Car Free in Carrboro

Living without a car in small town NC


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Reading Round-Up I

Friends and readers and random Carrboro citizens who have stumbled upon this blog: I have read so many great planning and transportation articles lately. Transit mode choice research, real problems with the community input process, parking woes, social justice, and of course the ongoing coverage of the terrible flooding hitting Eastern North Carolina. I want to share them all with you.

Here’s how this is going to work: rather than dribble them out slowly over many weeks with painstaking summaries attached, I’m going to do a little round-up right here.

This is what [I think] you should be reading this week:

Happy reading!


Happy Park(ing) Day!

Today is International Park(ing) Day! This is a day celebrated around the world by converting on-street parking spaces to mini, temporary “parklets.”

It’s a form of tactical urbanism and is intended to show communities that their public space can be greater than just a storage spot for cars. Particularly in cities where on-street parking is common, Park(ing) Day openly challenges the idea that cars should be stored in the public right of way. Park(ing) Day asks, “What else could these spaces be for?” “How else could this public street resource be used for our community?” “What are the costs to having our streets lined with empty cars, instead of filled with people?”

Park(ing) Day 2016, Chapel Hill

This event also contributes to the growing awareness of the [negative] impact of driving on our communities, health, economy, and mobility. If people didn’t have to drive (and thus, didn’t have to park), what could those spaces be for? And if we minimize the available parking (and thus the induced demand for driving), what other benefits might we see from increased pedestrian or cyclist activity? The research suggests (thanks, people at Bike East Bay for aggregating these studies!) that walking and biking have greater economic returns than driving – as one measure, people who walk or bike to downtowns spend more and stay longer than people who drive.

Today’s local Park(ing) Day event is being held until 8:00pm on E. Franklin St., close to the intersection with Columbia Road across from UNC’s campus (approx. in front of 109 E. Franklin St.). I stopped by there earlier and was so excited to meet some of the undergraduate masterminds behind the parklet and to hang in the space. One thing I realized is that parking spaces are huge – this particular parklet takes up 2 parking spaces, and there’s a whole picnic table, sets of couches, minigolf, some other chairs, and a chessboard game in there now. You could comfortably fit about 20 people, and that’s incredible compared to two empty cars just sitting there normally. Check it out for yourself! Stop by, say hello, and enjoy the space. Update: If you missed Park(ing) Day in Chapel Hill or want to learn more about how it got set up, check out the Carolina Planning Journal’s Angles blog post on the subject.

If you’re not in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill area, use this map below to find the park nearest you.

Further thoughts on this topic: beyond the scope of this particular post, I’d like to have a conversation about whether money-making is really the best way to drive the decision-making around the use of our public space for parklets vs. for parking. When you think about it from a social welfare or health benefits point of view, there are clear arguments in favor of parklets and not parking. But in a capitalist system the best way to convince people that something is “good” for them or that it “should” be done is to show them that it will make them more money. So that’s how we end up with studies showing increased sales from walkers & cyclists instead of drivers. Businesses do generally end up supportive of Park(ing) Day, as shown in DC’s Georgetown neighborhood, for example. Three local businesses are sponsoring parklets in front of their establishments.


Around Town: “Walk Chapel Hill” Signs

As I was leaving an event this afternoon, I noticed a “Walk Chapel Hill” sign on the sidewalk. While the information on the sign was helpful in terms of finding my way around to various landmarks (e.g., that the ArtsCenter is an 8 minute walk), it really communicated three things:

Walk Chapel Hill Sign 1

  1. The town of Chapel Hill recognizes that there are many walkers on its streets.
  2. The town places importance on the comfort, safety, and mobility of those walkers.
  3. The town is designed (and hopefully will continue to be designed and improved) with walkability in mind. Among other things that means pedestrian-sized and pedestrian-oriented street infrastructure and development density.


Thanks to the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership for the great signage!

There are no national standards for pedestrian wayfinding (the technical term for signs that help people walking to find their way), but there are many best practices and firms that specialize in helping cities and towns do this well. I can’t find who may have helped the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership with these. If you’d like to learn more, Alta Planning gives a nice overview on their site and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has also written about the concept.

Walk Chapel Hill Sign 2

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