Park it where?

Never have I been so glad to work from home as after listening to the presentation on the state of the town’s transit system.

For an hour and a half last night, Chapel Hill Transit’s interim director, Brian Litchfield, waxed eloquent about where we are and where we’re going, bus-wise. Federal and state funding projections, ridership demand, cost of bus acquisition, operations, maintenance and replacement – he had it down.

What tripped him up was the town’s park-and-ride lots.

In August, UNC plans to begin charging for parking passes to its park-and-ride lots, forcing Chapel Hill to follow suit. Chapel Hill Transit plans to make UNC parking passes valid for town park-and-ride lots. If UNC sells more passes than it has parking spaces – which it will have to do to leverage the spaces, because not every pass holder will need a space on the same days and times as all the other pass holders – UNC pass holders can look for spaces in town park-and-ride lots. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was the first to object.

“UNC is selling hunting licenses, not parking passes,” he said.

Similarly, the town will oversell parking passes to patrons. Gene Pease let it be known that if he had paid $250 for an annual parking pass and all the spaces in the lot were taken, he would be sorely peeved and would rail at council members to solve the problem.

Not to worry, said Litchfield. Charging for parking spaces would reduce demand.

Huh? The demand for those parking spaces is not discretionary. People use them to get to work. Earlier in the evening, Southern Village developer D.R. Bryan petitioned council to add parking restrictions around Village Center to prevent commuters from parking in spaces designed to serve retail customers and catching the bus in the park-and-ride lot. If commuters now have to pay $250 a year to park where they can take a bus to work, they won’t simply stop going to work.

Litchfield said commuters would find alternatives. Maybe clogging I-40 by driving solo to RTP or Raleigh? Driving to University Mall and taking a city bus to campus? Tow truck operators will start drawing up contracts. Finding a neighborhood where on-street parking isn’t restricted and hiking to the nearest bus stop? We’ve heard from neighbors who complain about that practice, and council has added parking restrictions.

And that doesn’t take into consideration the employees UNC hospital and campus plan to add over the coming decades or the increased student enrollment, those students we don’t want living a walkable or bikable distance from campus.

Clearly, Chapel Hill Transit needs to work out some kinks, and quickly. You don’t want your surgeon leaving to plug her meter every two hours.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. George C

     /  January 29, 2013

    This was a disaster. I won’t fault the interim director for not coming right out and saying what I suspect everyone on the dais and everyone watching had already figured out: we’re in big trouble. We had built a very successful transit system which helped relieve traffic in town by having folks ride the bus into town and, if coming from outside CH, leaving their car parked on the periphery. Jim Ward got it right when he said that we need to consider siting the park & rides closer to where the trips are originating (i.e., further outside town) but, of course, no one talked about where the money will come from. And if you’re going to build new park & rides, do it right and built structures (i.e., decks) since you know demand will continue to rise.
    Well, CH hadn’t seen some of the worse parts of the recession that started in 2008 – until now. The cutbacks at the federal and state levels are now beginning to have a very visible effect on how we run our town: cutbacks in bus services, an aging bus fleet (nearly twice the national average) and a general fund that can be tapped out no more. And this was only the second (after the Library) major town service to talk budget with the Council.These are going to be very, very difficult problems to solve.
    It’s going to be a tough year.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  January 29, 2013

    The elephant in the room is affordable housing. That’s what Chapel Hill/Carrboro don’t have and why the park and rides are so important.

    I agree with Brian that demand will go down when this new charge is levied. The price of a campus parking permit is a sliding scale based on salary. For some of the lower paid staff, they will be able to pay a bit more and park on campus instead of using the bus. Others will look for alternative parking as was discussed last night–UMall, Rams Plaza, neighborhoods–until they get ticketed or towed a few times. What is so frustrating though is that UNC told us nearly 2 years ago that they were going to implement this and the town is just now starting to talk about it (publicly anyway).

    What I hope is that the towns and the university will work together to create a single park and ride permit that is good for any lot–university holders can park in town lots and town holders can park in university lots. Whoever sells the permit keeps the revenue.

    The overarching goal of transit is to reduce the number of people driving in town/parking on campus so to add two disruptions–paid permits and separate permits–at the same time is just going to undercut our success at reaching the big goal. Regional transit is the long-term solution, but shared permits has got to be part of the short-term accommodation.

  3. Jon DeHart

     /  January 29, 2013

    I thought Chapel Hill didn’t have parking problems ? That is what I heard on the campiagn trail …

  4. DOM

     /  January 29, 2013

    “The elephant in the room is affordable housing.”

    It always will be until we diversify our tax base and provide more opportunity for mixed-use development. The longer we keep our heads in the sand about this, the more disparity we’ll see between those who have it (“luxury” homeowners in traditional R-1 neighborhoods) and those who don’t (working-class families trying to gain a foothold in the community).

    Those on the Council and the Planning Board who continue to be so protective of the boundaries surrounding these well-to-do, half-acre (and more!) intown property owners should learn to see the light – that only by creating more diversity in our tax base and dwelling options, will we ever emerge from the elitist Camelot we call Chapel Hill.

  5. Nancy

     /  January 29, 2013

    What businesses? And I mean that as a serious question. Our main employer is the university & its hospital. We have restaurants and a few stores, real estate offices, a law office or investment firm here and there. But we can’t count on start-ups to fuel economic growth. If we built offices or retail space, who would occupy them? If Obey Creek replaced its retail space with a retirement community, surrounded by other high-density residential, it might be more palatable.

  6. A few comments.

    “Charging for parking spaces would reduce demand.” More to the point, it might reduce deman on the Park-n-Ride but if someone still wants to use the bus system they will park elsewhere – like in neighborhoods or commercial entities (see Critz Rd. for instance).

    George, to suggest that these problems were unforeseen is a crock.

    The CHTC ignored analysis by residents that clearly showed a looming problem – analysis going back 5-6 years.

    You had a very direct role in this by shepherding a CH2020 process which studiously and consistently ignored pleas to look at this very issue.

    Same for the Library expansion. Three years ago CHTC was told that the expansion was not economically sustainable at this time but both they and the Library expansion cheerleaders decided to ignore those calls.

    Finally, I don’t know how we’re supposed to take some of the CHTC member comments seriously given the recent transit tax discussions (which, George, you also played a key role in).

    Folks like myself were vilified by intolerant transit proponents for pointing out that the TTA & MPO refused to share even 25% of locally raised revenues to directly fund locally managed transit options – the CHT, ped/bike improvements, etc. I argued for a sliding scale – no less than 25% – to handle just the issues raised by Brian, et. al.

    But NO NO NO, the lion’s share of revenues had to go to LRT and be managed by the TTA – which has made some serious errors in managing assets, doesn’t have as good a return on investment as the CHT and which has shown itself tone-deaf to local concerns.

  7. DOM

     /  January 29, 2013

    Nancy –

    Let’s look at the Central West area now being studied as an example. For its first phase, UNC’s Carolina North is planning 800,000 sq. ft. of classroom and office development but has set aside less than 10,000 sq. ft.(!) for retail.

    However, if the area immediately surrounding Carolina North were allowed adequate density for shopping, restaurants and support services in addition to some decent multi-story housing, UNC employees and students wouldn’t have to get in their car to go someplace else to eat or shop or reside.

    Do you think members of council and the planning board will be open enough to let this happen? Unfortunately, I have my doubts.

  8. Diogenes

     /  January 29, 2013

    A latte here and a latte there adds up!

  9. If you had read the background going into the Carolina North discussions, looked at the agreement, you would know that many of the services you cite – housing, shopping, recreating – are to be provided on-site.

  10. Bonnie Hauser

     /  January 29, 2013

    I just need to utter my strong support for Will’s comments.

  11. Many

     /  January 29, 2013

    I posit the answer to the quandary George poses will be annexation. 🙂

  12. Fred Black

     /  January 29, 2013

    Largest employers in OC:

    1. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    2. UNC Health Care
    3. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

    4. Orange County Schools

    5. Orange County

    6. Town of Chapel Hill

    7. Sports Endeavors Inc. DBA Eurosport

    8. Aramark Food and Supply Services

    9. Harris Teeter

    10. A Southern Season

  13. Nancy

     /  January 29, 2013

    Fred — That’s very enlightening. I’d guess easily 2/3 of the people employed on that list make less than $50K annually, which means we’re moving in a direction of the majority of the people who work in town live out of town, and the majority of the people who own homes in town work out of town. So we need to make transportation, including park-and-ride lots, a priority.

  14. Many

     /  January 29, 2013

    So instead of development sprawl we have employment sprawl.

  15. Fred Black

     /  January 29, 2013

    35,540 live out of OC and drive in,
    33,850 live in OC and drive out, and
    20,602 live & work in OC (2012 data)

    Much of this is addressed here and well worth paging through.

  16. DOM

     /  January 29, 2013


    If you had read the actual Carolina North agreement, you would have seen that of the 800,000 sq ft set aside for the first phase of development, only 10,000 sq ft has is dedicated to retail/civic. That’s not even the size of one McDonald’s. This is what the OFFICIAL agreement says:

    “The University’s development of the initial 800,000 square feet of building development undertaken pursuant to this Agreement shall be in substantial compliance with this general allocation of uses. Any modification of this allocation of uses that would result in substantial changes in parking or traffic generation shall be deemed to be a major amendment of this Agreement.
    Academic 410,000 sf
    Private Research and Development 180,000 sf
    Civic/Retail 10,000 sf
    Recreation Fields n/a
    Housing 200,000 sf
    Health Care 0 sf
    TOTAL 800,000 sf”

    Read it and weep.

  17. Many

     /  January 29, 2013

    Indeed worth paging through. Thank you.

    The population figures for Orange County are the total number county residents and include those that live inside the municipalities, correct?

    The data leaves one wanting more when it comes to transit decisions. However this data seems to suggest Light Rail between UNC & Duke is even less likely to solve commuting issues than even I thought.

    It would be interesting to see trends and breakdown the ingress and egress commuters by route and municipality, not just county. I suspect that information might have a bearing on transit decisions.

    I wonder how Orange compares to Durham, Chatham and Alamance. I suspect suspect the main target destination is RTP for most county egress commuters, and UNC is the top destination for Orange ingress commuters

  18. Bonnie Hauser

     /  January 29, 2013

    good questions Many – here’s a couple more

    Does OC’s 133,000 people include 30,000 students? How many students are showing up in our low income numbers?

    Also -how does UNC and UNC Healthcare property holdings get counted? And how much does UNC cost the town and county for services – and how does that compare to the tax subsidy that the town gets from the state?

    Oh – and how many of the non-student families are on the low income rolls or get food stamps or get school lunches are UNC or UNC healthcare employees?

  19. Diogenes

     /  January 29, 2013

    If I recall correctly Blue Cross used to be on the list of top ten employers in OC. Aramark provides services to UNC/UNC Healthcare. That leaves three out of ten independent for profits among the ten largest employers in OC. The bottom three. Two retailers and an Athletic Apparel Company. With the exception of the departure of Blue Cross from the list it hasn’t changed in ten years.

  20. Terri Buckner

     /  January 30, 2013

    One of the major accomplishments of the 2020 process (IMHO) was to get town leaders to start thinking about systems. In the past, decisions have been made piecemeal: what happens on Weaver Dairy Road was viewed only as an impact on WDR. Since 2020, we’ve heard more and more questions being asked about wider reaching impacts, and that is a very positive step.

    Instead of blaming them for not having this broader vision in the past, we should all be celebrating even the smallest baby step toward change. Who cares who saw it previously and how it was ignored? What matters is now. It’s called learning/enlightenment and should be praised.

    So instead of pointing fingers and any or all of our town leaders, let’s all stay positive and figure out how to work within the current budgetary constraints and make decisions that see the connected whole.

  21. Bonnie Hauser

     /  January 30, 2013

    Terri – you have to admit – that an important feature of good problem solving is solving “the right problem”. Systems thinking helps but only if the context is properly set and priorities are agreed. And lets not forget the fact base. Recent discussions on Nancy’s blog have highlighted the inconsistencies in the fact base – and its unclear whether people are discussing a distant past or a changing future.

    Transportation is a great example of how broken the system is. In Orange County, theres 2 MPOs (Durham-Ch Hill, Burlington) a Rural Planning Organization (RPO), 4 planning boards, 4 transportation boards, and 3 transportation providers (CHT, OPT, and TTA). Plus UNC. Governed by 4 elected bodies (30 officials) who mostly serve at large – without district representation.

    There’s been no attempt to pull any of these well-meaning groups together to discuss transit needs and priorities in an open and transparent way. With a new transit tax and fee – about $7 million a year – our transportation system is underfunded and there’s no still plan or process to revamp the system to serve emerging commuter patterns or the needs of the local community, including our growing senior population.

    So rather than congratulate ourselves for baby steps, can’t we grow up and walk forward, together as responsible self-critical adults – not to condemn anyone -but to challenge whether the systems and attitudes that successfully governed our past are relevent to the environmentally, socially and fiscally sustainable future that we want?

  22. Nancy

     /  January 30, 2013

    And not to belabor the point, but if Will Raymond had been on council, he would have asked the questions and made the connections to avert some of these quandaries we find ourselves in now.

  23. Many

     /  January 30, 2013

    BCBSNC shows up on both Orange and Durhams top ten list here:

    Not sure how old this list is

  24. Terri Buckner

     /  January 30, 2013


    I’m all for challenging the system. But let’s also admit that there are legitimate differences of opinion and facts can be easily distorted. Change takes time and it requires nurturing. Blaming and attacking individuals or groups for not changing fast enough is counterproductive.

    We live in a very complex system. Donella Meadows’ advice is to start understanding a system by observing it, learning how it responds before you try to change it. “Starting with the behavior of the system directs one’s thoughts to dynamic, not static analysis–not only to “what’s wrong?” but also to “how did we get there?” and “what behavior modes are possible?” and “if we don’t change direction, where are we going to end up?””

    I agree with your comment about behaving like adults, but that means recognizing that esteem/prestige are powerful human drives (Maslow) and whether we like it or not, they have to be catered to if we want people in power to hear the message. Communications are a vital part of system dynamics.

  25. Avanti

     /  January 30, 2013

    It is possible, maybe even probable, that Chapel Hill (not UNC) has reached its high point in civic and social conditions and it now on a long downhill sled ride in almost all areas of daily life. (1) As stated by others, our library is in the wrong place at the wrong cost and it will be many years before full service is available, (2) Municipal services have been cut in all areas – recreation, maintenance of property, etc., (3) Our taxable property base has shrunk due to the recession/depression and the fact that the new value added to tax base has been dramatically slowed and will continue to be slowed. The Council by means of the 2020 Focus Study process has created what amounts to a moratorium for most of Chapel Hill between MLK and the By-Pass from downtown north. (4) Our most heralded transportation solution – great CHT service and park and rides – promotes sprawl development and reduces the amount of money spent in Chapel Hill. It does so by making it possible for students, employees, etc. of UNC and the other governmental employers in town live farther away and park for free at the edges. Only the Southern Village located park and ride puts employees and students in a location where they might purchase goods and services. Now we will charge for the privilege of letting commuters park out of our downtown. (5) Affordable Housing has its own peculiarities and is needed, but our economic model for providing AH is broken as it depends upon the developers to build, not the community. (6) UNC student housing – Many students (and the parents who pay the bills) want their young adults to be housed in safe, clean, modern apartments. The last new pertinent student housing (apartments – not duplexes in historic districts) in Chapel Hill (Chapel Ridge on MLK) was built 12 years ago. The second newest is The Warehouse on Rosemary built 16 years ago I believe. The lack of new housing provides a great demand for existing – single-family homes or duplexes in all neighborhoods in town. The least intelligent policy to pursue is one that results in delay of approval of new student housing in the MLK corridor. (7) The calls for coordination with UNC are nice and sound good, but it is up to the town to move forward. UNC has reached the 2nd decade of the 21st century. The town as a government institution is for the most part short handed and focused on “not planning” for the future, but restricting the future options for those under the age of 30 that we need to keep Chapel Hill vibrant. Towns need to re-invent themselves every 25-30 years as generations and economics and values change. We have a community where “innovation” is a word, not a goal, and where those that made decisions in the 80’s and 90’s that have created the conditions we now wish to reverse are still the most active in town. It is not at all a stretch to say that the Urban Services boundary and the Rural Buffer have promoted sprawl and high price housing both within and outside the urban services areas of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Yes it is a pleasure to drive along a “country road” that seems to go thru forests or past agriculture, but what we really have is large lot, economic exclusion zones, in the form of a fake rural buffer. Is this all a pessimistic point of view. Well – yes. But tell me, any of the prior commenters, why I should view the continuation of our current policies and plans – 2020 included – and our current process of selectively screening those who can move into town via new development – provide me or any others with an idea that our future will be better.

  26. Many

     /  January 30, 2013

    Avanti; Simply put; you should not. Your post implies you are informed and have opinions. If you are not already, I am sure you would be a welcomed participant in planning our future.

    I agree with your comment about re-invention, except that it probably needs to happen more frequently. Hopefully the voters and elected officials will take notice. If I were a betting man, I would not be betting against the ability of the towns and county to adjust and prosper. After all, they have been doing it for a while now.

    My suspicion is that in addition to the reasons you cite, another driving force behind not building more student housing during the last two decades has been the strategy of parents buying a house for students while they were in school, then renting rooms and flipping it to cover some of the tuition. Obviously that strategy is no longer as effective.

    “Long-range plans engender the dangerous belief that the future is under control.” – Max Gunther

  27. Gene Pease

     /  January 30, 2013

    Before I ran for Council, but was very involved in town governance, I thought I had most of the answers to our issues, but after serving for three years I’ve realized the issues are much more complicated and tougher to solve than previously understood. Your analysis of our problems, and opportunities, are some of the most informed I have seen. Whoever you are, I encourage to get involved and potentially run for Council this fall, we need more informed citizens participating in the process. I’m an entrepreneur, thus an optimist, and believe we can solve some (not all) of these issues and continue to make this a great place to live. If you want to further discuss, the town website has all my contact information.
    Gene Pease

  28. anonymous

     /  January 31, 2013

    Even though Park n Ride does allow out of towners to circumvent a lot of chapel hill, it does benefit chapel hill residents by having fewer cars driving around chapel hill and thus improves quality of life for its residents.

    Yes, in an ideal world the park n rides would have commercial and/or residential embedded in them, so that some of the tax dollars for the commuters could be recovered.

    As far as UNC’s charging for permits, I don’t see how that will not shift some of the cars into Town lots or residential streets and I’m surprised that staff thinks there will be fewer people driving to UNC. They drive for their jobs/school not optional activities.