Event Recap: Accessible Public Transportation & Greenways

The first workshop in NEXT’s Sustainable Communities Series was held Tuesday, April 16th, 2019. The Accessible Public Transportation & Greenways workshop included a panel comprised of Dr. Allie Thomas from UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning; Mark Marcoplos, Orange County Commissioner and GoTriangle Board of Trustees member; and Damon Seils, Carrboro Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem and Chair of the Durham Chapel Hill Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization. With them, we discussed local transit and bike-ped policy post-Durham Orange Light Rail Transit (DOLRT). There are many challenges in local transit planning following the end of the light rail project. Damon Seils reminded us that the “loss of DOLRT is the loss of a solution to a problem we continue to face. Local bus service, funding for bus projects, and North-South BRT project and the Hillsborough Amtrak Station are four pillars to remember as we move forward.” Public feedback is essential throughout the planning process. Local knowledge is often overlooked during the policy-making and implementation process. An attendee from the event added, “Policy should be made with bus, bike and pedestrian mode voters in mind.”

Another aspect we must not lose sight of is collaboration across counties and regions. Many people work and live in different towns and counties, so a regional solution to the issue of transit is needed. Mark Marcoplos said, “We have a history of collaboration and need to continue sharing ideas about the benefits of a regional transportation system.” The relationship between Durham and Orange counties is especially crucial to a regional transit plan. An alternative to the DOLRT is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), but it is very costly and requires designating right of way, along with other challenges. Moreover, we are not only interested in one transportation corridor or one type of transportation, we need multiple solutions for multiple problems. This is a complex issue we face. We need to work together and act as quickly as we can.

UNDERSTANDING BARRIERS

To create a viable, sustainable plan for accessible public transportation, we need to understand the barriers to it. Our attendees shared many of their own barriers to commuting by bus or bicycle. Some attendees explained how they would love to ride bicycles with their children to school and to the library, but the bike paths are not safe enough, especially on Estes Drive in Chapel Hill. Also mentioned was the condition of bus stops. Not many of them are sheltered and some are in ditches. Additionally, weather in general is a barrier. The summers are very hot and the winters cold, not to mention rainy days that make waiting for buses difficult. Time is one of the greatest barriers. The need to go to multiple places, to make a transfer, and the distance between home and office from the bus are all factors that go into the decision of whether or not you will ride. Furthermore, there is an initial barrier that must be overcome. How do you ride the bus? Swipe your card? Load your bicycle? Educating the public about public transit is key to making people feel comfortable riding the bus and using greenways.

One barrier that was broken down in Chapel Hill Transit was bus fares. By eliminating bus fares they were able to reduce the time it took people to load the bus and drastically increase ridership. Ridership also increased when gas prices went up. Prioritizing a car-free commute is not only about making public transportation more accessible, but also discouraging the public from using their single-occupancy vehicles. We can also discourage travel by single-occupancy vehicles through higher parking rates. An attendee noted that making one day a week more expensive to park would encourage people to use public transportation. Progress doesn’t happen all at once, there are steps we can take to make improvements.     

EQUITY AND SUSTAINABILITY

So, why does increasing accessibility to public transportation and greenways matter? Dr. Allie Thomas stated that “16% of African American millennials don’t have access to a car. Looking at overall sustainable development, offering a variety of transportation choices is important in creating equity.” This is a matter of equity and sustainability. “Working on bike/pedestrian pathways is a good place to start to get people out of their cars”, Marcoplos said. Transportation is the number one contributor to emissions causing climate change and reducing it is vitality important. The transition from cars to public transportation will be instrumental in mitigating climate change. You can take the bus, carpool, or try working from home. Everyone can make the choice to minimize congestion on our roadways and reduce emissions.

CAR-FREE COMMUTE CHALLENGE

At the end of the workshop, attendees were challenged to see if they could make one day a week a car-free day by riding public transportation, walking, biking, scooting or telecommuting. Thanks to Piri Durham for catering and to everyone who attended. Make plans to join us May 17 from 6-8pm at the CURRENT Studio for our next workshop in the Sustainable Communities Series: Diverse & Affordable Housing.