Keep transit on the street

Guest Post by Patrick McDonough

As part of its downtown redevelopment plans, Chapel Hill is considering the construction of a transit transfer center.

In my November 28th Guest Column in the Chapel Hill News, I discuss the advantages of one of the proposed designs which would keep transit access on downtown sidewalks rather than in an off-street facility. Here's the column: Downtown transit will work best on the street

Questions and comments are welcome.

Patrick McDonough is a regular Chapel Hill Transit rider, and has a Master's Degree in Transportation and Land Use Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill.


I thought you made a good case for the on street transit center Patrick. Mostly I agree with you, but I also fondly remember the off-street transit station I used while in grad school. It was back away from the traffic so it was a larger covered space that felt safer and much drier (didn't get splashed by all the cars zipping by while waiting in the rain). The other benefit was having the buses pulled-off the road so cars didn't back up waiting for loading/ unloading.

The current on-street system is much more convenient but it does cause traffic to back up and I worry frequently about riders exiting to cross roads without proper pedestrian crossings.

I'm not really of any opinion on this one yet, but I would like to feel safer while waiting for the bus at night on Franklin Street. I find it extremely uncomfortable to wait around for a bus after dark (even when it gets dark early), and I have read that women waiting for buses are more likely to be victims of crime. That's not to say bringing this into a station would solve that, though if it was staffed and more populated, perhaps it would help. Of course, even if the bus stop is safe, there's still the problem of getting to it.

I agree with both of you that the issues of passenger comfort and safety are critical. On the comfort side, there are plenty of things the town can do to avoid the situation Terri describes (splashing water from passing cars, etc.) through creative use of sidewalk or small wall elements, seating, and shelters. I have dodged many a splash waiting for the bus and this could certainly be addressed through some thoughtful design work.

Regarding safety, I would suspect that it is not so much the darkness of evening that makes Joan feel uncomfortable but the relatively low number of people who tend to be around, compounded by the darkness. Walk down Franklin Street on a fall Saturday night at 10:00 P.M., particularly if there's been a football game, and you feel that it is an environment in which the likelihood of a crime being committed is quite low. There are a lot of people out and about, and a high number of witnesses to any potential misdeed is an excellent deterrent.

Joan mentioned the term "more populated"- on safety, I believe this is the key, and I think the street placement offers more opportunities to capitalize on the capabilities of natural human surveillance in the public realm.

Are you suggesting having different stop areas (more populated areas) in the evening Patrick?

Not quite- I'm starting from the idea that the Franklin/Columbia intersection, as the crossroads of the major north-south road and the major east-west road in town, is the natural nexus for bus transfers in Chapel Hill, and that this should not change.

What I am suggesting is that by making this area more populated at all times of day and night, there will be more "eyes on the street" and thus, enhanced security through natural surveillance.

As adding residential units downtown is one of the best ways to increase the pedestrian activity downtown, I think the 43,000 square feet that is set aside for a transit facility in the off-street designs could be used as residential space instead. You could put in 50 units of 850 sq ft each, for example, which would add probably 70 to 110 residents.

Then you're getting the operational/travel time benefits of the on-street transfer facilities, and you're also reducing the likelihood of someone waiting for a bus at night to feel isolated.

Patrick, actually, the darkness is a significant part of it--waiting for the same bus in early fall, when it was still light, felt much more comfortable. And, actually, I don't mind walking on Franklin Street during this same period--it's the waiting in one spot that makes you vulnerable, I think. I try to time it so my wait is as short as possible, and sometimes duck into open stores and try to keep an eye out for the bus.

Having it be populated isn't quite enough. It'd need to be someplace where you feel like you won't be approached by strangers--and having lots of folks around might or might not accomplish this, but having a place staffed would probably help this a lot.

But, to make the point again, I think you can be safe walking at a certain time when you might not feel so safe waiting... an odd distinction, perhaps, but one that I think most women who ride the bus in the evenings would understand!

The issue of safety isn't just for bus riders. One of my concerns about Chapel Hill and Carrboro's urbanization programs are that they seem to be too focused on construction without a parallel discussion on the quality of life issues associated with development and urbanization. If we want to have walkable, bike friendly communities then we need to make sure that the communities are structurally designed to accommodate those goals (Patrick's purpose with this thread as well as the Carrboro forum for Thursday), but we must also consider quality of life and the costs associated with those services. How much would it cost to put police on bikes/foot roaming around the two towns until 1-2 am every day? How much would it cost to put in emergency call boxes, additional lighting, noise abatement? If these costs are not included in the calculation for all future downtown projects (in both towns), then they become taxation issues after the construction has been completed.


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