Downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro are at the heart of our community. Our downtowns provide community gathering spaces, great food and drink, and a sense of pride for our community.

At the same time, our downtowns are suffering from outdated approaches to parking management, road design, and economic development. We need to rethink how we manage our downtowns to make them stronger, more vibrant, and more resilient going forward.

Policy Ideas + Solutions

We support policies to bring more jobs and residents into our downtowns. More residents will help add new types of businesses by expanding the pool of potential customers. New jobs will grow our local economy and strengthen our tax base. By concentrating these new jobs and residents in downtown, we also create a vibrancy that attracts people and makes our community a desirable place to be.

Downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro are assets to our community that we can grow and strengthen to lead us forward, and NEXT supports investing in these assets to make our community truly a place for everyone. We should do the following:

Reform parking, and increase bus/bike/pedestrian connections to downtown. Based on recent actions, leaders in Chapel Hill and Carrboro still believe in the outdated idea that the core problem with our downtowns is that there is nowhere to park. Our communities are spending millions of dollars to build unneeded parking decks on some of the valuable land in our state and choosing to retain policies like free and subsidized parking that harm our downtowns. Our towns should work together to implement sensible policies that adequately prices existing parking, and discourages businesses from overinvesting in parking. A successful downtown should be full of people, not cars. Our bus system and network of park and ride lots on the edges of town are more than adequate to meet demand. We can also improve sidewalk and bike connections to our downtowns, particularly along our major roads. 

More people should live and work downtown. Our downtowns already have a rich set of amenities, including grocery stores, restaurants, services, retail, and major employment centers. In recent years, we’ve also added new residents to our downtowns. But too many leaders still think of our downtowns as places that should be designed around game days and a handful of festivals. In order to build stronger downtowns we need to make it easier for people to add new housing and office space, particularly on land that is currently used for car storage. A downtown resident or office worker contributes far more to the local economy than a tourist who visits four- to six-times a year. While we welcome tourism, our communities will be more attractive to all if we have active downtowns all year round. 

Design our locally owned downtown streets for all users, not just drivers. One of the biggest challenges facing our downtowns is that the North Carolina Department of Transportation controls decisions made on several of our major roads, including Franklin Street in Chapel Hill and Main Street in Carrboro. While adding bike lanes and wider sidewalks on these roads is challenging, our communities should take advantage of the streets they do control, such as Weaver Street in Carrboro and Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. We should build or retain critical infrastructure such as protected bike lanes, wide sidewalks, and better designed driveways (curb cuts) in order to make these streets safe. In addition, we should look into closing off streets on a regular basis for community events. 

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