How the Paving Idea Started

Carrboro’s 2009 Bike Plan

In 2009, the Town of Carrboro developed a Bike Plan that described a network of bike paths, many of them now found today on Carrboro streets. Seven years after the plan’s approval, the Board of Aldermen has decided to revisit one aspect of the Bike Plan that was not implemented.  This one paragraph is the one that recommended a paved bicycle road along Bolin Creek, instead of the existing nature trail. Only a few members of the community were aware of this policy change before it was inserted into the Plan.

Carrboro has achieved much of what it set out to do in the Bike Plan but the plan needs to be updated before deciding on future priorities. The Town has become a popular place to bike because the terrain is relatively flat, the lanes on major busy roads are well marked and wider than many, and an advocacy group, Bike Carrboro, has assertively worked for biking interests to make biking safer. The Town has also created more on-road bike lanes, demanded more bike racks, pursued road diets and partnered with the Carrboro Bike Coalition to advocate for biking. It has also created paved bike paths near Bolin Creek on the side by Estes Drive (going into Wilson Park), known as 1A, and on the side by Homestead Road (going to the high school), known as 1B, a path now under construction, which has interfered with the high school’s award-winning cross-country team. The Town has achieved much of what it set out to do in the Bike Plan but the plan needs to be updated before deciding on future priorities.

Hiring of Consultant, Greenways Inc.

After the BOA adopted the bike plan, Town planning staff then contracted with a consultant to develop the 2009 Bolin Creek Greenway Conceptual Plan. This plan contained a number of proposed routes, some following the creek corridor and others located further up into the forest. The consultant’s recommendation, however, was to build the creekside route.

When Greenways Inc. presented its options to the BOA in 2009, the consultant stated its primary two purposes was to “protect and improve water quality along Bolin and Jones Creek and to protect, conserve, and preserve wildlife habitat”.

Yet, scientifically, the installation of pavement next to a creek, harms, not helps, water quality, as Friends of Bolin Creek pointed out, given the group had been involved in any number of Bolin Creek stream-restoration efforts with the Town of Carrboro. A newly created group, Save Bolin Creek, then commissioned a study with the Catena Group which  concluded that “the project specific imiplementations of this goal is not adequately addressed and many of the proposed design elements can actually adversely impact, not protect, water quality.”

Public Outcry Concerning Paving

When the consultant’s Concept Plan was presented to the public in December 2009, the plan led to great controversy. Numerous citizens, along with Friends of Bolin Creek, rallied. They presented the case to the Board on December 8, 2009 for why the Board must reject the creekside route. Speakers asserted strong community preference for keeping surfaces natural given the need for recreation and widespread community use of this area for that purpose. Also stressed was the need to protect Bolin Creek’s fragile stream-bank ecology. Any pavement installed near stream banks means removal of trees and needed vegetation, thus harming stream buffers that wildlife depend on.

Moreover, citizens noted such a circuitous route along the creek is redundant. UNC had already agreed to build a bike path along Seawell School Road (link to letter), above the creek valley and paralleling this proposed creekside route. Bike lanes along the length of Pathway Drive also parallel the suggested Bolin Creek bike road, thus adding to this redundancy.

Decision to Table Phases 3 and 4

Consequently, the BOA agreed to table any decision of what are called “Phases 3 and 4” along Bolin Creek until town staff was able to put forward a plan for public engagement. Phases 3 and 4 include the majority of Bolin Creek. This creekside route, if chosen, then would mean paving next to the creek for most of its way, now a stunning and area that would no longer be natural. Moreover, no efforts by the Town have been undertaken to collect any data on how many bikers or bike commuters would use this costly road through the forest.

Carrboro Greenways Commission

Given the Town of Carroboro’s Greenways Commission, which acts as a citizen advisory board, had not had time to discuss and review the concept plan, the BOA also requested this commission review alternative routes. After more than 12 meetings and a full discussion with community members, the Greenways Commission passed a resolution recommending no further action on the creekside route.

Going for the Gold

The Town of Carrboro plans to submit an application for a Gold Award from the League of American Bicyclists. Some Town leaders appear to think building an off-road paved “trail,” actually a 10-foot wide road, along Bolin Creek is a needed step to secure this award. Friends of Bolin Creek continues to point out how unnecessary and redundant this paved road through the forest would be. Carrboro’s own Transportation Advisory Board has also pointed to the redundancy of such a paved path, not to mention its lack of desirability as a commuter connector, whether for students or job holders. A number of off-road paved trails already exist in the area, ones that do not threaten this valuable natural and recreational resource, including Morgan Creek, Pumpkin Loop on UNC land, 1A from Estes Drive to Wilson Park and finally the 1B multi-path, under construction from Homestead Road to Chapel Hill High School. What is needed now to connect northern neighborhoods either to our schools or downtown Carrboro is the completion of bike paths along Seawell School Road, a project already requested by Carrboro, Chapel Hill and UNC, and one that fits with Carrboro’s resources and its current plan and its current funding request to install bike lanes along Estes Drive.