Wake County

Are sidewalks and bike lanes the key to better public transit in Raleigh?

A bike lane on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh.
A bike lane on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. N&O file photo

When it comes to public transportation, the Triangle needs a “comprehensive system” that allows people to easily walk or ride a bike to their destination after they get off a bus or train, Raleigh’s mayor says.

“It’s not just connecting dots doing light rail and connecting with commuter rail and bus rapid transit,” Nancy McFarlane said. “It’s more than just the spine. When you get off the spot, you’ve got to get to where you’re going.”

McFarlane and Durham Mayor Steve Schewel were among several North Carolina city leaders who attended an annual meeting of the United States Conferences of Mayors this month in Washington, D.C. Nearly 250 mayors from across the country attended the three-day conference to share ideas and connect with federal officials.

The conference focused in part on how to get more cars off the road, a popular topic in the Triangle.

The Wake Transit Plan, approved by voters in 2016, promises more bus routes and the addition of Bus Rapid Transit and commuter rail.

A year later, Raleigh voters agreed to borrow $206.7 million to widen roads, build new sidewalks and bicycle lanes and help support other transportation projects. The idea is that it’s easier to ride the bus if you can easily walk or bicycle the last leg of a trip.

McFarlane, Schewel and others met with members of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ office and representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation to talk about infrastructure needs and plans.

The meetings spurred “robust conversations” about how to connect metropolitan hubs and surrounding areas, and McFarlane said officials were pleased to hear that Raleigh voters approved the bond referendum last fall that comes with a 1.29-cent property tax increase.

“To them, it shows we have skin in the game and bumps us higher on the priority list,” McFarlane said. “They see that we have a dedicated stream of money coming from local government.”

Schewel said officials were also encouraged that Durham and Orange counties had set aside money for the future Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit line, a 17.7-mile link between Chapel Hill and Durham. The federal government would need to cover half of the nearly $2.5 billion cost, with the state covering about 10 percent.

Triangle residents must decide if they want to spend the next 50 years stuck in traffic or support a modern transportation network.

“If we don’t make the right choice, it will be like driving around the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where you are stuck on the highways for hours without moving,” he said. “We have to make those choices and make the right choices.”

Wake County’s population is expected to hit 1.5 million by 2037, and Durham County’s population is expected to reach nearly 400,000. More people will mean more cars on the road.