Chapel Hill News

Town wants help planning better MLK bus route

Comprehensive bus-rapid transit sets aside exclusive lanes that improve the reliability and speed of bus traffic. Stations are equipped with raised platforms, which remain level with the bus floor to make it easier for riders to get on and off.
Comprehensive bus-rapid transit sets aside exclusive lanes that improve the reliability and speed of bus traffic. Stations are equipped with raised platforms, which remain level with the bus floor to make it easier for riders to get on and off. URS/Chapel Hill Transit

Transit planners asked the public this week for help creating a better, faster bus route down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Interstate 40 to Columbia Street and U.S. 15-501 South.

The North-South Corridor Study ( www.nscstudy.org) is looking at a 7.3-mile bus-rapid transit route that would end near Southern Village. Some potential stations are identified already near major intersections. Chapel Hill Transit, Triangle Transit and consultants held a series of meetings to ask riders and residents what they want.

Bus-rapid transit (BRT) systems use exclusive travel lanes, get priority at intersections, and have GPS and transponder systems to trigger and hold green lights, all of which keep buses moving and on time. Buses pull up to raised platforms for level boarding.

The study could be completed by September 2015. There are three options:

• Keep the current bus system, but with fewer stops and greater frequency



• Low BRT, which operates mostly in traffic but also in high-occupancy vehicle lanes, with the option of bus-only lanes at intersections and traffic light priority.



• High BRT, which operates in exclusive travel lanes, with even fewer stops and similar amenities to the low BRT option; bus stops or stations can be enclosed



Exclusive lanes can work within an existing streetscape, URS consultant Jeff Koontz said. Bus lanes could run in the far right lane in each direction on a five-lane street, or in two lanes down the middle, wrapping around shared station platforms to pick up passengers.

UNC Hospitals employees Sonte Buie, Meridith Pumphrey and Noele Daniels use Triangle Transit and Chapel Hill Transit to travel each morning to Chapel Hill. Giving the buses their own lane is a good idea, the women said, but catching a bus in the middle of MLK Boulevard might be dangerous.

None of them use that corridor to get to work, but it could help them run errands during the day, said Buie, who lives in Raleigh.

“If we want to do something outside of the hospital, it’s jus so complicated, it’s not even worth it,” she said. “You only have so much time, and you’ve got to wait to catch a bus. That whole process of getting where you’re going and getting back – it’s not convenient.”

Chapel Hill Transit’s system is already strained, local and regional officials said. A BRT system could ease the crowding and accommodate future growth along the corridor, including at UNC’s Carolina North campus and on both ends.

There are two options for the northern end of the route: the Eubanks Road park-and-ride lot or building a new parking facility on land near Whitfield Road, just north of Interstate 40.

Many north-south buses now serve standing-room only crowds at peak hours, Chapel Hill Transit director Brian Litchfield said. Sometimes buses pass people waiting, because there’s no room, he said.

Chapel Hill Transit and its partners – Carrboro, Chapel Hill and UNC – expect to use local, state and federal funds to pay for the roughly $25 million project. The local money comes from a half-cent, voter-approved sales tax and an extra $7 vehicle registration fee.

The goal of the 2012 Orange-Durham Bus and Rail Plan is to roll out the North-South Corridor route within the next five years.

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