Category Archives: Bicycle/Pedestrian

Form Based Code is Hurting Our Town

Form Based Code (FBC) is the zoning code that covers the Ephesus Fordham District, just renamed “Blue Hill” which targets 180 acres for high density redevelopment, from South Elliott Road and East Franklin Street, to Legion Road and Ephesus Church Road.

Tammy Grubb writes here in the Durham Herald about the Town and property owners re-branding the district to “Blue Hill”.  To us, this business marketing effort by the property owners to improve the rental rates of the high priced apartments draws attention away from the need to fix the many flaws in the underlying code. 

We wish the Town’s Economic Director had sponsored a competition to name the district and consulted retail owners and affected residents.  The only “Blue Hill” we know of is a well-known small seaside town in Maine that many here in the Triangle frequent in the summer for its quaintness, theater, music, cool weather, and antiques.

We want the Town to redirect its resources toward clarifying an overall vision and addressing the height and massing standards, as well as the lack of shared parking, reasonably priced housing and pleasant places to hang out or stroll.

Why is so much of the community unhappy with how the district is developing?

  • The community plan was not followed.  In 2010, the Town invited residents to participate in the renewal strategy  and asked them to vision a redevelopment plan for the area.  The Council approved this community consensus plan in 2011.  But what happened next is that the Manager hired a consultant who recommended  a zoning code that was approved quickly by the Town Council.  This code is a land speculator’s dream: few standards, no public hearings and a quick approval process. It does not resemble the citizens’ plan.
  • Benefits all accrue to the developer, not the community. The final code threw out all the things that Chapel Hill considers valuable: public hearings, in scale attractive buildings, trees and wide sidewalks, storm water volume control, and development that would serve the community such as modestly priced housing, improved bus service, and pocket parks.
  • The retail we want and need is disappearing fast due to escalating rents replaced by high end apartments, chain stores, and expensive restaurants. Gone or going soon are the dry cleaners, the yarn store, the copy shop, the barber shop, the men’s clothing store – the kind of services we depend on for everyday living.  
  • We will need to drive to Durham to find what we need. Replacing needed office and retail with the new glitzy stuff will mean even more traffic on a congested 15-501.
  • The Town is spending tax money to market a bad product instead of fixing the underlying problems.  We want the FBC improved or replaced with code that allows the kind of development we want and need. We are not excited about spending $24,000 of Town funds to help the property owners market their rental units.
  • Lower standards has led to more real estate speculation and the rapid flipping of properties.  The Alexan recently sold for $72 million.
  • The FBC is not promoting transit friendly development. Each apartment owner is building a parking deck which will keep people in their cars. The town is short on funds to expand our bus service.   A consultant has just been hired to design sidewalks and bikelanes for the district well after the approval of the zone.
  • Flooding will continue.  The Town has several watershed studies underway to recommend expensive remedies, but it it far less expensive to reverse the trend by not building pavement and buildings on natural surfaces.
  • The area is not walkable.  The  first project approved under the new zone is the “beached cruise ship” sitting awkwardly on Elliott Road. The building and attached parking deck make it more difficult to reach other businesses in the same shopping center. Each large apartment building will supply their own parking and walking to other locations is discouraged.
  • We are losing our town’s character.  The tree lined streets are being replaced with pavement and concrete that take up every square inch of property, just like large cities everywhere.  After all the Town investment of taxpayer funds, the Form Based Code has caused the ordinary things people need to live to disappear, along with the look and feel of our college town.

We invite our readers to respond to the article.  These newspaper quotes particularly stand out:

 “The desire was to become a thriving, walkable district with an urban character attractive to younger generations that work and live in the Chapel Hill area,”
Regency Centers also plans to remodel part of Village Plaza’s Whole Foods-anchored shopping center, which has lost several smaller tenants in recent years, Kanik said. Those losses can cause “a lot of heartache and grief,” he said, but the company also has a duty to its investors and to help other tenants thrive.

The district “is going to bring a lot more of this kind of entertainment lifestyle and activity,” Kanik said. “The PTA Thrift Shop, the Print Shop and the old dry cleaner that was there for generations, it’s all legacy stuff and there’s a time and place for that, but with this evolution there’s going to be a lot more energy.

Write your opinion in the comment section just below.

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Estes Drive Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements

One of the most successful features of the Central West Small Area Plan was a plan to build a new off-road bike lane and sidewalks along Estes Drive from MLK to Caswell Road. While this is a short stretch of road, building this off-rad bike path and other pedestrian features is essential to improving safety and connectivity in the area because of the the path’s proximity to two schools, to many neighborhoods with kids who could walk or bike to school, and to the town library.

The Town commissioned a Bike Plan last year and is planning to hire a consultant to do a Pedestrian Plan, so there is some slow but forward motion toward implementing a priority to make biking and walking safer in Chapel Hill.  It’s encouraging to see that Town has hired an intern Brian Vaughn to focus on these issues.

To fund the Estes Drive design improvement, the town allocated $247,000 through the Federal funds, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) provided 80%, and the town 20% to the cost of building it.

On February 9, the town held an open house and information sessions to feature three alternatives. Read about the alternative bike designs here.

Of the choices in design, Alternative #1 puts the bike path right in the street and is just the old fashion unprotected bike lane, with the emphasis on unprotected — not kid friendly.  Alternative #2 places places the bike path behind a planting strip – this was our favorite. Alternative #3 puts the bike path in the road separated by a small curb.

The big difference between Alternative 2 vs. 3 is that alternative 3 has an off-road multi use path on both sides – this would be very expensive to build.  A problem with #3 is that where the utility easement starts then the off-road path has to transition back to a protected bike lane. This awkward transition, was a significant factor in the  the Transportation and Connectivity Board choosing  Alternative 2.

Alternative 2

Alternative 2

To really make this route valuable, more connections are needed.  People need a route from Estes Elementary and Caswell Road toward points east, e.g. the library and Whole Foods. Central West participants and local bikers have suggested a route along Clayton or Elliott Roads.  The daily school pick ups along Elliott Road near the school path on Curtis Rd, so Clayton would be a better route but this decision is slated to come up in 2017.   The map below drawn by a local biking group (Bicycle Alliance of Chapel Hill) shows the Michaux Road connection to the library,  but the better connector is available from Clayton Road at Audubon, that would not require traveling on Elliott. This trail takes you through the woods of Pritchard Park, an easy trail ride for kids.

One suggested route from Estes Elementary to points east.

One suggested route from Estes Elementary to points east.

See article from Tarheel.

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Free Wheeling? Chapel Hill Cyclists Need Safer Streets Now

Chapel Hill leaders have talked a lot about bike safety and put up a fair number of signs marking bike routes, and The League of American Bicyclists even considered us a Bronze-level “Bicycle Friendly Community.” But Chapel Hill bicyclists are keenly aware of how dangerous it is to bike in our town, and fatal bike accidents recently bear that out. Read more on Chapel Hill Watch, “Ghost Bikes”.
Ghost BikeDr. John Pucher, a UNC graduate and professor of urban planning at Rutgers University, says American towns can learn from cities in Germany, Netherlands and Denmark, where cities got serious about safe bicycling and made major policy changes. Before the 1970s, bike accidents and fatalities increased as more and more cars competed with cyclists for space on the road. Then those cities invested heavily in making cycling safer and more convenient. They instituted traffic calming measures for neighborhood streets and built separate, protected bike lanes on major arteries to increase safety. As a result, it’s not just macho guys in spandex who are biking everywhere. In Denmark, 55 percent of all bike trips are made by women, and people over age 70 make 15 percent of their trips by bike.
Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany

In contrast, Chapel Hill has made few physical investments in safe biking. The oldest efforts are the white stripe along the shoulder of Cameron Avenue, and the pink cement bicycle lane built in the early 1980s along a stretch of Martin Luther King Boulevard. For decades, the Biking Pedestrian Advisory Board advised Town leaders that separate lanes for cyclists were not needed and that bicycles and autos could mix safely. Consequently, the Town missed valuable opportunities to build lanes when roads were repaved, whereas Carrboro‘s tenacious public officials and staff convinced DOT to incorporate bike lanes on North Greensboro Street instead of building more auto lanes. Four years ago, our Town Council adopted a “Complete Street” policy that calls for adding bike lanes whenever a street is widened. Chapel Hill succeeded in getting bike lanes on Weaver Dairy Road and South Columbia when those streets were widened recently last year.

In 2009, at the behest of a few biking advocates, the Carolina North Development Agreement added plans for a bicycle connector, a mostly flat 3.7-mile route that would be relatively inexpensive to build, located entirely on public property (Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and DOT). From downtown and campus, cyclists would travel along a railroad right-of-way between Carrboro and Northside to reach Estes Drive Extension. Carolina North is on hold, but this important north-south connector was made part of the Regional Transportation Plan and could still be built for a modest price because Chapel Hill owns much of the land.  A bicyclist coming from campus would travel along this route northward to Estes Drive. UNC has committed to providing sidewalks or a multipurpose path along Estes Drive to Carolina North.

UNC completed a new bikeway this year from the future Carolina North campus to Homestead Road that runs on top of a utility lines bringing methane from the old landfill.  As a consequence of an identified need in the Comprehensive Plan, Chapel Hill hired Toole Design Group, which bills itself as “the nation’s leading planning, engineering and landscape architecture firm specializing in multi-modal transportation,” to develop a bike plan. A Toole Design team came to town last year and rode bikes all over town to begin their assessment. The completed Chapel Hill Bike Plan can be found here.

It will cost millions of dollars and require strong leadership from our elected officials to implement this Bike Plan. But if the Town is really serious about making Chapel Hill less dangerous for cyclists, it should fund and build safe bike routes on or near all major thoroughfares. John Pucher’s book City Cycling proves it can be done. He calls older women “the canaries in the coal mine” when it comes to bike safety. He says that until women over 50 feel safe and comfortable biking around Chapel Hill, we are not yet a truly bike-friendly town.

Read Adam Searing’s Editorial in the Chapel Hill News,
Cycling Plan Too Little, Too Late“.
Want to learn more about biking in Chapel Hill?
Bike Chapel Hill: A new advocacy group
If you have safety concerns: Contact Police Chief Chris Blue at

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