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Car Free in Carrboro

Living without a car in small town NC

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Bus stop

Even for an enthusiast, learning a new transit system takes time

My dear friend EDT came to stay with me in Carrboro this week while she was in town for a conference. We both had a lot of grad school work to do, but managed to carve out some time to enjoy Carrboro and reminisce over our memories from DC.

Despite my self-identification as a transit enthusiast and general bus-system-know-it-all, when she asked me for the best route to take from Carrboro to the conference center, I had to pause…and look it up.

Full disclosure: I do not take the bus regularly here in North Carolina. Chapel Hill Transit has many, many positive qualities (#1 being that it is free, which EDT had quite a hard time believing), but taking it does not dramatically decrease the time of my “commute” to and from class, so I don’t often take it. Sure, it increases the comfort when it is super hot or rainy or freezing, but I enjoy walking 99% of the time. As a result, I haven’t reached the level of familiarity and comfort with the system that I would have if I was on it every day. I am lucky enough to live close enough to where I “work” that I can walk.

Long story short, I put her on the wrong bus. But EDT is a city-living, transit-taking pro and managed to hop quickly off of her bus and get on the bus behind it after she received my frantic text.

It served as a reminder to me that: 1) getting used to a transit system takes work – either through some dedicated memorization of maps or by putting in the time to take physical transit trips; and 2) for occasional users, this unfamiliarity and resultant fear of taking the wrong route (especially for bus) is an enormous barrier to taking transit.

Trip: Carrboro to Friday Center
Total trip time: 33 minutes, plus a few for the accidental transfer!
Total trip distance: 5 miles
Mode: Bus
Line: CW or J, and transfer to the FCX
Frequency: Between 3-14 minute headways in the morning
Cost: $0
Level of crowding: Moderate
Trip quality: 4 of 5 stars
+ for convenience, speed, and price
– for transfer and no place to sit at bus stop, plus the confusion for the occasional user (some of which was user error)

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Public Input Meeting Success and My First Bus Fail

Last night I attended the Chapel Hill Mobility and Connectivity Plan public input meeting. I enjoyed the format and got a lot of good ideas for public meetings that I might host in the future. One memorable activity is that they gave each participant $1,000,000 in fake money and we had to allocate our money among projects that improve walking and biking (see the feature image on this post). I was impressed with the planning staff and the staff from Stewart Inc. (the firm supporting the town in developing the Mobility plan).

My trip to the Chapel Hill Library from Carrboro, though, was much less enjoyable. First I got on the wrong bus (the J instead of the D). Then, when I finally got on the D, I got off across from the Library and realized that the nearest crosswalk was actually at the next bus stop further on. Not the biggest deal in the world, but it was warm and I ended up extending my trip by a few minutes just walking over to the crosswalk, pressing the warning lights button, crossing, and then walking back over to where the Library path entrance was.

Granted, you can’t have a crosswalk at every single bus stop. However, considering that my destination was the town’s Public Library, I wish the street wasn’t so hazardous to cross right there.

Trip: Carrboro to Chapel Hill Public Library
Total trip time: 45 minutes
Total trip distance: 3 miles
Mode: Bus
Line: J, D
Frequency: Every 10 minutes
Level of crowding: Very
Trip quality: 3 of 5 stars (+ for directness and cost, – for confusion and lack of crosswalk)

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First blog post: Sorriest Bus Stop

If you follow Streetsblog USA, you’ll have noticed their recent contest to find the Sorriest Bus Stop in America (BTW, they found it, and it’s not far from my old stomping grounds in Silver Spring, MD). The entire series of sorriest bus stops is an amusing and sad display.

I found my own version of the sorriest bus stop on Wednesday when I went to the NC Department of Motor Vehicles in Carrboro. As a new NC resident, I needed to update my driver’s license – and so did my roommate, who has a car. We carpooled there together (more on carpooling in a future post!) but she ended up needing some paperwork before she could get her license, so facing a multi-hour wait, I sent her on her way and faced the DMV alone.

I successfully acquired a restricted driver’s license (again, more content for a future post on NC driver’s license idiosyncrasies) and faced my journey home with excitement. This was the first time I was out and about taking transit in “real Carrboro” – not the dense, walkable, grad student-oriented part of Main Street that I call home – but the suburban, low-density, highway part. All my training and years of carlessness had been coming down to this moment.

My excitement was quickly dispelled. As my transit app quickly identified, a few bus routes are located near the Carrboro DMV, including the CW, the CPX, and the JFX. Great! However, frequency midday was not great. The CW, which I needed to take in a specific direction to get home, was running once per hour. So I settled in for a bit of a wait.

And this was the bus stop. Not the worst, but not pleasant with the sun beating down. This picture doesn’t do it justice. In the second picture, you can see the stop’s location in front of a gas station and adjacent to a busy, sprawl-y intersection. In the middle of the picture there’s a lone person waiting.

Image of the sorriest bus stop in Carrboro
Sorriest bus stop in Carrboro
Google maps street view screenshot of the sorriest bus stop in Carrboro.
Google Maps – Sorriest bus stop in Carrboro

So there you have my first transit trip!

I’m trying out a format below to succinctly describe my car-free trips. Let me know if there’s additional info you’d like to see.

Trip: W Main St at Simpson St – E Main St at Arts Center Plaza
Total trip time: 50 minutes = 25 waiting + 25 riding
Bus line: CW
Bus frequency: 60 minutes
Level of crowding: Full
Bus stop quality: 2 of 5 stars (+ for signage with line and timetable, – for lack of shade and shelter from busy road)

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