Chapel Hill: Opinion

Terri Buckner: The New Year’s resolutions I wish for our local governments

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I rarely succeed at keeping personal New Year’s resolutions, so this year, instead of foregoing the tradition altogether, I’m going to suggest three for our local governments to pursue.

Acting as a Whole Community. Before the holidays, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger announced a new initiative to ensure that the 3,300 children in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools who qualify for free and reduced lunches have sufficient food over the summer when the schools are not providing those meals.

Multiple agencies/organizations provide food during the school year, but they all face one barrier or another at making sufficient food available during the summer months. Some excel at distributing backpacks full of fresh, nutritious food over weekends or short breaks, but not for extended periods. Some have the resources to collect food but no way to distribute it efficiently when schools are out of session.

The new initiative will identify these kinds of service gaps and then coordinate the efforts to ensure that our children do not go hungry. The CHCCS School Board, Inter-Faith Council, and UNC have indicated their willingness to participate and hopefully Carrboro and Orange County will also step up.

Some have argued that there is no role for local governments in handling services that intersect with the local school system. The argument is that the school system is a separate governing body with strict boundaries between it and the municipal governments. But while the school system may have a separate governing board, the children who attend the school live in the community.

My New Year’s hope for our community is that we can break down such artificial barriers, as Hemminger is attempting to do with the summer meals project. Affordable housing, homelessness, and mental health care are other initiatives that can benefit from similar whole-community cooperation.

Pedestrian Safety. In January, the Carrboro Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) will present a set of recommendations to the Board of Aldermen on how to make Carrboro safer for pedestrians. Chapel Hill has conducted several safety events over the past year toward the same goal. The state’s Watch for Me program warns drivers to be aware of pedestrians and bicyclists. But I’m hoping for more than this from the Carrboro TAB and eventually from Chapel Hill.

When drivers get distracted and make mistakes, pedestrians get injured. Publicity campaigns, like Watch for Me, aren’t going to raise awareness enough to generate significant change, but there may be structural changes that can complement those awareness efforts.

For example, few cross streets have pedestrian crossing lines. Drivers, especially those who are in a hurry, often pull as close to the edge of the intersection as possible, and if they are making a right turn, they may not even stop, ignoring any pedestrians waiting to cross. Pedestrian crossing lines at all intersections would serve as a reminder to drivers to check for pedestrians before rolling into the intersection.

Pedestrian crossing lights also need to be reviewed. Sensor technology exists to trigger a crossing light when pedestrians are present instead of the current time-sequence based programming. If crosswalk signals were more responsive to pedestrians, it might cut down on jaywalking and crossing against the light.

Although the weather has been unseasonably warm this winter, icy sidewalks are another hazard faced by pedestrians. Snow plows move snow from roadways into intersections and onto sidewalks; tall buildings create such heavy shadows that natural melting from the sun is delayed. Sidewalks also get broken and damaged from tree roots, heavy equipment, and time. Both communities have indicated their interest in building new sidewalks, but they also need to budget for sidewalk maintenance as a capital expense.

ETJ Release. My third recommended resolution for the new year is that Carrboro and Chapel Hill voluntarily release their ETJ (extra-territorial jurisdiction) areas back to the county.

ETJs, sections of the county that are adjacent to a municipality, were designed to be temporary. These areas receive county services, but land-use decisions are made by the municipality. There has been sufficient outcry over threatened voting rights in North Carolina for everyone to understand that voting is a right that should not be undermined in any way. ETJ residents can vote for Board of County Commissioners but are denied the right to vote for those local officials who make development and other regulatory decisions that impact their homes and quality of life. Release us, please!

Wishing everyone a happy and health 2016!

Terri Buckner lives in the Carrboro ETJ. She may be contacted at tbuckner306@gmail.com.

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