Chapel Hill: Opinion

Linda Haac: Carrboro struggles with its path


Carrboro has never been an idea. It has been an experience, an experience bringing together people, building community and leading to cherished entities from Weaver Street to Carrboro’s Fourth of July parade.

Recently, it has looked like Carrboro might be losing sight of such a vision. The test has been the planned construction of a new 10-foot-wide paved route for road bikers and pedestrians linking Homestead Road to Chapel Hill High School, known as 1B. The pathway is expected to cost $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars (federal and local).

Until a few weeks ago, most of the public was clearly unaware the planned route would intersect the Chapel Hill High School’s championship cross-country team’s natural training trail (partly inside Bolin Forest) three times, rather than once as promised years ago, and now would parallel the trail for a third of its way.

Understandably, the teenage XC runners were stunned and devastated.

Carrboro has honored the team on two occasions. Both the girls’ and boys’ teams have won state championships. For years, the athletic facility has been lovingly tended. Also using the XC natural trail are the high school’s indoor and outdoor track teams. The athletic facility is used, in addition, for competitions and is to be the site of the 2016 XC Conference Meet.

All of a sudden, however, XC runners were facing a loss of tree canopy and shade, possible conflicts with bikes and those roller-blading that could lead to serious injury, disruptions of their training patterns that could hamper their award-winning potential. More devastatingly, they knew nothing about this until paving was about to be laid down.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen too have said they were unaware of the change to 1B’s route. The BOA has now resolved to work to protect the XC athletic facility. BOA members have pledged over the next few months to work out details that should allow for the new path to be shorter, less expensive and less destructive of the forest overall.

The realigned bike path should also serve as a more direct connector to Seawell School Road and its bike lanes, providing better access for northern neighborhoods to schools and town. The BOA has resolved as well to look into alternative natural surfaces, work with XC runners and their coaches and respect overall the integrity of what has been here for years.

What went wrong initially?

Road bikers, XC runners, environmental advocates, the town’s elected officials, advisory boards – all agreed in 2010 to the multi-use path, whatever its flaws, as long as it protected Bolin Creek and the XC athletic facility. The plan appears to have slid off track as a result of a lack of communications between project’s administrators (from town staff to school-system representatives), with little check-in sought from important stakeholders over a six-year period.

Carrboro has always promised to value all its citizens, especially the young and the young in spirit. The town, in addition, has promised nourishment of our creative energy. Its latest slogan, in fact, is “feel free.” Important too has been a town philosophy that eschews a win-lose position so favored by others for too long in this country.

So many good things have happened as a result: the Farmers’ Market, WCOM radio, new restaurants, food trucks, Carrboro Day, neighborhood get-togethers, softball games, new sidewalks, new bike lanes, more people strolling and biking, the Carrboro Music Festival.

Such community building, in my experience, always requires a balancing of an entire citizenry’s needs, attentiveness to others and the ability to listen carefully, the grace to give credence to opposing points of view and especially an appreciation for how ideas take shape on the ground. Diverse groups of stakeholders need to be consulted, citizens need to be continuously and effectively informed, and the spirit and the history of a place must be considered.

In other words, not all ideas are practical when it comes to putting them into action. Reality has a way of testing our ideas. Carrboro’s decision to honor the XC team’s athletic needs in practical terms has demonstrated it still is holding fast to our experience of place rather than an idea.

You can reach Linda Haac at