Chapel Hill News

Carrboro wants to slow downtown traffic

The Carrboro aldermen heard ideas they liked Tuesday that would slow down downtown traffic, possibly with big archways over the roads to let drivers know they’ve entered a “slow zone.”

Seth LaJeunesse of Carrboro’s Transportation Advisory Board presented the ideas at the aldermen’s meeting. After his presentation, they asked town staff members to study whether the ideas would work in Carrboro.

A slow zone is a well-defined area where the speed limit would be 20 mph or less. While the speed limit in downtown Carrboro already is 20 mph in most places, the slow zone concept would put an emphasis on alerting drivers that they have entered a slow zone where pedestrians and bicyclists must be safe and comfortable using the same roads.

Traffic-calming devices and slow zones can reduce crashes by about 30 percent, LaJeunesse said.

“A lot of that is being able to maneuver and stop quickly,” he said.

The idea behind slow zones is to first make them user friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists, then for motor vehicles, which is the reverse of the traditional way of looking at roads, LaJeunesse said.

Among the ideas is to create a “woonerf” on East Weaver Street. Woonerf is a Dutch word for a street that gives pedestrians and bicyclists priority over cars and trucks. While motor vehicles could still use the street, they would most likely be slowed down to a speed of about 5 mph by traffic-calming devices.

The Dutch get very creative in how they create woonerfs, LaJeunesse said. For example, a large flower planter could be placed in the middle of the street to slow traffic down, he said.

He suggested that substantial gateway treatments, like a big arch over the road, would alert people they are entering a slow zone and alert drivers they’ve entered a different type of traffic area.

Another way to slow traffic is to extend curbs into the intersections to narrow the street and lessen the distance a pedestrian would be out in traffic when crossing a street, LaJeunesse said.

Still another method to make it safer for pedestrians would be to adjust the walk signals to give pedestrians a three or four second head start before the light turns green for cars turning right, he said.

Alderman Jacquie Gist said one of the first tasks the town should consider is to ask the downtown business people if they would favor those types of strategies to slow traffic down.

“They may have a different perspective on it,” she said. “It’s really their livelihood and our tax base that’s affected.”

LaJeunesse suggested that a gateway structure would cost about $10,000 each and would be a longer-term project. The retiming of the pedestrian signals would cost about $1,000 each and could be done immediately. The curb extensions would cost about $12,000 each and be a longer term project.

Gist also suggested including the Arts Commission in the planning of gateway structures.

The aldermen asked the staff to report back in three months.