Planning & Transportation

How Unaffordable? A Look at the Data

Last week, Chapel Hill’s economic development officer, Dwight Bassett, presented some data on Chapel Hill’s housing market to a reasonably-sized crowd at Town Hall. Bassett’s presentation followed a brief talk from Robert Hickey of the National Housing Conference about what’s happening in housing trends around the country.

Like many of the other audience members, it was Bassett’s data that struck me the most. (During the Q&A following the presentations, all but one question was directed at Bassett rather than Hickey). The one number that really stood out: 3117%. That is, since 1990, the number of houses in Chapel Hill valued at over $500,000 has increased by 3117%.

Compare this to more affordable price ranges: For houses valued between $100,000-$149,000, the number of houses has increased by only 32%. For houses valued between $150,000-$199,999, there has only been a 107% increase in the number of houses.

Let's Do Parking Right: A Look at the Evidence

Parking, like traffic, is a recurring theme in local conversation about growth and development. We often hear from some community members that there is nowhere to park in downtown Chapel Hill/Carrboro, that a lack of parking is hurting local businesses, and that the parking minimums required for the Ephesus-Fordham renewal district are insufficient.

But the facts simply don’t support these claims. The reality is that providing more parking – especially surface parking – is fundamentally incompatible with urban land uses.*

Numerous urban planning scholars have researched parking, and their research has consistently confirmed that more parking is not desirable on any metric – unless, that is, you want more people to drive and create more traffic.

The Truth About Traffic

Whenever there’s a new development proposal pending before a local governing board, the center of the conversation always seems to gravitate toward traffic. Given this tendency, I think it’s important we understand historic traffic changes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation maintains historic traffic counts for urban areas around the state, including Chapel Hill. These traffic counts date back to 1997, with the most recent data being from 2013. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the average annual daily traffic in some major areas around town:

 

Area

1997

2004

2013

Change, 2013 vs. 1997

W Franklin St (just west of Columbia St)

17,400

18,000

12,000

Will Chapel Hill Transit Really Start Charging Fares?

At a work session earlier this month, the Chapel Hill Town Council received a report on the fiscal sustainability of Chapel Hill Transit. The report describes CHT's current situation as akin to “tale of two cities.” One the one hand the system has been enormously successful in attracting new ridership and on the other hand facing some fairly significant obstacles because of that sucess. The report identifies funding as the chief area of concern, noting that the urgent need for capital expenses mostly to help replace the agency's aging fleet. 

In response to the meeting, a slew of stories appeared with headlines like "Chapel Hill Transit Could Start Charging For Bus Rides." That got me and a few of OrangePolitics' other editors thinking: what would happen if the system really were to start charging fares as a way to be more sustainable? After talking it over a bit, we came up with (at least) two potential issues:

Democracy and the Quality of Urban Life

Speaking to a sizeable crowd at Duke last Thursday night, Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, shared his vision for and thoughts on “Democracy and the Quality of Urban Life.”

As mayor from 1998-2000, Peñalosa radically transformed the physical form of Bogotá. He worked to incorporate the city’s remote, illegally-constructed slums into the city by building new public spaces, parks, and pedestrian and bicycle connections. He implemented aggressive policies to limit car use by eliminating parking and creating dedicated bus lanes to improve public transit. He spoke at length during his talk about how the work he carried out as mayor was designed to make Bogotá a more inclusive, equal, and democratic city.

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