Car Free in Carrboro

Living without a car in small town NC




Sorry for the radio silence (blog silence?) this week. The election results hit me and the rest of the planning grad student community here pretty hard.

Among the many things on my mind is what the future of transportation planning looks like in the new administration. Streetsblog sums it up in their piece this week, Democrats Who Embrace the Trump Infrastructure Plan are Deluding Themselves. While infrastructure has been a campaign focus, and  make the argument that infrastructure probably means more highways, highway expansions, and projects that appease rural rather than urban voters (although rural appeal isn’t a problem by itself). Essentially, transit and biking/walking improvements will have little political appeal and little incentive for private investment (can’t put a money-generating toll on a bike lane, can you?), and if there are significant federal spending cuts, that leaves us with potentially no funding for transit, biking, or walking projects.

Not sure what that means going forward, but just one more thing to think about.


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!

A win for better zoning from the White House

Earlier this week, the White House released a Housing Development Toolkit with recommendations that are supposed to spur more affordable housing development.

Exciting for me is that the White House says: “smart housing regulation optimizes transportation system use, reduces commute times, and increases use of public transit, biking and walking.” Yes! In lay-person-speak, the White house is saying that housing should be located near transit (sounds like a “duh” moment, but just think about how many new housing developments are built wayyyy out in suburban and rural areas instead of in transit-served locations).

Another thing that I love about the toolkit is that it makes explicit the link between multi-family housing and walkability. How are the two connected, you ask? Well, single-family housing is less dense, so destinations are farther apart. Taking an extremely reductive personal example: when I was growing up in New Jersey, I could walk to my friend AG’s house which was across the street and 3 houses down, and it probably took me a few minutes. But when I lived in an apartment in Virginia, walking to see my friend KF in my building meant a 30-second walk, tops. Extrapolate this to a city-wide level and clearly the denser we can build, the more walkable things will be.

The last thing about this toolkit that I love is the recommendation to eliminate off-street parking requirements. Parking can cost $5,000 per surface spot and $60,000 per underground spot to construct. These costs are, of course, passed along to the residents whether they own a car or not, and they reduce housing affordability.

Streetsblog also has a great summary of the White House’s recommendations if you’re interested in reading more.

Thanks, Obama! (But really).

Try Transit 2016

Remember, September is Try Transit Month! With the recent gas shortage causing long waits at the pump, it’s a good time to try taking transit around the Triangle area. Or, switch to an active mode such as biking or walking, at least for a portion of your trip (which extends the life of your current tank of gas, too). Check out or ask me how!

September is for Trying Transit and Going Car-Free

September is a great month to be a transit rider, pedestrian, cyclist, or advocate. That’s because it’s Try Transit Month and Car-Free Month!

While there’s no universal governing body over these events, many cities around the  world have adopted their own days/months/weeks and events to promote less reliance on the automobile. Trying transit and going car-free go together (obviously), so it’s a win-win for cities to promote their public transit systems and also show people what reduced car congestion feels like.


Coming up is one of the more popular events of this month, World Carfree Day, on September 22. Paris is one popular example, but car-free days have been held in cities big and small all over the world. On this day, people around the world are encouraged to leave their car at home and bike, walk, carpool, telecommute, or take the bus to work, school, or play.

Washington DC, where I used to work, does a lot of promotion for Carfree Day (they call it Carfree Metro DC). If you’re in the DC area, you can sign up to take a pledge to go car-free or car-light on that day. What’s “car light”? If you can’t give up your car entirely, perhaps instead of driving the entire way to work you use a park & ride facility and take Metro, or you arrange a carpool with a colleague or friend.

How will you plan to celebrate Car-Free Day?

Since I’m already car-free, I pledge to celebrate Try Transit Month by:

  • Take transit for 2 trips each week in September when I might normally walk
  • Get at least 2 friends back in DC to go car-free on September 22

For those of you in the Research Triangle Park area, GoTriangle (our regional transit system) promotes Try Transit Month and has a lot of great resources on their site.

I’d love to hear about your personal pledges and what you plan to do to celebrate on September 22 and all month long!

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)


Reflections on why I’m here

My big takeaway from my first day of classes last week, other than wow I can’t believe I’m here yayayayay was the realization that I don’t have a succinct way to describe my planning interests.

Let me first clarify something. I don’t think that being able to “succinctly” or “articulately” describe my passion differentiates me in any negative way from my classmates. We’re all first year students, and we’ve all had different pathways to planning, to this degree, and to Carolina.  We speak different languages (literally) and use different vocabularies that reflect our life experience. So, some of us are going to come across as a little more “polished” than others. I use these words in quotes because they are reductive, relative terms based on perceptions, and they don’t form great basis for judging ourselves or others.

Okay, now back to my desire to be succinct and articulate.

For years, as I was considering graduate school for planning, I found myself telling people “I just love transit.” (True.) Then it evolved to something like “I don’t have a car, and I just think that’s really important, you know? Cars are killing us.” (Also true, but not very clear as to what should be done about that.) And then it morphed to “I’m going to graduate school to study transportation policy and planning.” (Bingo! But still very high level.)

Now that I’m here, with exciting and diverse areas of focus all around me, I find myself getting pulled in so many directions. Land use! Social equity! Climate change impacts! It’s okay to be interested in everything. That’s what school is for. But I also think it’s important to reflect on why I became interested in planning, why I came to this program, and what impact I’m hoping to make on the world when I leave.

So here goes:

  • Equity. I want to learn more about why inequality exists and what can be done to mitigate it and prevent it entirely, across the entire planning spectrum (housing, transportation, land use, economic development, etc.).
  • Pedestrian safety. I had a bit of a lightning-bolt moment last week that safety is at the root of everything I’ve been geeking about over the past few years. It probably warrants its own post. Every time I cringe about beg buttons or yell at someone for rolling through a crosswalk without stopping or feel unsafe walking alongside large buildings with blank walls, it’s because there’s a safety issue at hand.
  • Transportation as a civil right. I need to refine this one a bit more, but essentially I believe that having access to where you need to go is a fundamental human right, and that unless we stop basing that on personally-owned single-occupancy vehicle trips, our health and our economy and our planet are in trouble.

Those are my first-week thoughts. I’ll keep refining my elevator speech (you can take the girl out of consulting…) and learning as much as I can, and of course sharing it here!

Getting around, MBA-style

Friday night I hung out with my friend in the MBA program. [Aside: C and I were on the same freshman hall in undergrad, then we both moved to North Carolina for graduate school at the same time, so now we’re in school together again. Small world.]

Planning seemed to be a familiar concept to most of his classmates, especially among the real estate folks (there’s a whole concentration in my program for economic development and real estate, so it makes sense that there would be parallels). I enjoyed hearing from them about what brought them to North Carolina…and, of course, since the business school is on the opposite side of campus from where I attend class, I geeked out a bit asking them all how they commuted and where they lived and whether they had cars and what they thought of CH Transit.

Hearing about transportation from non-planning students was refreshing. We get in our own little planning world where everyone is supportive of biking and walking and transit, and forget that most of the world doesn’t think about this stuff all the time.

A few highlights:

  • C has been driving every day to class, but admitted that he was getting tired of it. So he took a bet (not on my urging, I swear) to walk to and from class for 10 days straight! Of course I asked him to do a guest post, and he agreed (cough-C-now-you-are-publicly-accountable-for-it-cough).
  • A few of the students I spoke with didn’t have a car, just like me! They’d come from big cities, also like me: New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and DC. Some of them were biking or carpooling to class, and one person was walking. It made me happy to meet a fellow walker.
  • We took my first Uber in Chapel Hill (!) to move from one person’s house to another. I protested, but not well enough. It was about a mile with temperatures still in the 80s, so comfort while walking would have been an issue, and with 5 people in our group the cost to take an Uber was extremely low. Still, not the mode I would have chosen had I been by myself. But good to know that Uber is alive and well in the area in case I ever need it.

Given that I’ll be sharing my trips taken by different modes, I’ve added some additional info to my trip details. Check it out:

Trip: MLK Blvd. – Rosemary St.
Total trip time: 4 minutes
Total trip distance: 0.9 miles
Mode: Car (UberXL)
Line: N/A
Frequency: N/A
Level of crowding: 5 people in 1 UberXL
Trip quality: 4 of 5 stars (+ for expediency, comfort, cost and – for environmental and congestion impacts)

Stay tuned for that guest post from C!

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