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Car Free in Carrboro

Living without a car in small town NC

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Carrboro

Why am I waiting so long at lights?

I love walking around Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Two weeks in, and the people are pleasant, the weather is starting to be less overbearing, and there are sidewalks aplenty with lots to look at and explore. I’ve been walking the 20-25 minutes to class every day and have no regrets so far.

But.

Already my pedestrian experience is stymied by a few things. I don’t want this blog to turn into a list of grievances (and it won’t – there is too much to love about being car-free here!), but as a car-free person and advocate, I do think it’s important to point out areas for concern that others may not recognize.

  • Long crosswalk wait times. Yesterday morning I waited what was at least 60 seconds (according to when I first looked at my running watch, so it easily could have been 90+ seconds) to cross at a 4-way intersection in Carrboro. I need to do more research into what the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) has to say about signal timing, but that seems far too long to me. This intersection is in an extremely walkable area with many restaurants, bus stops, coffee shops, grocery stores, the public library, and shops.
  • Lack of crosswalks in key directions. Another intersection that I regularly walk through is shaped like an “X” rather than a “+”. One of the “X” arms doesn’t have a crosswalk at all, so if I need to get to the other side of that street legally, I need to use 3 crosswalks and wait through 3 lighting cycles (see above super-long crosswalk wait times) to do so.
  • Beg buttons (pedestrian crossing buttons). For a comprehensive, layperson-speak overview of beg buttons, here’s a Gizmodo article. In a town as small as Carrboro that champions being bike-friendly and walk-friendly, they are unnecessary. Cars on E. Main St. should already be hyper-aware that there are pedestrians about. There are enough pedestrians (my opinion only – here’s where a study of pedestrian volumes would help, but I don’t have one to cite) to justify a timed signal. Beg buttons just don’t make sense to me, and they are all over Chapel Hill and Carrboro. To sum up how I feel about them, I’ll quote Rachel Quednau over at Strong Towns:

“I know that the beg button may not seem like a big deal, but it is yet another way that cities send a message to pedestrians: You are not normal. You don’t belong here. You need to push a button just to walk somewhere while we have built our transportation system to prioritize the free movement of cars.”

I’m hopeful –actually, certain– that over the next two years I’ll learn some radical approaches to improving pedestrian safety, access, and physical experience, and I look forward to sharing them here! In the meantime, you can find me waiting at the lights 🙂

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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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