GOVERNMENT; GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
By Gregory DL Morris
CHAPEL HILL – The long and winding road to a long straight bus rapid transit (BRT) route along the axis of Chapel Hill took several important steps closer to completion last week with a series of public meetings held by Chapel Hill Transit (CHT). The meetings sought citizen input on connections, design of stops, and amenities for the North-South BRT planned to be in service by early 2029.
The line will run eight miles from the Eubanks Park & Ride lot south along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd (State Route 86), through the center of Chapel Hill and then along South Columbia St. to the Southern Village Park & Ride. For most of that route, big articulated buses will travel in a dedicated lane, serving 16 stations. Sidewalks and bike paths will be built along the route, making it multi-modal, and helping to reduce traffic by giving people traveling short distances viable options other than a car.
Peak-time headway will be a bus every 10 minutes. An end-to-end ride should take about half an hour, and as with all CHT service, will be fare-free. The system is supported by the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as well as UNC.
If a bus falls behind schedule, it will activate a signal-priority system that will hold or accelerate green lights. That will help to prevent bus bunching, the bane of riders and operators alike.
“We project ridership at around 7,000 a day once the entire line is in service,” said Matthew Cecil, transit development manager for CHT. “One of the benefits of BRT is that it is scalable, so we can increase or decrease frequency in response to demand.”
That demand is already back to pre-pandemic levels and more in some cases. “Buses are full,” said Cecil. “We are already having to occasionally leave people at some stops. In the Transit-Oriented Development survey we conducted from February 2022 to April 2023 we learned that 90% of the people who work in Chapel Hill do not live in Chapel Hill. We are a smallish city with big-city transportation challenges.”
At the two public meetings covered in person by TLR – one at the Chapel Hill Public Library, the other at the Ackland Art Museum – attendance was modest but solidly supportive. Most questions concerned accessibility for bicycles and wheelchairs, as well as safety and information at the stops.
BRT stops will have shelters and seating, as well as permanent and digital signs for route, connection, and next-bus timing. Based on the input from the public meetings, CHT will present a draft design for the stops in October, and a final design by the end of the year.
Detailed design, funding, and permitting will take about three years, with construction expected to start in 2027. In coordination with that, connecting local bus routes will have timing and routes adjusted for best continuity of service with the BRT. “The initial BRT will be the spine for extensions and connections,” said Cecil. “It will be a mobility driver for all modes, with continuous sidewalks and bikeways along the route.”
There are ideas for other local BRT routes, and hopes of extension and connection with BRT routes in and around Durham, Cary, and Raleigh.
Gregory DL Morris is an independent journalist based in Chapel Hill with more than 30 years’ experience covering business, environment, energy and infrastructure. He has reported from all 50 states, eight Canadian provinces, and 17 countries on five continents.