An Opportunity to Advocate for Better Regional Transit

I just received an email announcing the organizational meeting for the Durham Orange Friends of Transit and it got me to thinking... As a resident of Carrboro, I continue to hear a lot of excitement at the neighborhood and town level about the idea of some type of fixed rail service with a stop in downtown that takes folks to the university and beyond to Durham. Despite this, everyone that I've heard that is "in the know" about transit issues seems to be dismissive of the idea that a station in Carrboro is a viable idea. I believe this is partially due to the perception that the Carrboro population is not large enough to sustain such a station. The types of statistics I've seen that justify transit and transit stops tend to only use population and density numbers, but don't take into account the percentage of the population likely to use such a service.

I'd be interested in knowing if anyone in Carrboro or Chapel Hill or someone with Triangle Transit has tried to look at the number of riders likely to ride a downtown Carrboro station. Or has there been a survey? Would someone be willing to volunteer to do that? I suppose it would involve designing a short survey with a question with assumptions about where the stops would take you and how you might use the transit service. I think it's safe to assume the stop would be somewhere within a block or two of Southern Rail? And yes, I know those tracks are currently not available but we should really be thinking about options that include that corridor because I can't think of any other viable path through the towns that wouldn't destroy tons of homes and businesses. Thoughts?

If others are as passionate as I am about the idea of a fixed rail service stop coming all the way to Carrboro or at least close enough for us to walk to, then please consider going to the meeting below. I'm going to be there and would love for others to get involved so we can really keep the idea of a Carrboro station on the map.

    RE: Organizational Meeting of the Durham Orange Friends of Transit on November 4, 2009

    Thank you for signing the on-line petition for Durham-Orange Friends of Transit. A lot has happened since you signed up showing your support for transit in the Triangle. We now have newly adopted legislation which creates funding sources for transit in the Triangle. One part creates a State trust fund which will make grants for transit. Another part allows the counties to have referendums for the citizens to approve raising sales taxes dedicated for transit. As part of this process there must be plans adopted for the transit system.

    We have the chance for a transit system which we so desperately need, and we also have a chance to take part in advocating for transit plans which will have a dramatic impact on our communities.

    You expressed your understanding for the need for transit when you signed petition. However, there are other equally interested and concerned citizens who may not appreciate how much we need their involvement in the transit planning process. We need to reach out to low income housing advocates, developers, bike/ped activists, environmentalists, neighborhood groups, open space and farmland supporters, educators, the disabled and many others who need to be at the table to help craft transit plans which qualify for funding from the new State transit fund and for new tax revenues. We also need to spread the word that these funds are our own stimulus package which will generate many jobs not only from transit construction, but also from the development that accompanies it.

    Also as you know, passing a referendum to raise sales taxes will be a challenge. We need to educate the voters of all the reasons why transit is essential and how the benefit will far outweigh the hit on their wallets.

    To make all this happen we need a strong grass roots effort for planning, education, and to get out the vote. To get the ball rolling, we are holding an organizational meeting of the Durham Orange Friends of Transit on November 4, 2009 from 7:00 – 10:00 PM at the Fellowship Hall at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 4907 Garrett Road in Durham.

    At this meeting we will get a briefing on all that has happened recently, appoint a steering committee, decide on our strategic approach, set up subcommittees and get ready for the campaign to bring transit to the Triangle.

    Please come be a part of this historic effort. Also, please take a moment to think of how you can help with this effort. Please send an e-mail to others who need to be at this first meeting asking them to come and to spread the word and to sign the petition at If we have all the people who will benefit from transit working with us on this effort we cannot lose.




 An Orange County survey seeking public input for the development of a county-wide Comprehensive Transportation Plan is available online at


 Printed copies of the survey are also located throughout Orange County at local businesses and county government buildings.  For more information please contact the Orange County Planning Department at 245-2575 or email us at

- David Hunt, Orange County Information Specialist

Folks can learn more and discuss the survey by visting Bryn's post from last week:

Having worked in DC in the 90s, before the Green Line was completed, I used the U Street Metro stop. Arguably, most people reading this don't remember the riots of 1968 - I wasn't born yet. I only saw the devastation that was still there nearly 30 years later. Literally, there was an Arthur Treachers, lots of abandoned buildings and a little club started by Dave Grohl - I think - called the Black Cat.There was no reason (other than political) to have a stop there at the time, but with it U Street has attracted more businesses and has really been reborn as a center of culture - African American and others. While the population numbers certainly did not dictate a U Street Metro
stop, by being forward-thinking, it helped revitalize an area and
brought in lots of residents. My point is simple: "If you build it, they will come."  

At last night's Carrboro candidate forum, Amanda Ashley (mayoral candidate) proposed a trolley running between Chapel Hill and Carrboro. It's been proposed before, but it's good to see this simple-to-implement idea being kept alive. Thanks Amanda!

Charlotte has gone through several trolley iterations -- first, a bus that looks like a trolley, the Gold Rush that runs a downtown loop with frequent service that carries folks around uptown Charlotte fare free. it still runs

"Gold Rush trolleys ..... are rubber-wheeled minibuses that resemble historic streetcars. Gold Rush trolleys run on two circulating routes in Center City along Tryon Street and west on Trade Street through the restored Victorian Fourth Ward. Trolleys run every seven minutes at marked bus stops along the red and orange lines from 7 AM to 10 PM. Fare is free."

This is one option that requires no infrastructure, just a vehicle Next, a streetcar -- which is an actual trolley on fixed rails. Charlotte still runs a real trolley on weekends only on the abandoned rail spur that is now the light rail line.   The streetcar ran on these rails for five years before light rail was initaied on the same infrastructure. Charlotte has already started to lay rail on Elizabeth Street for a real streetcar running a crosstwon east-west route. Third of course is light rail itself. The current regional rail plan calls for light rail service from Raleigh and Durham to terminate at the Dogwood deck behind UNC hospitals, with amped up shuttle buses running from there (Charlotte's light rail has bus connections all along the route).  The North Carolina Railroad is studying a peak hour only commuter heavy rail coming into Carrboro from the north, but this does not connect to Chapel Hill.How best to connect Chapel Hill and Carrboro? Extending the light rail to Carrboro is technically feasible but expensive. Would putting streetcar rails from the old train station in Carrboro into Chapel Hill and to UNC hospitals be an option? Is this better than buses?  All some very interesting questions.

Thanks for the responses.  I'm a big fan of public transit of all sorts - it can really add to a community.  But it's also important to make sure we have the right types of transit.  I feel like our local bus system has probably reached saturation point - I'm not sure how much higher of a percentage we can get on the buses now that they are  free and omnipresent.  In my heart I LOVE the idea of an old-fashioned trolley, but my experience with these in Charlotte and San Francisco is that they tend to be for tourists and special events and aren't particularly convenient for commuters since the regular buses would be most likely faster.  So I'm really interested in the idea of some fixed rail off street regional solution to allow our public transit-friendly population here in downtown to really take advantage of multiple options.  If we are continuing to build more and more densely around downtown, we really will be faced with a serious need for off road public transit.  Has anyone else seen how bad the traffic has gotten over the past 3 months on NC54 from Chapel Hill to I-40?  We're all going to need other options for getting to Durham and Raleigh or else we're going to be a bunch of frustrated Orange Countians. So.... I"m advocating again for the idea of pushing the light rail option very firmly as a needed addition to allow our community to be better connected to the rest of the region.  I'd really like to see us think creatively on how we can push for extension of the proposed line through UNC Hospitals to at least one stop further (downtown Carrboro?  West Carrboro park and ride?)  And I'd like to see us keep from getting diverted by the idea of a trolley that might appeal to our whimsy but wouldn't necessarily help us with regional transit issues... 

Rickie, thank you for starting this thread. I think you have identified a very important issue in local transportation reform efforts by bringing attention to this route. The tracks in question run from the power plant at the end of Cameron Avenue to the University Station junction north of Carrboro, going through downtown Carrboro and the Horace Williams grounds. These tracks have, sometimes for corrupt political reasons, been neglected in transit planning. When I was chair of the Transportation and Land-Use Subcommittee of the Horace Williams Citizens' Committee, for example, Bill Strom intervened to protect Joyce Brown's NIMBY interests because she has long been hypersensitive about transit service on those tracks adversely affecting the Westwood neighborhood near the power plant. (She lives in and owns rental property in Westwood.) They bamboozled the other members of the subcommittee into including language about never using those tracks for transit. (One of the subcommittee members later said he could not even remember why he voted for this.) At the full committee level, however, reason prevailed; I and others saw to it that the language was removed from the final HWCC report.There is tremendous potential for various synergies if these tracks are used for transit. Service to the Carolina North campus, which is to be built on the Horace Williams grounds, would help ensure that it becomes a genuine transit-oriented development. From University Station, one spur continues on to Durham and joins the corridors identified for TTA rail transit connections to the rest of the Triangle. These synergies would make up for the relatively small ridership population in Carrboro itself.I am not sure that you are correct when you say that “those tracks are currently not available.” Right now they are occasionally used to bring coal to the power plant. But the feasibility of the tracks being used for both this freight service, and for transit at other times, has not been adequately studied. When I worked in the business office of the power plant, and learned the details of the freight operations, it seemed more plausible to me than before that this could be accomplished. Of course, there are many obstacles to making this work.Those of us who advocate for transportation reform always run into opposition from those who say “That would be nice, but there is such-and-such a difficulty that makes it impractical. Too bad it’s just a pipe dream.” But when highways instead of rail transit are the issue, the difficulties are seen as obstacles to be overcome, not reasons to immediately abandon an alternative. Suppose there were a road that, for some reason, was used only occasionally for freight, without a single passenger vehicle on it, and that it ran from Chapel Hill, through downtown Carrboro and Carolina North, and then connected to the rest of the Triangle. Local politicians and planners would be alarmed, and would struggle to find a way to open that road up to automobile traffic, no matter how difficult the technical obstacles might seem.  James Coley

Thank You James Someone finally talks some real sense in the existing rail right of way option from Pittsboro St through Carrboro to Carolina North and on out to the main line to Cary and Raleigh. The University has ignored this option even thoush someone has brought it up at most of the public hearings. They can spend 80+ million to upgrade the football stadium but can't get behind something so right and sensible for Orange County. The track between Carolina North and the mainline is pretty rural and ripe for Denser walkable communities at each train stop preserving much of the surrounding green in the county along the tracks. Trolleys or light rail whatever let's do it. Many big cities have run freight and local passenger on the same tracks for many years with relatively no problem. After all it shouldn't be so hard for some genius UNC planners to figure out how to avoid a few coal cars a couple of times a week.

But isn't it true that most routes carry passenger and cargo traffic? I know there are some dedicated railroad tracks, but they aren't/have never been feasible everywhere.I know there are some train fans out there who can help on this. The bottom line is that moving people directly could really help reduce car traffic to Carolina North and enable students and workers to have another option. In DC, the real estate around transit hubs usually skyrockets in value, because the value is seen. In a progressive place, like Carrboro and Chapel Hill, this should be a no-brainer. For the record, Georgetown fought the Metro and does not have a station. It has begun to regret that choice. I guess we have our own "little Georgetown" here. Let's start letting our actions represent our values on transit. We can bash people with cars, but until we give them a viable alternative, it's just a pointless exercise to "energize the base" when we could start using the political capital to make it happen.I said this on another thread, but how far would $221 million to Dell go to stimulate local business through transit and healthcare initiatives. 

Click here for a delightful article by Blair Pollock about the tracks that run through Carrboro, to Carolina North and beyond. I note that the reason he was given by a planner for neglecting this alternative is that it does not "meet the long range transportation plan's requirement for fiscal balance." I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I continue to be bemused by the argument that it is more cost-effective to construct new rail infrastructure than to use an existing and underutilized corridor.  Also delightful is the success of the first meeting last night of the Durham-Orange Friends of Transit. I hope the next meeting will be held at a location easily accessible by transit. Click here for the site of this important new organization. There is also another thread about it here on OP.James Coley

I think one of the biggest issues (and I know this because I live near the railroad tracks in downtown Carrboro) is that the coal cars not only come through but actually park sometimes for 24 hours at a time on the tracks.  But I imagine this could be worked out if they just parked on one of the spur lines or there was a parallel track for some section of the railroad.From now on, instead of saying that working with the railroad is impossible, let's start figuring out what we would want to do with the railroad tracks (light rail, parallel bike trail, bike trail crossings at key points) and push for getting it done.

I had a conversation about all of this with the manager of the power plant when I worked in the business office there, and he said that the construction of a new siding would be a big help to the coal delivery operations. If it is done in the right way, it might also be possible to open up the tracks that are now being used for parking the coal cars so that a passenger train could get through. This is an example of what I wrote about before: seeing these things as problems to be overcome, and not as excuses to say that using the Carrboro tracks would be nice, but just isn't practical.James Coley

Perhaps the time is right to come up with a community approved corridor plan that everyone can agree on and then to camp out at the railroad company corporate offices to find out what it will take to get them to work with us?  Any elected officials have thoughts on all this?

we had a trolley about 15to 20 years ago it turned into a tourist bus then the town couldnt afford to kept them runningso they sold them. they arent accessible either

At the last Carrboro candidates forum I expressed my support for another road into Carrboro to alleviate the bottleck between Carrboro and Chapel Hill, an issue that may get worse if the projected high density and mixed use developments for downtown Carrboro ever get built.   As you might assume, the road I am talking about is light rail on the railroad corridor.

Recently the 2035 CH-C Transportation Plan was published.  Last week the board of alderman were given a presentation on this plan by David Bonk, long range and transportation planning manager for the Town of Chapel Hill.  (Agenda item summary here, Watch this BOA meetin here).

The plan does include light rail: Gateway service 5A (North Rail Corridor), Gateway Service 5B (Fixed Guideway Corridor, 54-Hospital-railline).  These are not prioritized even though, as David Bonk mentioned, using federal standards, both these corridors currently have enough traffic to justify light rail.

You may be wondering why I am mentioning the MLK route.  In the 2035 plan the MLK corridor is prioritized as it already supports a lot of traffic, and it would serve Carolina North, UNC's central campus and Chapel Hill.  MLK is significant when considering the North rail corridor because MLK and the North rail corridor  are parallel to one another.  Put another way they are alternatives to one another. 

One added advantage of the North rail corridor is that it also also serves Carrboro as it runs along part of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro border, goes through the heart of Carrboro and ends on the border of downtown Chapel Hill. Furthermore, the north part of Carrboro will have closer access to a much needed major public transportation corridor.

Routes are given priority in the 2035 plan in part because of their current uses.  Though the North corridor has many disadvantages and hurdles (capital improvements, negotiating with the rail company, the University, etc..), we should not weigh it out of consideration for it not currently being an active public transportation corridor.

With forecasts of higher costs for energy and climate change looming we should be seeking the most cost effective solutions of the future.  Carolina North should be leveraged by both municipalities to maximize the benefits to their communities.  Light rail on the North Rail corridor is an obvious opportunity for doing this. 

If elected for Carrboro Board of Alderman you can count on me to work with the many who are already organizing to make, the much wanted and needed, light rail for Carrboro (and Carolina North, Chapel Hill, UNC) a reality.

Sammy, I think this merits its own blog post, especially since it's not really about Friends of Transit.  It would be nice to see you posting on OP about more local issues - a good way to show voters what you would do as an Alderman. :-)

It's good to know that you support this, Sammy. Another idea I hope you will advocate as an Alderman is the inclusion of a car-free zone as part of Carolina North.This would be a walkable, compact urban center with internal transportation primarily by bike and on foot. I envision the famous red-brick walkways of the main campus reproduced in this zone for bicyclists, walkers and some motor vehicles. The zone would be defined by four features: (1) No roads, streets or automobile parking within the zone (except perhaps for one bus-only road), (2) A transit stop (for bus or rail) in the center of the zone, (3) Access to the zone for emergency vehicles (perhaps on the red-brick walkways), and (4) Automobile parking just beyond the periphery of the zone, to allow those who do arrive by car to walk directly into it. The two issues of the Carrboro railroad tracks and a car-free zone on Carolina North are related, because the latter would increase ridership for rail transit on the former.James Coley

Durham-Orange Friends of Transit has a facebook fan page up today in advance of the November 4 organizational meeting. If you use Facebook, drop by and sign up as a fan to keep posted on developments organizational website: http://www.durhamorangefriendsoftransit.orgorganizational meeting:Date:Wednesday, November 4, 2009Time:7:00pm - 10:00pmLocation:Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 4907 Garrett Road, Durham NC 


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