Sidewalks for Estes?

A few years ago, the voters of Carrboro approved a couple million dollar bond issue to build sidewalks in various locations around Carrboro. One of the projects on the list was a sidewalk on the south side of Estes Drive Extension from the railroad tracks to North Greensboro Street.  But the sidewalk bond money has not gone as far as people had hoped. Considerably higher engineering, materials, labor, drainage and utility-relocation costs have cropped up and we will not be able to build the entire original list of sidewalks with the bond money. Also, in the intervening years, the Town annexed neighborhoods on the west side of Rogers Road and it became apparent that Rogers Road was a place that needed a sidewalk, but had not been on the list before because it was not within town limits.

The remaining projects that are proposed to be paid for with bond money are: (1) The Shelton Street sidewalk for $214,000, (2) the Davie Road sidewalk for $656,000 and (3) the Pine Street sidewalk for $621,000.  Some other sidewalks are currently scheduled but are being funded with state and federal grant moneys that cannot easily be redirected to other projects (sidewalks on Ashe, Bim and Elm Streets all fall in this category).  The Rogers Road sidewalk is funded with a mix of bonds and federal funds.

But the Estes Drive sidewalk remains unfunded and has a spicy price tag of about $1,200,000.  Consequently, the Carrboro staff has proposed that the Estes sidewalk be built as a part of the 2011 NCDOT Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The advantage of this would be big: The Feds would pick up 80% or 90% of the tab and we would also ask for bike lanes as a part of the project.

But the problems with this idea are also big. First, we cannot be sure that Estes Drive Extension would wind up in the 2011 TIP. Second, even if it does get put in the 2011 TIP, that plan will be a five-year plan, so it could be scheduled for 2016. Third, even though a TIP project on Estes would probably involve sidewalks and bikelanes, NCDOT would probably want the project to include additional travel lanes (as they have tried to do on Smith Level Road).

The Pleasant Drive Path
One thing that helps mitigate the problem along Estes Drive Extension is the informal pedestrian path from Estes Park apartments connecting to Pleasant Street.  While the Pleasant Drive path provides an alternative to walking along Estes Drive, I think that connection does not currently serve the public well:
Estes Park Informal Path
That is the furniture dumpster for Estes Park Apartments on the right. The rough dirt path goes through a short stretch of woods and is not readily patrolled by police as it stands now. Also, that connection does little good for anyone besides the residents of Estes Park. The Tree Top Condominiums and Hillcrest Avenue neighborhoods let out directly onto Estes Drive Extension and have no access to the Pleasant Drive path.

Also, the informal path at the end of Pleasant does little or nothing for those of us who live off Greensboro Street and would like to be able to walk safely to Chapel Hill. Along Estes Drive Extension is our connection to Village West, Umstead Park and the future alignment of the Bolin Creek Greenway and the future site of Carolina North. Of course, if the Merritt Crossing were open, then the Pleasant Drive path would be more helpful.

Bikelanes for Estes Drive Extension

In addition to the sidewalk problem on Estes Drive Extension, we have a serious bikelane problem as well. In an effort to make the situation safer in the short term, a few years ago several bike activists and I got the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the NC Department of Transportation to co-operate on the paving of a wide should on each side of Estes Drive Extension between Seawell School Road and Estes Park Apartments.

But the problem is that there is very little public right of way for the last segment of Estes between Estes Park and North Greensboro Street. Here's an aerial photo with the right of way shown in red:
Estes Drive Extension ROW
As you can see, the southern end of the road is much narrower. And unfortunately many of the houses are very close to the street, so it would be difficult.  All of this means that bike lanes along Estes Drive would have to be built as a part of a state Transportation Improvement Program project, which as outlined above could have a very drawn out timeline.  And again, NCDOT will undoubtedly try to force us to build additional motor vehicle travel lanes, which most folks do not want.

The Wilson Park Multi-use Path

Because the proper bike lane and sidewalk solutions seem to be so far off, the Town of Carrboro has proposed to build the Wilson Park Multi-use Path, a short greenway from Estes Drive Extension (opposite Estes Park) up along the edge of Wilson Park to Williams Street so that cyclists (and pedestrians) can skip the narrowest and most dangerous section of Estes Drive Extension.

The latest proposal, partially unveiled last Tuesday night, is to extend the Multi-use Path parallel to Estes to connect to Phase 1A of the Bolin Creek Greenway. The extended connection between these two would create a bike/ped only corridor that immediately parallels Estes Dr Ext for about 1/4 mile from Bolin Creek to a place opposite the entrance to Estes Park Apartments. The proposal includes a pedestrian-only, push-button-activated traffic light and crosswalk at the entrance to Estes Park Apartments. Here's what that would look like:
Estes Possibilities
The Multi-use Path is currently shown on the Capital Improvements Plan as being funded jointly by the Town and the Feds. The design phase of the project would occur in fiscal year 2010-11 (i.e. about a year from now).  Probably construction of the path would begin no sooner than 2011-12, but it is unclear whether that would include any of ¼ mile of trail leading from the Multi-Use Path to the Bolin Creek Greenway

Next Steps

At the most recent meeting of the Board of Aldermen, we discussed all of these topics.  I raised some serious questions about the plan to leave the Estes Drive sidewalk unfounded.  The pedestrian issues in the Estes area are serious.  At the same time, my opinion is that the situation is not nearly so dire on Pine Street where current plans call for spending $621,000.

But it appears that we can only afford the Estes sidewalk if we shelve plans for sidewalks on both Pine Street and Davie Road (or alternatively Rogers Road) - and personally, I think the Davie Road and Rogers Road sidewalk projects are very important. Consequently I asked the Town staff to report back to the Board of Aldermen about other alternatives such as: 1) Formalizing the bike/ped connection from Pleasant to Estes Park Apartments, and 2) building the Estes sidewalk, but only from Hillcrest Ave to North Greensboro Street.
The staff will report back to the Board of Aldermen on those possibilities and the BOA will then evaluate whether to reprogram the various sidewalk funds to pay for any additional improvements in the Estes area beyond the Wilson Park Multi-use Path (such as the Pleasant Drive path or a sidewalk along part of Estes Drive Extension).

Also, the BOA will soon see a more detailed presentation on phase 1A of the Bolin creek Greenway/Wilson Park Multi-use Path.  I think that will be on our agenda later in November or in early December.



Mark writes: In addition to the sidewalk problem on Estes Drive Extension, we have a serious bikelane problem as well. In an effort to make the situation safer in the short term, a few years ago several bike activists and I got the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the NC Department of Transportation to co-operate on the paving of a wide should on each side of Estes Drive Extension between Seawell School Road and Estes Park Apartments.After serving on the Chapel Hill transportation board and going to numerous hearings I continue to be shocked at the cost and the logistics to put in sidewalks and bike lanes. For bang for buck ( and also safety) I think Carrboro would be better to put in bike lanes rather than sidewalks. (The bike lanes would separate the unofficial pedestrian paths further from the cars.) The right of way issue is a tough one. If the current side ditches had drain tile placed in and then a wide bike shoulder was placed over the old ditches there might be enough for a bike shoulder but not both shoulder and sidewalk.  S. Columbia and Estes both have old sidewalks using asphalt rather than curb and gutter plus concrete.  They probably don't meet federal standards but if local money is used they could be a cheap solution for estes extention.  Estes is a major connector to carolina north, 3 schools and lots more. It needs to be highest priority.  good luck

Loren wrote: " I think Carrboro would be better to put in bike lanes rather than sidewalks."That's an interesting point, Loren.  I should point out that the bond money was issued for greenways and sidewalks.  Apparently that means that we cannot use the money for bikelanes.

Without getting into a battle-of-priorities re: bicycles (bikes are fine) vs. pedestrians, it's worth noting that you really aren't providing decent bus service if there are no sidewalks to allow people to get safely from their own streets/homes to the bus stop -- and this means both sides of a street, as well as crosswalks, because the side you board the bus, say, in the morning, will not be the side you leave it when you come home.Although this blog addresses Carrboro-Estes Ext. issues, it's also worth pointing out that Estes from MLK to Franklin only has a sidewalk on one side; and on MLK from Estes northward, the pedestrian/bus-rider situation is deplorable, with long stretches lacking sidewalks, no crosswalks, and scattered, "island" bus stops unconnected to any streets or houses by paved walkways.  The result is an unsafe and uninviting aspect of our much touted bus system, one that needs to be addressed directly by both Carrboro and Chapel Hill as CN and similar developments progress.

Along Estes Drive Extension, I think there is only the N bus.  I may have the wrong letter.  In any case, I think the N bus actually pulls in to Estes Park Apts. and turns around in its parking lot.But I take your point.

Also, I neglected to mention the 'Make Estes Drive Safer' Facebook group: also this blog on related topics:

I wrote and posted a map in a January 2009 post how we should also be considering connectivity between downtown Carrboro, downtown Chapel Hill, and Village West/Estes Park/Bolin Creek phase 1A.  Please look back at that post for additional maps that show some potential routes.  I think its important to note that many users of the current Bolin Creek trails drive from other parts of town and unload their dogs/bikes/children right at the train tracks to avoid having to walk the road.  I would propose that any Estes Drive "solution" also consider connection issues directly between downtown and that area.  The town of Chapel Hill already owns all of the land parallel to the railroad tracks between the Lloyd Street Neighborhood in downtown Carrboro and the Village West development.  Why not try to get a multi-use path on that land, thereby giving all those folks who live in downtown or park in downtown access to the Bolin Creek corridor without having to clog that street with their cars and informal parking spaces on the side of the road?  This would also increase formal traffic along the side of the train tracks, thereby increasing community visibility in an area of Carrboro that isn't patrolled by police ever but which has a substantial number of informal path users that use the path for both very legitimate (taking groceries between Village West and Harris Teeter/Weaver Street) and somewhat sketchy (binge drinking in the woods beside the tracks, etc.) reasons.Mark, when the aldermen meet I hope they will talk about this area as a potential area of focus to alleviate traffic issues in downtown by decreasing car trips for those who could access these areas with a bike trail instead.

Rickie, it is interesting to note that your point and Ruby's really amount to the same thing: We need bike/ped access parallel to the boundary between Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  There is publicly owned land all along there from Village Drive to Broad Street (the former Leo Merritt property), but it is almost entirely in Chapel Hill.  So we would need to work with the Town of Chapel Hill to prioritize a connection through there.At the same time, I understand some bike folks from Chapel Hill are working on a joint discussion between Chapel Hill and UNC about a bicycle route from UNC to Carolina North.  I think it is possible that the Leo Merritt property could factor into that discussion, but I will have to learn more about it.

Here's some background on the Leo Merritt property: are some past discussions of Estes Drive walkability issues:

The uncompleted Seawell School RD segment with no sidewalk or bike lanes is one of the head scratcher type issues for me.  Children walking to the schools and cyclist are in danger on the two lane blacktop segment from the railroad tracks to Seawell Elementary.  This issue is probably caught up in the Carolina North debates.  I think I ask this question of the CH town council and got no response.  Mr. Mayor this is must do for Carrboro and real local issue.   Excellent overview of the problem and proposed solutions.    Steve Peck


If money is running out to implement the sidewalks from the previous bond referendum perhaps it is time for another one. My personal sidewalk peeve (South Greensboro) was partially done but receives a great deal of foot traffic on a shoulder very close to the road in places where drivers regularly speed (just like Estes in that respect). 

At some point we could explore more bond money for sidewalks, but frankly right now we are trying to finish the northern Fire Station and hire and train new firefighters to staff both stations.  If you look at the laundry list of other capital needs for Carrboro (for example developing the MLK jr. Park site on Hillsborough Road), it's clear that it will be quite a few years before we can seriously look at another sidewalk bond.But, we can pursue more state and federal money for sidewalks instead.  I agree with you that the situation along S Greensboro is mostly pretty deplorable.  I think we should hold a meeting of stakeholders along and near S Greensboro St and try to develop a consensus about what the solution should look like and where it should likely go (ie should the sidewalk be on S Greensboro or on Old Pitisboro?  which side should the sidewalk be built on? etc.)  Once we are clear on the solution, then we can focus on what the cost is and where the money could come from.

Mark's opening remarks were: "Considerably higher engineering, materials, labor, drainage and utility-relocation costs have cropped up and we will not be able to build the entire original list of sidewalks with the bond money. "Sounds like another example of towns setting the bar so high for projects that we get priced out of even modest improvements. Can't a case be made for stepwise improvements now that are less than ideal, with a long term plan for upgrades later? Why be constrained by such high self-imposed barriers? Is it again due to liability concerns?

Do we prevent new utilities being installed in locations where they will interfere with future sidewalk plans?

I'm not sure which of "engineering, materials, labor, drainage and utility-relocation costs" you could skimp on and still have a successful sidewalk project. Should you skimp on drainage, and have sidewalks or other areas get repeatedly flooded? Not bother doing the required engineering? Just get rid of the utilities and not relocate them? It's not as simple as just laying down some concrete or asphalt.Of these, I am curious about the higher labor and materials cost. My understanding is that the recession has helped bring down the cost on the materials and labor for many building projects, including 140 West Franklin and some Chapel Hill town road projects. Is it simply that the project requires much more material and labor than anticipated, or am I missing the point?

True the recession is making construction cheaper right now, Geoff, but some of the projects were done a year or two ago when the costs were higher.  You are absolutley correct about the other issues.  Also, note that sidewalks must meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and that means we could not skimp on width etc. even if we were interested in doing so.

Geoff - Jumping on the possiblity that you talk with folks connnected with the I40 construction, I have a question. I have lobbied for several years to have the top coat be the "black top" because it transmits much less freeway noise. You can hear the difference yourself when you are driving along the freeway. Do you know what the final top to this new resurfacing will be? Thanks

I can see why you would make the mistake, but I think Geoff was referring to development at 140 West Franklin Street (the town's new mixed-use high-rise to be built at Church Street) not I-40 the highway. The former is simply called "140 West Franklin" because apparently no-one has the creativity to actually NAME buildings and places anymore.

This is now imperative. Since the State approved the Smith Level Road project, a great deal of traffic will be headed to S. Greensboro.  Already, EMS vehicles and cars coming from the opposite direction have difficulty.  It must be widened and have sidewalks to continue the explansion of  Smith Level Rd. to Town Center.  To delay this construction would be unethical and irresponsible by our Mayor and alderman in light of the state's $11 Million dollar estimate for the Smith Level Project. 

Since the improvements to Smith Level Road will not involve the addition of vehicular traffic lanes, I'm curious to know why you think a great deal of traffic will now be headed to South Greensboro Street.

It would be excellent to see sidewalks on S. Greensboro, and Old Pittsboro, and Estes Ext. - in whatever order they appear.   I'm always concerned about the pedestrians I see walking along those roads, often ducking low branches, slipping on wet grass, and looking over their shoulder to monitor traffic. The ones with children particularly worry me. A plan for monosidewalking (I just made that word up - it means providing a sidewalk on only one side of the street) should also include plans for crosswalks, placed strategically and clearly marked - some meriting "yield" signage or even a light.  I have no idea whether funding would come from the same sources, but without them, you're only "half the way home." 



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