Bolin Creek Greenway expansion

You may remember last fall when I moved about 1/2 a mile north from my old home downtown and suddenly found myself feeling like I was miles away from town. For the thousand or so people like me who live near Umstead Drive, Village Drive, and Estes Drive Extension, the only way to walk downtown involves a 2-mile hike up MLK Boulevard or a cut through the woods around Estes Park Apartments to Pleasant Drive in Carrboro.

Well, the Town of Chapel Hill was two steps ahead of me and was already planning an extension of the Bolin Creek Greenway that would connect Umstead Park and our neighborhood to Northside (which is just across the creek), the future Carolina North campus, and MLK Blvd. Importantly, this extension will also connect my old neighbors in Northside to University Mall (the Greenway's eastern terminus).

(Click to enlarge).
The best map I could find was in the 69-page Bolin Creek Greenway Phase III Concept Plan (PDF). Unfortunately it doesn't indicate existing streets or sidewalks so it leaves a bit to be desired.

An alternate version of the trail would go about 100 less than 50 feet from my home (in fact, ours would be the residence nearest to this alternate segment). While this is obviously a little close for comfort, for me it would be well worth it to have the ability to walk downtown easily and safely.

Tonight the Town Council will be holding a public hearing on this proposal. I'll admit, I expect some of my neighbors to speak out against it (just as Elizabeth Street residents did against the first leg of the Greenway). But perhaps they'll surprise me by supporting this proposal. And I'm confident that in time they will come to appreciate having such easy access to this amenity, just as other Greenway neighbors have.

The more Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC develop to the north, the more this area truly becomes central to our community. The Bolin Creek Greenway will be an essential aspect of an effective transportation (and recreation) network that will keep us healthy in many ways.



The County was asked to comment on and participate in planning the greenway, just as Carrboro was. Here's what they said (with Chapel Hill staff responses italicized).

Board of Orange County Commissioners: The Board provided a letter of support for the project that included three specific comments:

1. The Board agreed that the trail should be extended upstream from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Staff Comment: We agree with this recommendation. We believe that the usefulness of the trail would be enhanced by an extension of the existing trail rather than the construction of an isolated segment.

2. Connectivity of the Bolin Creek Trail to other trails and open spaces is a priority.

Staff Comment: The Town's Greenways Master Plan emphasizes connectivity among all Town trails and with the trail systems of neighboring jurisdictions. We believe that the process to develop the concept plan has afforded us a good opportunity to work with the Town of Carrboro to develop the best plan for connecting to Carrboro's (and by extension Orange County's) future Bolin Creek Trail and associated open spaces.

3. Specific information concerning trails within Carolina North would be useful.

Staff Comment: We agree that an understanding of UNC's plans for Carolina North would be important for designing the trail. We believe that full understanding of UNC's plan is not critical now for the purposes of development of the concept plan. However, planning meetings with the University should be held as soon as possible. This information would be important, as the project progresses, in order to make good decisions related to land acquisition, trail routing, and improvements to Estes Drive Extension.

In fact, this project is being funded in part by a county bond. This memo has a lot of good background:

Connection to Carolina North
The Board supports connection to the Carolina North property, and with the expectation that Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina will cooperate as partners to create a pedestrian and bicycle trail system that promotes non-vehicular transportation north of Estes Drive Extension.

That's interesting, because it would seem to me that if you are going to partner with someone to create "a pedestrian and bicycle trail system...north of Estes Drive Extension" that you might want it to be the county, unless the definition of North ends at the CH and CB city limits.

The Board of Aldermen received a presentation on this on Feb. 20. Here was our formal input to Chapel Hill:

Spur Trail from Umstead Park area through Northside neighborhood to Baldwin Park
The Board supports a connection of the greenway spur trail to Baldwin Park, and further recommends that in the town's future coordination with Chapel Hill on combined greenway efforts, any design and construction in this vicinity not preclude stream restoration efforts.

Section of Greenway from Estes Extension north
The Board recommends that the greenway trail on the north side of Estes Extension begin on the OWASA-controlled sliver of land on the east side of the railroad tracks, on the west side of Bolin Creek. The trail could continue along the sewer easement as it crosses the creek about 600 feet in, and crosses under the railroad track. Thence, the trail could continue north along the sewer easement between the creek and the railroad (east side of the creek, west side of the railroad track) to the northern end of the Ironwood Homeowners' Association land, creating a “stubout” at the two towns' jurisdictional boundary. This would consistently situate the trail on the gentlest slopes, in an area already cleared of vegetation, and close to the creek. This segment of the trail would also be located entirely within Chapel Hill's jurisdiction on land owned by OWASA and the Ironwoods Homeowners' Association.

Connection to Carolina North
The Board supports connection to the Carolina North property, and with the expectation that Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina will cooperate as partners to create a pedestrian and bicycle trail system that promotes non-vehicular transportation north of Estes Drive Extension.

The spur to Baldwin Park was particularly emphasized as a connection from the greenway but also to the nearby neighborhoods.

Color me happily surprised: the only other speakers (besides me) were from Ironwoods, and they all support a revised route that takes the trail into Carrboro instead of on their propwerty (shock).

Thanks for the link Ruby, the information is no longer available, but I'm sure it will pop up.

i also get errors when I follow the link, but if I go back to the agenda ( and follow the link, I end up in the place (except it works),

I don't know what the hell is wrong with their site now, but try refreshing the cache and reloading the page.

Yeah, now your link is working as well, I tried earlier to get to it through the agenda (I'm not THAT much of a noob), but that link was a dead end as well.

Just to clear up, what I was saying above was related to the statement from the Carrboro Aldermen, which is where the quote was lifted from. It's good to know that when it comes to connectivity the towns and county are working hand in hand to make Orange a better place.

I think this project is great and I'm happy it's going forward. There are some technical hurdles to consider though.

The first is safty. The present bolin creek greenway only crosses two lightly traveled streets. The new part will cross both MLK Blvd, and Estes Ext. Making these intersections safe can be done and I'm sure it will be. It's an issue that hasn't come up before on previous greenways.

There's a very steap hill as the creek passes under Estes. I've run dogs back there. I and the dog can both climb it on foot. Nobody on a bicycle could. Some older people couldnt either. Smarter minds then my own will find a solution I'm sure. I don't see it.

At the same place we know that Estes Ext. will be widned at some point It might not be a good idea to plan the greenway without knowing the plan for the street improvements. Plannig the street will be had with out knowing what the future Carolina North will look like. Again, I think the town staff is up to the task.

It looks like the streach of path along Umpstead drive will be over the sewer easement on the other side of the creek. This path is uneven and rocky. To pave it the elevation of the path will have to rise. Bolin creek already floods along there. Bringing fill into it's flood plane will make it worse. Of course the city has a stoorm wate department that can think that over and find some kind of mitigation.

Lastly, I repeat, don't let all my negitivity lead you to belive I'm against this project. I'm not. My point is that this trail presents problems that havent needed to be adressed on any other green way that I know of.

Clark those are great questions. I can tell you from reading the Town's proposal that they don't plan to cross MLK or Estes Ext (or Pritchard Ext). All road crossings except Village Drive will be done via tunnels. This isn't as hard as it sounds since the creek already goes under those roads via culverts and such.

The current sewer easement along Umstead is being abandoned by OWASA, which gives the town more flexibility in how to use it, but they also acknowledge that it probably will flood a few days a year, which isn't too big of a deal.


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