Greenways for the 21st Century

This commentary, written my fellow OP editor Travis Crayton and myself, originally appeared in the Chapel Hill News on September 6, 2015.

Work on phase three of the Bolin Creek greenway began earlier this summer – and that’s great news for Chapel Hill residents. Phase three of the greenway is the first step in connecting where the current greenway ends at Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd below the police station to Tanyard Branch trail, the Northside neighborhood, and downtown Chapel Hill via Umstead Drive. The greenway extension will also serve as a vital link to the future trail systems planned by Carrboro and Orange County.

If you have ever biked along the Bolin Creek greenway to MLK, you know that you’re entering dangerous territory. A person on a bike was killed by a car last year while riding along the sidewalk at the Mobil gas station adjacent to the trail, the required route to get from the greenway to the crosswalk. The extension will provide a much safer alternative for people on bikes and people walking, who can instead choose to stay on the greenway and connect to downtown via Northside, or to Carrboro via Estes Drive Ext.

Once completed, the greenway will be the first route that is bikeable on a non-automobile right-of-way from the northern part of town into downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro. As a community striving to reduce our reliance on automobiles and improve the mobility and health of residents, this is great news for everyone.

Chapel Hill residents have consistently voiced support for more paved greenways in the Town’s needs surveys. In the 2013 Community Survey (, citizens said increased walking and biking trails should be the top priority for parks and recreation over the next two years (see page 12). The Town has responded to this charge with the extension of Morgan Creek trail under Culbreth Road in 2014 and breaking ground on Bolin Creek phase three this year.

Expanding the Bolin Creek greenway provides other clear benefits for our community, too. By paving the greenway along the creek, the Town is taking a public resource currently only enjoyed by those individuals who happen to live near it and opening it up to Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents and visitors. This will also benefit our neighbors with disabilities who currently cannot access Bolin Creek. Given the trend we have seen in communities across the nation toward less truly public space, it is encouraging to see our community taking the opposite approach as we improve connectivity and mobility and open up more green space for public use.

The Town has complied with all state regulations to ensure that the greenway will not negatively impact Bolin Creek or the surrounding environment. Because of compliance with these regulations, there should not be any long-term increase in sedimentation from the addition of the greenway.

Bolin Creek has been an important element of our community for generations and has been shaped by centuries of use. It has been used as a water source, as a power source for milling, and now as we add a greenway, our community has found a way to enjoy the creek and use it in a 21st-century context.

You can learn more about the greenway expansion and future greenway plans by attending a Town-sponsored community walk and information session on Thursday, September 3rd, at 5:30pm, starting in Umstead Park.

Travis Crayton and Molly De Marco live in Chapel Hill and are editors of the blog


Iinjured at that intersection biking to work about 10years ago near that intersection and continue to argue that cyclists should be allowed to bike both ways on that bike way in order to reach the Hillsborogh Rd. intersection. The tunnel will help if you are going East/West but not for the other directions.

There will be an at-grade crossing on Umstead Dr. A cyclist can go through the tunnel under MLK, turn left onto Umstead at the crossing, and then choose to go north or south on MLK with traffic at the intersection of MLK and Hillsborough. It might not be the shortest way, but it'll be safer than trying to go on the sidewalk against traffic down to that intersection.

While the greenway will help, there are also a lot of bike and ped improvements that need to happen on MLK to improve bike safety at that intersection.

It's been awhile, but when I used that greenway more often, I would get off the greenway at Bolinwood Dr. and head up to MLK on Hillsborough if I wanted to head South.


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