UNC North transit urged

Panel urged to find way to avoid cars

Staff WriterOctober 6, 2006 

— Town leaders could have used Kevin Costner as they tried to make their point to their university counterparts Thursday afternoon: If you build it, they will come.

They weren't talking about a baseball diamond in a cornfield but a fully integrated public transit system -- in the best-case scenario -- or a sprawling web of asphalt and passenger cars in the worst case.

Either way, said community representatives to the Carolina North Leadership Advisory Committee, people will do what the infrastructure tells them to do. If UNC builds Carolina North with plenty of parking and easy driving access, employees will drive there. If the university designs its northern campus for buses and a commuter train, that is how people will get there.

"We want to de-emphasize the roads, if you will, and we want to emphasize transit," said committee member George Cianciolo, who serves as vice chairman of the Chapel Hill Planning Board.

But university officials said Carolina North will not be able to rely on mass transit until the development is dense enough to support it.

"We think we can get to places in year 30 that won't be possible in year one," said Jack Evans, a business professor and executive director of Carolina North.

UNC trustee Bob Winston said it will take time not only to develop density but also to persuade employees to give up their cars.

"We all drove here today. I mean, I did, and I'll admit it," Winston said as he sat in a conference room at the Kenan-Flager business school on UNC's south campus.

"We certainly don't want to be putting buses up and down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with one person in them," he added. "We can only do what people will do and what's economically feasible."

Orange County Planning Board member Bernadette Pelissier, though, demanded more of Carolina North.

"We want to talk about changing people's behavior," she said. "Let's see how we can design this and incentivize people not to take the car."

Cianciolo offered UNC's current parking policy as an example. By reserving most on-campus parking for faculty and staff, the university has made it almost impossible for students or visitors to park on campus. So they use the free Chapel Hill Transit bus service.

Winston agreed that mass transit should be Carolina North employees' first transportation option "from day one," but said "the opportunity is much bigger over time. ... You can do a lot more with 1,000 people than 50 people."

Staff writer Jesse James DeConto can be reached at 932-8760 or jdeconto@newsobserver.com.

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