Walk to ride

Let’s say you live in Phoenix Place, near the intersection of Rogers Road and Nancy OatesPurefoy, and you wanted to ride Chapel Hill’s prepaid buses into town. Maybe you don’t have a car or you embrace the walkable community ideal we hear Town Council members and developers talk about. Because bus service along Rogers Road is so infrequent, the best place to catch a bus is at the Park-and-Ride lot on Eubanks Road. So you set off walking that 2-mile journey.

A few dozen people last Saturday afternoon learned firsthand what that trek feels like. Here’s my summary: It is long, tiring and hot under the cloudless Carolina blue sky with few trees offering shade. (Note to Mayor Kleinschmidt who favored buildings over trees along the path from the Southern Village hotel to the market center: Trees may not be as engaging as buildings, but they are a welcome, cooling presence for people on foot.)

We walked along Eubanks to Rogers Road, then Purefoy. None of those roads has a shoulder. We had the benefit of a sheriff’s escort, which allowed us to walk in the road instead of through the tall grass, likely chigger-infested, bordering the tarmac. And we had the company of dozens of interesting people to chat with to pass the time. Even so, it’s not a walk you would do for fun.

Back at the Rogers Road community center, we huddled in the shade of the protective overhangs and listened to Jim Ward, council liaison to the Public Transit Committee, predict what changes in transit service might be possible. Because a new bus costs about a half-million dollars, driver not included, service would have to be increased with existing equipment and personnel. He said the Rogers Road route loop could be shortened so that buses would come by more frequently. Route changes usually are made at the start of fall and spring semester. The Chapel Hill Transit Partners will meet on Aug. 25 and take up the matter.

This being an election year, the hikers included council members and hopefuls. Lee Storrow, council liaison to the Affordable Housing and Justice In Action committees, walked the entire way (as did Ward). Ed Harrison, not up for re-election but a liaison to the Public Transit Committee and a Triangle Transit Authority board of trustees member, spoke at the start of the march. He was unable to walk, but his wife took his place.

I was among the new candidates for Town Council who hiked, as was Jessica Anderson and David Schwartz, and mayoral candidate Pam Hemminger. School board candidates Margaret Samuels and Rani Dasi went the distance as well.

As this is an election year, I urge community members and organizations to bring your issues to the fore. You will leverage your power for change and hold council and town staff accountable to turn theory into action.
– Nancy Oates

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24 Comments

  1. many

     /  August 17, 2015

    How about re-vectoring the half-cent sales tax funds from TTA to CHT to meet needs now rather than questionable, expensive and likely obsolete transport for the well-off that may or may not be built 10-15 years from now?

  2. bart

     /  August 17, 2015

    It is amazing. Buses regularly travel the UNC golf course road, tearing up the edges so much that it looks like rick-rack edging. However, the only people to pick up are at the Ronald McDonald House at the Fordham end of the road and the Imaging Center at the 54 end of the road.

    The city even built a bus stop along Fordham a few years ago but has never used it, preferring, I guess, to travel down Old Mason Farm road instead. Even the extended buses are sent along there, and cannot make the dog-leg turn near the golf club building without going “off-road.” (If you encounter one of these while traveling in the opposite direction, stop your vehicle and wait for it to make the turn.)

    All of these patrons can be picked up along Fordham and 54 with only a few steps more to a bus stop – and I literally mean only a few steps. So why is this road travelled and others not?

  3. bonnie hauser

     /  August 17, 2015

    I love the Rogers Road community and glad they got support for their march.

    Did anyone ask the incumbents or candidates about transit to support the new development, or as Many points out, how to put LRT on hold so that transit funds can be directed where they are needed?

    Of course Orange County needs unanimous support from Durham, GoTriangle and the MPO to change the LRT course, CHT is left begging for crumbs.

  4. Mark Marcoplos

     /  August 17, 2015

    The march was more bout tweaking the existing system to include people in the Rogers Road neighborhood than pitting the promising Light Rail system against their needs, Let’s focus pushing this good idea through the bureaucracy than denigrating larger plans that will help us.
    Proud to be “out” and not anonymous, the way democracy works best.

  5. Bruce Springsteen

     /  August 18, 2015

    Please, Mark, spare us. “Proud to be out?” Really? Folks like you are the reason so many people have to be in. “Proud to prevent so many others from being out” is more like it.

    In a separate comment with respect to the buses, I’ve often wondered how much analysis is done on the efficiency of the whole operation. My experience of using the buses during the non-rush hour times has been big buses (sometimes double long ones) carrying a small number of people. It seems very wasteful. It seems simple and obvious to do optimizations studies or whatever and that makes me assume they’re done but then again my experience on the buses gives me second thoughts.

    Why do those double long buses run any time other than rush hour? Even normal sized buses are more than enough during non-rush hour times. Buses like the shuttles at the airport would probably suffice during non-rush hour times. Running larger than necessary buses waste money, gas, put more traffic on the road and are harder on the roadways too.

    If the big buses cost half a million dollars how about we only run them when necessary and thereby increase their lifetimes?

  6. bonnie hauser

     /  August 18, 2015

    good points Bruce. There needs to be a serious look at all the local transportation routes – especially given the traffic impacts of planned new development.

    Rogers Road is symbolic of the grand social injustice of LRT – which btw no longer serves Alston Ave, and instead of running through Roger Perry’s multimillion Murray Hill Development, will be running near single family homes in Downing Creek. So much for preplanned guideways.

    Then there’s the industrial maintenance facility – originally planned for Alston Ave, and now planned for Farrington Road – again a residential neighborhood with a school.

    I appreciate the candor of our anonymous contributors, and their willingness to participate in a selfless manner

  7. many

     /  August 18, 2015

    Wow. Still on the anonymous contributor thing Mark? Give yourself a rest, man.

    My original comment was *exactly* about “tweaking the existing system to include people in the Rogers Road neighborhood”. The so called “promising Light Rail system” is siphoning off transit dollars from Rogers Road and other communities to serve a state funded university and some very expensive subdivisions – the latter, having indicated they do not want LRT.

    So which good idea is it that needs pushing and exactly what is being denigrated again?

    Selfless? Hardly. Trying to discuss the facts without spin? Definitely.

  8. Terri

     /  August 18, 2015

    I was in the DC area last week. Traffic on the interstates was moving at around 30 mph (when it was moving) and that wasn’t during rush hour. We need to plan for the future of transit if we don’t want the RTP area to become enmeshed in the same kind of traffic nightmare. For that reason, I continue to support the LRT plan.

    It’s interesting that Bruce is criticizing the current CHT system for not having sufficient ridership to justify the use of the “big” buses off-rush hour. Can’t tell if he is advocating for maintaining a significantly larger inventory of buses altogether, but that solution has it’s own costs as well as benefits. Maybe the system administrators have actually done the work and determined that it’s cheaper to use the big buses for light routes than to buy new, smaller buses which changes how parts inventory and storage facilities are managed.

    What’s the demand from Rogers Road? Are those of you who are advocating for the route adjustment basing your recommendation on actual data?

  9. many

     /  August 18, 2015

    Terri,

    I am presuming you are addressing me. If I am not, I am sure you will correct me.

    I completely agree with you about transit solutions and planning for the future. However LRT is a 20th century technology whose time has past. LRT has been a failure in many much more densely populated areas than this, for a multitude of reasons.

    The nature of work/commuting, shopping and freight has and is changing. There are many more innovative and distributed solutions than LRT that are available today and are in the pipeline that deserve this investment. There is a transit dependent segment of the population who will not be served by this line. History shows LRT tends to drive up property values and rents pushing that transit dependent community further out (in search of affordable housing that meets their needs) and making them more dependent on cars.

    I had the same thought that Bruce’s suggestion might increase operating cost by having to maintain a larger fleet, however I think that deserves study or at least the data that shows it was thought through.

    Rogers road is an example of an under-served community, which was the point of the march. There are others. I can tell you that Downing Creek, Meadowmont and East 54 which would be served by the LRT line are definitely not under-served communities.

    At the end of the day it comes down to where is the biggest benefit to the tax dollar spending? I continue to assert that the TTA LRT line is not even close.

    I am critical of the politicians that supported the LRT without justification, of the TTA which led a cynical sales campaign of misinformation about the LRT and of the voters that did not inform themselves.

    I do not think it is too late to reverse this thing if enough people take time to examine the facts and be vocal about where the most public good can be achieved.

  10. Terri

     /  August 18, 2015

    I’m caught in the middle of a different issue that has a technical solution that may not be in the best interest of the community right now, so I understand the frustration of those who disagree with the plan for LRT. The option I have seen (BRT) do not seem particularly innovative to me and would create additional roadway problems that I don’t think are consistent with local goals. But this isn’t my priority issue right now.

    The bottom line for me is that I want a non-single car/truck solution that creates opportunities for those who need affordable transit and that doesn’t allow the wealthy to stay in their single-occupant cars everywhere they go. I don’t want this area to become another DC or Atlanta.

  11. many

     /  August 18, 2015

    I am with you on DC or Atlanta I go both places several times a year and I would not want to live in either place.

    I think the solution may be different than you think (or I think) it is. My conjecture is that it will involve smaller, smarter automated cars which get much better mpg and have the ability to “form up” into adhoc trains. Taking the human error out of the equation greatly improve safety, theft and both parking and road congestion. Some studies show more than 60%.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/news/531301/town-built-for-driverless-cars/

    Honestly rather than embracing LRT, this is the sort of research UNC should be involved in from both a legal and social/governmental/regulatory perspective.

    This is just the beginning. This also has the opportunity to contribute to the so called “sharing economy” which would have a significant impact in many other areas.

  12. bonnie hauser

     /  August 18, 2015

    I’ll add two points – the BRT option is not more “innovative”, its just cheaper and a lot more flexible. Rather than a 17 mile fixed route from UNC to Durham. the corridor from I40 to downtown Durham can use existing roads without dedicated guideways. Still need stations, and the research suggests that the stations – not the corridor – – will drive the urban development (if that’s what’s desired)

    I spoke at length to Wake Transit. They see driverless vehicles as part of their “last mile service” (something we’ve not planned for at all). They still expect to develop mass transit routes (BRT or RRT) along high traffic corridors.

  13. Mark Marcoplos

     /  August 20, 2015

    “Bruce”, look at it this way. If I didn’t use my own name. how would the multitudes who fear using their own name in a discussion with me know to use an alias? Beyond the fact that I don’t really understand this strange power that you attribute to me, at least I seem to be performing some sort of bizarre public service.

  14. many

     /  August 20, 2015

    Mark, Now I understand where you are coming from and let me put your mind at rest; It’s not about you.

  15. Mark Marcoplos

     /  August 24, 2015

    Thanks, “many”. My mind is almost more at ease than it was before. At least I have realized that I should create an alias in order to better contribute to the discussions. I realize now that posting from behind the curtain is much more conducive to authentic community discussion than knowing whom you are communicating with. Actually, I’m beginning to realize that my contributions are much more weighty if no-one knows who I am. I encourage all to hide their identity for it is the best way to democratically and authentically engage in real debate. To those who choose to comment openly, you are denigrating the debate, for true expression occurs when you cannot be held publicly for your ideas. It’s a new age.

  16. chris

     /  August 25, 2015

    Will the money ever materialize for the Light Rail? I read an article today in the N&O that it would cost $1.5 billion for the Orange and Durham county portions. Together, those counties have less than 500,000 people.

  17. bonnie hauser

     /  August 25, 2015

    The number is $1.8 billion – and the state is already short $300 million. and with Wake out of the picture, LRT wont do anything to help people get to major employment centers in RTP and Raleigh (or Chatham or Mebane).

    So Chris – my answer to your question is “I hope not”. But unfortunately elected officials in Durham and Orange continue to misrepresent the data, and conflate growth in Wake with Durham-Orange LRT.

  18. many

     /  August 25, 2015

    Meanwhile TTA continue to waste taxpayer money on study after study, using one consultant after . It looks more like a TTA jobs program than anything else to me.

  19. bonnie hauser

     /  August 25, 2015

    Oops – the latest numbers are $1.6 billion – and travel times have degraded from 34 minutes to 55 minutes for the 17 mile route, and 41% of the newest route goes through lowlands and wetlands which cannot support dense development.

    Remember when they threw out BRT because it was too slow at 39 minutes.

    The headlines should read “GoTriangle lowers the bar, again!”

  20. Bruce Springsteen

     /  August 26, 2015

    I don’t know much about the LRT other than on the surface it seems impractical for a sprawl-y place like this area but I agree completely with ‘many’ about the self-driving cars. They are coming, eventually big time, for sure.

    In fact, I don’t think the phrase “driverless car’ describes it fully. We have road systems on which only car-type things can travel so the “driverless car” is the first thing we’ve come up to deal with that. But I think a more general name for what is coming is “automated transportation better and more efficient than current non-automated transportation.”

    CH/C has a reputation for being progressive but although it is progressive in some ways, in other ways I think it’s anti-progress, anti-technology and anti-intellectual. And this is one of them. If you go back 10 years in time years and ask “What would be optimal transportation-wise if you could snap your fingers and make it true?” some people would say something like the LRT.

    So they close their eyes to the rest of the world moving on and they push and push and push for the LRT for a quarter century. And then, in 10-15 years from now when quarter of a century has passed and they’ve finally gotten their LRT they’re going to say “Hey everybody, look, we’ve finally gotten that LRT that was so important.” And people will respond “Who cares? It’s irrelevant now anyway.”

    I don’t think you can be truly progressive without being in touch with how current reality actually is instead of how you want current reality to be.

  21. bonnie hauser

     /  August 26, 2015

    Right Bruce – and if you speak to Wake Transit about driverless vehicles, they add “driverless cars and buses, uber cars and smart cars – controlled through a phone ap. They see BRT or RRT as the “spine” and the driverless vehicles providing last mile service (to neighborhoods and popular destinations.

    And yes, in this case, Orange and Durham are reqressive -actually the real problem is that they’ve been planning for so long that the world changed and the planners didn’t notice.

  22. Terri

     /  August 26, 2015

    In theory I agree with Bruce and many that we should be looking at new technologies given the timeline for construction of LRT. But after spending quite a bit of time reviewing new mass transit technologies, I don’t find any mature enough to pursue. Driverless vehicles are still a decade away and then they don’t really address the “mass” transit needs to move large numbers of people quickly and efficiently.

    BRT has not been dismissed. It may have been dismissed as the “spinal cord” technology for the expanded regional mass transit system, but it is still on the table as an arterial option in both Chapel Hill and Durham.

  23. bonnie hauser

     /  August 26, 2015

    Terri – you are talking around the issue – LRT is a backbone option that Wake has fully dismissed because its inflexible and too expensive.

    For D-O, LRT is sucking up all the funds so there’s nothing left for for regional transit. And now by all measures, the value’s not there, maybe DO, should reconsider BRT as its backbone.

    Go Triangle has moved its projections to 2040 (it makes their numbers work). 20 years is a lifetime in technology years.

  24. Bruce Springsteen

     /  August 27, 2015

    Maybe to start we could go part ways on the driverless car thing and require it only for sitting Chapel Hill Town Council members.

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