triangle, and there's not a whole lot in the United States. There aren't many buffered bike lanes in the Triangle either.

As John said, everyone should attend. If you do, or if you can't, please be sure to let the Town know what you think about the plans and to congratulate them for coming up with these cutting-edge plans. I look forward to seeing how they evolve.


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