Transit


At our January 15, 2013 Transit Partners Meeting, we had a discussion about UNC-CH’s plans to begin charging for parking at their University park and ride lots starting in August of this year.  We were aware that this would be happening, as this is part of their Department of Public Safety Transportation and Parking Five-Year Plan.  We discussed possible impacts to the towns (Chapel Hill and Carrboro).

By necessity, this required Chapel Hill Transit to investigate charging at Town-owned park and ride lots, because the fear is that many commuters might choose to park at the free town lots rather than pay for a permit in the UNC lots.   The Chapel Hill town lots this will affect are located on Eubanks Road, in Southern Village and on Jones Ferry Road.  If the Town of Chapel Hill is to start charging also, this means setting up a system for parkers to pay ,distributing permits to parkers, hiring parking monitors, and so on.  A more complicated discussion involves how often to allow people to pay – unlike the University, which can operate on a University semester or academic schedule and can deduct parking by payroll deduction, there needs to be a way to let local residents use the Town of Chapel Hill park and rides, yet be able to pay on a different schedule (and, what about the occasional user?  This supposes that people who use the park and rides do so regularly).  A further complication is that Triangle Transit riders also use the lots (in particular, the one on Eubanks Road) to park their cars and then pay to ride Triangle Transit routes to nearby towns.  Should they also have to pay for parking?

Finally, what are the implications for Carrboro?  Our town prides itself by having free (and thus far, fairly adequate) parking.  I have not heard a majority of our board suggest that we want to change this philosophy.  But when these changes take place in August, we need to be mindful that this may push riders (“parkers”) into our free lots or town, and so we need to have a strategy to address this.  Also, Chapel Hill Transit currently has an arrangement with the owners of Carrboro Plaza (at a minimal cost) to have a free park and ride lot on the back side of the stores for transit; the owners of the plaza are not interested in having equipment installed to have transit riders pay to park and ride.  Their concern is that parkers will simply park on the front side of the plaza and then walk through to the back to catch the bus.  So, the implementation of these plans will also likely mean that this park and ride lot will be eliminated.

Stay tuned for how the Chapel Hill Town Council decides to address this in the coming months, and the implications for Carrboro.

Note:  This commentary can be found on WCHL at http://www.chapelboro.com/Benefit-to-Some-AND-to-All/10391214?pid=231604:

A recent story on WCHL informed us that Orange County rural residents were upset because, although they represent 40% of the county population, they would only receive 12% of services under a newly proposed Orange County Bus plan.  One commissioner agreed, saying that it is crucial that county residents receive transit services in proportion to their investment in the overall plan.

 I disagree.  Receiving services in proportion to one’s investment is not achievable, nor should it be, with regard to government services.  For example, many persons do not have children but they still pay taxes for schools. I don’t currently need the Department of Social Services, the Seymour Senior Center or our county jail – still, my taxes help finance these county budget items.  In fact, with regard to transit itself, many residents of our towns get little or no bus service currently, yet our municipal taxes go toward our extensive and successful bus service.

One cannot view providing transit services only with regard to overall population.  Transit services succeed if they are concentrated in areas that are dense — like in Carrboro-Chapel Hill and Hillsborough where 60% of the county population lives.  It is economically sound to have most transit routes, including light rail, where they can carry large numbers of people.

This benefits the county as a whole – by helping our county’s workforce and other passengers move around efficiently, by informing our long-term land use planning, by helping us to avoid sprawl and create well-placed economic development opportunities, and by reducing our carbon emissions.

I ask everyone to consider that what might seem to be a benefit for one segment of our county can turn out to be a benefit for all of us.

On January 26, 2012, our Board approved the rezoning of parcels of property located at 404, 406, 500 N. Greensboro Street and 113 Parker Street for a project which has come to be known as Shelton Station.  The vote was 4-3 in favor of the rezoning (Mayor Chilton and Aldermen Haven-O’Donnell, Slade and I voted in favor of the project, and Aldermen Gist, Coleman and Johnson voted against the project).  We heard many thoughtful arguments for and against the project, which, if and when built out, will change N. Greensboro in a very noticeable fashion.   Pros of the project argued were that it would bring more people downtown to live, spend money, and conduct their daily activities in a more sustainable fashion (it is on a transportation corridor, and the project will be built to LEED-equivalent standards), and that it included a sizeable number of affordable units.  A further pro was that there is a purely commercial component to the project that will enhance the tax value of the property, and add to the sales tax base.   Arguments against the project were that it was too dense and would attract students, would lead to more traffic, and that it would change the character of the surrounding neighborhood.  

I think that this project is uniquely situated to be one that does not impact nearby residences (it sits between Southern States and the Fitch warehouse, and will back up to the railroad tracks).  The Carrboro developer, Ken Reiter, responded to concerns of the community and scaled back the project on two separate occasions.  I think what we have ended up with is exactly what the majority of the citizens of Carrboro would want as we continue to seek ways to reduce the tax burden on our taxpayers, and act responsibly while doing so.  You can read more about this here:

http://www.carrborocitizen.com/main/2012/01/26/carrboro-approves-shelton-station-zoning/


I filed today.  Here is my news relase:

Lydia Lavelle announced that she will file to run for a second term on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Lavelle was first elected in November 2007.

During her first term, Lavelle has not only been a steady presence on the Board, but has also been actively representing Carrboro’s interests in several other capacities.

This year, she is serving as the chair of the regional Transportation Advisory Committee of the Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (TAC-MPO), a group composed of elected officials from Orange, Durham and Chatham counties responsible for addressing and planning for transportation needs for the region. In addition, she sits on the Transit Partners Committee, a work group of elected officials and staff that discusses issues related to Chapel Hill Transit. She also represents Carrboro on the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitor’s Bureau Board of Directors, and is the BOA liaison to the Planning Board.

Lavelle has lived in the triangle area for 28 years, and at her current address for seven years. She became a member of the Town’s Planning Board and chaired its New Horizons Task Force after her neighborhood became a part of the town in January 2006. An attorney, Lavelle is employed as an Assistant Professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham.

“I am grateful to the voters of Carrboro who elected me four years ago to serve as an alderman. During my first term, I have established a reputation as a person who listens and makes well-reasoned decisions. I work hard to be accessible to my constituents and colleagues. Further, I actively represent the interests of Carrboro in a variety of regional settings. I have enjoyed getting to know many fine people who also care about Carrboro during my tenure. If I have the opportunity to serve the Town of Carrboro with a second term of office, I will continue the local leadership that I have established these first four years.”

Lavelle has a history of service in her communities. Before serving on the Board of Aldermen, she worked for the city of Durham for eight years, after which she became a member of the City of Durham Recreation Advisory Committee and the Durham Open Space and Trails (DOST) Commission. She was vice-chair of the DOST for several years, and also a member of the Trails Committee, which planned and routed many of the trails and greenways in Durham.

Her continuing priorities will be to work to improve transportation options, to represent Carrboro’s concerns and interests with regional partners, and to steward Carrboro’s growth and development with an eye towards diversifying the town’s tax base.

A lot has been happening this spring, so I thought I would summarize a few matters with this post.  One is that I have been involved in more extra meetings than I thought possible working on our MPO’s transit plan, which includes expanded bus service as well as a light rail line between UNC Hospitals and Alston Ave.  We are under the gun to convince the Orange County and Durham County Commissioners to vote to have a transit tax on the ballot this fall; this money would go toward the transit plan with money from other sources such as a vehicle tax increase and federal and state funds.  The transit tax, however, is a key component in the plan, and one that will require voter education and buy-in if it is indeed on the ballot.

Another bit of news is that our town manager, Steve Stewart, announced that he will be retiring at the end of the summer, and so we have begun the process of hiring a search firm to help us fill this most critical position.  In my opinion (and I am not alone), Steve has done a fine job as town manager, and our task will be challenging as we seek to find someone who brings his level of skill and experience to the position. 

Speaking of the Town Manager, Steve masterfully presented another tax-increase free budget to us this month for the upcoming fiscal year.  He accomplished this predominantly by cost cutting where possible, keeping some positions vacant, and delaying some capital purchases.  These are not options we can do every year, but as the economy improves, hopefully we will be able to restore money in areas where we have had to cut or delay expenses.

We voted at one of our meetings to a rezoning for a property off of Hillsborough Road so that the County could consider an option to purchase the property to build a Carrboro branch library on the site.  Many residents came out to speak in favor of the project, but there were also several residents (mostly neighbors) who spoke who did not want the site rezoned for a library.  Although we ended up voting for the rezoning (a supermajority vote of six affirmative votes out of the seven members was required because a protest petition had been submitted by neighbors), we also expressed concern about the plans for traffic flow to the library and the impact on the streets surrounding the property.  When the site plan comes before us in the future, we will be looking at this closely. 

Finally, at one of our meetings, we reviewed the parking deck that will be constructed at the East Main Street project.  We gave comments and feedback to the developer, and were told that they hoped to break ground later this summer on both the parking deck and the hotel on the property.  This is a much anticipated project in Carrboro, one that will be a key to our plan for growth in the downtown area.

It has been a busy spring!

Triangle Transit recently held its Alternatives Analysis Public Workshop for the local area (the workshop was held at Chapel Hill Town Hall, where I saw lots of Carrboro folks).  This workshop and upcoming meetings are federally mandated opportunities for the community to weigh in on how Triangle Transit’s Long Range Transportation Plan should be implemented.  Triangle Transit’s plan is based on the long-range (2035) transportation plan recently adopted by the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC-MPO), of which I am a member and currently the vice-chair.  Our MPO covers Durham County, most of Orange County and a small part of Chatham County.   Our plan was adopted in conjunction with the Capital Area MPO (which includes Wake, Granville, Franklin, Johnston and Harnett counties) plan.   You can find the DCHC-MPO adopted plan here:

http://www.dchcmpo.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=66&Itemid=35

An article ran recently in The Daily Tar Heel stating that members of “Connect Carrboro” were advocating for light rail and transit to connect to Carrboro.  Currently, the adopted plan includes enhanced transit service to Carrboro, but the proposed light rail line ends at UNC Hospitals (it comes from Durham and other points east in the Capital Area MPO).  The BOA has given feedback to the DCHC MPO urging the group to consider extending the light rail line to Carrboro, or to consider using an existing rail line for commuter rail at some point in the future.  The plan is updated every few years, so the way that residential and commercial development and transit unfold as well as how the plan will be financed will inform this process.  The building of Carolina North, partnerships with private railroad lines, whether the citizens of our counties (or counties) approve a transit sales tax – these are all critical pieces of the evolution of the plan from this point forward.

For now, however, based on projected population, job growth and travel patterns in the triangle, the plan does not include the (very expensive yet desirable) rail line extending from Chapel Hill into Carrboro.

 You can read The Daily Tar Heel article here: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2010/07/carrboroites_want_in_on_future_transit

Last month, I took a day-long bus trip with several other area leaders and business folks to Charlotte to check out the first leg of their light rail system, the LYNX Blue Line. What an enhancement this is for their community!

We rode on most of the LYNX Blue Line, which provides light-rail service for 15 stops from I-485 to downtown Charlotte. We saw first-hand how land use was changing around the various stops, and the number of passengers that were using the rail. We also rode on an historic trolley in downtown Charlotte; the trolleys are a “special touch” that run on week-ends and for special events.

We also met with several Charlotte leaders and heard how they had accomplished the building of the LYNX Blue Line, and their plans to expand the light rail system in the city. They have a very coordinated effort to integrate their bus transit system as well as their land-use planning for economic development with the growth of the rail.

The success of Charlotte’s light rail system should give us pause as we continue our work on our triangle area long-range transportation plan. As Carrboro’s representative on the Transportation Advisory Committee of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, I advocate for the viability of light rail and enhanced transit options in our community. What I saw in Charlotte only confirmed my belief in this.