Neighborhood sidewalks needed

Guest Post by Joan Petit

Last year, Carrboro residents wisely voted in favor of a bond referendum for the construction of sidewalks and greenways. Now, however, some Carrboro residents, including my neighbors on Oak Street, are fighting sidewalk installation on their own streets.

If 75% of property owners on any given street formally oppose sidewalks, then the question goes to the Sidewalk Review Committee, who has the final say on whether sidewalks are built.

While I appreciate Carrboro's willingness to let neighborhoods decide what happens on their streets, I'm also concerned that we're forgetting the big picture. Just as I will benefit from sidewalks throughout Carrboro, there are people who regularly walk on Oak Street "but who don't live here" who will appreciate walking safely down our street, on a sidewalk. We need to remember who sidewalks really benefit: parents with small children, people in wheelchairs, people with hearing and vision impairments, and the elderly. Carrboro neighborhoods should welcome these people, not send them to the next street over. And traffic in Carrboro, especially on through-streets like Oak Street, isn't getting any slower.

Some of my neighbors have legitimate concerns about potential damage to tree roots and drainage problems, but a good design could avoid these problems--and it's at least worth seeing what the sidewalk engineers envision.

For the sake of public safety and a walkable, accessible Carrboro, sidewalks just make sense.

Joan Petit is a resident of Carrboro.



I am pro sidewalks but I am also pro bike lanes, they need to be together, especially on roads like Jones Ferry and Estes. Estes is a DOT road, the way I understand it is part of The Transportation Improvement Plan and is being considered to be widened to 4 lanes, not a good idea to dump 4 lanes onto N. Greensboro, but yet everyone agrees in its current state it is not functioning as well as it could and is down right dangerous to pedestrians and bicycles. Correct me if I'm wrong, funds for sidewalks on Estes exisit but not bike lanes and sidewalks only to the railroad tracks. Does that mean they'll build a sidewalk to Estes apartments now and 3 years later rip it up to accommadate a DOT implemented plan? Why can't bike lanes be incorporated into this plan and why not all the way to Airport Road? Wouldn't that make sense? They have been out surveying Estes at this juncture all this week, so I guess it is going forward.

I made a mistake about the TIP plan for Estes, it calls for 3 lanes and 4 foot wide shoulders.

Pat, I don't know the answers to your questions, but I can share what one of the Carrboro town staff told me. When I asked about some problems specifically with the Estes/N. Greensboro intersection, he said that this sidewalk process has alerted them to major problems, for bikes and pedestrians, at that intersection
(as you may well know, cars turning right onto Estes tend not to look for
pedestrians). He also said that the DOT will need to resolve the issue.But at least they're aware of it.

I agree that bikelanes and sidewalks on busy streets are the best--especially
since the bike lanes can serve as extra walking space when two groups pass. I
really like this on Hillsborough. I also think bike lanes make it that much
safer for folks on the sidewalks, but that's just conjecture.

However, I wouldn't suggest we need bike lanes on residential streets like my own. Though maybe that'd be nice if my neighbors successfully fight sidewalks!

Ruby, Oak Street is the same as yours in that people end walking down the middle of the street, which can be quite a dangerous situation when traffic is still zipping along (especially when you have to walk around a parked car). Also, since we're a through street, people drive faster than they should. (One person suggested that we should keep people on the street to keep the traffic slow! Yikes!)

Terri, certainly there are tradeoffs. I'd hate the see any damage to our lovely trees and I hope this can be avoided. We do have a pretty big right-of-way, mostly empty on trees, because most of the right-of-way is a drainage ditch. And the sidewalks would only go in on one side. Plus our neighborhood has pretty large lots, often .4 acres, so there's a lot of porous surfaces. This is definitely a reason for concern, but, then again, as mitigation, if sidewalks mean people are walking more and driving less, than that's a positive environmental impact.

Mary, I'm not sure footpaths would make sense on our street because of the ditch. In fact, that ditch means that it's hard to jump out of the way of fast vehicles.

Here's a scary story about sidewalks and trees. Recently, in the town my mother lives in every single tree along the main street was cut down because an elderly lady tripped and injured herself in a section where a tree root was popping through. For legal and financial reasons, the town decided to cut down every single tree!

Granted this is a small town in Southside Virginia that has had unemployment rates as high as 19% in the 90's and their action was extreme, but I think Oak Street residents have every reason to worry about their native tree roots! Sometimes footpaths make better sense than sidewalks…

The downside of sidewalks is the increased impervious surface they create. While Carrboro's stormwater runoff is not currently contributing to the degradation of our Morgan Creek watershed to the same extent that Chapel Hill is degrading the Booker Creek watershed, all new impervious surfaces needs to be considered, in part, as contributors to eventual loss of water quality. If we act wisely now, perhaps we can avoid having a stormwater tax! That doesn't mean I don't support pedestrian safety--just a caution that there are always tradeoffs.

Joan, I just want to say that I totally agree with you on the need for sidewalks on neighborhood streets. I live just off West Rosemary Street (almost in Carrboro, but not quite) and my street has HEAVY pedestrian traffic. A good bit of it is folks going between Sykes Street and Starlite Drive, the two best places to find crack in Orange County.

But a lot of the pedestrians are NOT looking for drugs, and I think sidewalks would really encourage more of them to get out and walk around, which would really DIScourage the undesireable foot traffic. I am regualrly shocked to see folks with strollers and small children walking right down the middle of our street. I know when I have kids I am going to start thinking twice about walking in the street as I do all the time now.

I know this is probably not the same issue your street is dealing with, but it's just another way that sidewalks are good for neighborhoods. (And a reminder - Northside needs sidewalks, and foot patrol cops.) Keep up the fight!

Joan--if they put in sidewalks, they will almost certainly curb and gutter, thus getting rid of the ditch...


Melanie, I think the expectation is that they would curb and gutter. Some folks think this might improve drainage (because water would be channeled into pipes under the sidewalk), others think it'll be worse.

It should be better. We lived on West main before AND after curbing and guttering...and drainage was better. Plus, instead of a DITCH we had to maintain, we got some extra, level, front yard. Unfortunately, they only put side walks on ONE side of W. Main--the side with the even numbered houses, so I still had to get dressed every morning and get my kid ACROSS Main so he could walk to school--only to cross AGAIN up by S &H Basnight...

BUT the curbing and guttering DID keep my younger son (who was three)entertained for hours the summer they did it. (LOTS of big earth moving machines.) And it was VERY exciting when the dynamite truck caught on fire. (Do you remember that Alex?)

Just to add a couple tidbits of information, the Transportation Advisory Board came up with a proposed sidewalk priority list, in anticipation of the the possibility
that the bond measure for sidewalks would pass. The bond measure has now passed, and Carrboro is just getting started adding the new sidewalks.

As chair of the TAB, I led the process to develop the priority list. The priority list we devised started from the premise of town need. We considered a street's proximity to town services, like schools, as well as private services
like Carrboro Plaza. We also considered whether the street was a bus route. We looked at traffic counts and accident reports, in an effort to factor in safety - one goal was to try to minimize pedestrian/auto conflict, like people walking down the middle of a street.

Issues like damage to tree roots, or drainage, were not considered because those issues really come into play as design issues. Again, starting from our premise of need, we weren't going to look at cost, design feasibility, or political feasibility of building a sidewalk on a given street. We just wanted to consider factors indicative of need.

The fact is we now have the money to build sidewalks, and a priority list to build them that is based on a reasonable assessment of factors indicating the necessity of those sidewalks. If a neighborhood chooses not to have sidewalks at this time,
I am almost certain that in a few years when people see other neighborhoods getting sidewalks, while they have none, those same citizens will be back at town hall demanding sidewalks. The question then will be how to pay for it once the dedicated bond
funding dries up.

When Carrboro residents (1,803 of them) "wisely voted" in favor of a bond referendum for the construction of sidewalks and greenways, I imagine they believed the sidewalks would be constructed in areas that were alluded to on the Town's website and in accordance with the method described there. For example, a picture of a young man walking down Estes Drive shows the need for a sidewalk, and the beautiful picture of a bikeway shows the desire to make Carrboro a bike-friendly town. The brochure describes that sidewalks had been proposed on some streets, but that many other factors -- including resident input -- would be considered.

But, consider the following:

Until last summer, only ONE resident (an alderman) of our street and ONE homeowner (a realtor who lives in another town but owns several Carrboro houses for profit) knew that a sidewalk was planned for our street. Although the Transportation Board said brochures were mailed to homeowners, I didn't get one -- and neither did my neighbors. We found out about it when someone came door-to-door to give us a brochure explaining that we could attend an information session. (The Town website mentions an educational session about the Bond referendum before the 2003 election, but until last summer I didn't frequent the Town website. I think a person would have had to be looking for information about the sidewalk plans to know about it.)

Interesting that such an important issue -- one surely to be controversial in the old mill neighborhood -- was discussed during the summer, when most people take vacations ... with extremely short notice. And, this was after the Transportation Board had already determined which streets would have sidewalks.

One member of the Board of Aldermen said he asked the Sidewalk Committee and the Board of Alderman to approve a "neighborhood" meeting, where concerned citizens could discuss a solution for the entire neighborhood (instead of requiring this street-by-street petition nonsense), but was refused.

I understand that proponents and opponents alike have valid points about removing trees and forcing sidewalks onto our narrow, historic, quaint streets, but PLEASE move past the rhetoric about citizen input and the desire of Carrboro citizens to have sidewalks and bikeways. If the Board of Aldermen and the Transportation Board wanted citizen input, they would be willing to take the time to work through this issue with the people who will be affected.

Leslie Elliott

I didn't realize there had been additional comments on this. Sidewalks aren't going in on my street. Or, to be precise, my street has been moved to the bottom of the priority list--which means sidewalks aren't going in on my street.

Leslie, it's certainly not too late. You mention moving past rhetoric: if you all get out and get a petition signed by your neighbors, my guess is that you'll still have a hearing.

In regards to town communication: I was told in several ways about many meetings. I saw something about the town website about two months before the initial public meeting last summer. I got something in the mail. And I got a packet left on my door, with about a month's warning. From my perspective, the town did a more than adequate job of getting the word out.

When my neighbors submitted their petition, the town then followed up by setting a meeting with the sidewalk review committee, and mailed us notices.

You seem to suggest this is done deal, but this is likely far from the case.


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