Tar Heel Bikes Highlight Lack of Cycling Infrastructure
As a part of its Three Zeros Initiative, UNC last year launched the Tar Heel Bikes program with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Through strategically placed bike-share stations spread across campus, the program is meant to alleviate travel times for students while simultaneously decreasing superfluous greenhouse gas emissions. While the university and Town of Chapel Hill should be commended for their efforts to increase the availability of environmentally sustainable and convenient modes of transit, they have done so without planning for sufficient bike infrastructure.
The lack of cycling infrastructure in Chapel Hill has created an inconvenient and sometimes hostile environment for bicyclists on campus. Student pedestrians often find themselves in harm's way as bikers, utilizing the most carbon-free way to get around campus, whiz past going three times their speed. Drivers on South Road, Cameron, Franklin, and Columbia are consistently frustrated when they are unable to pass slower bikes. Cyclists, too, are frustrated that they have no clear place to ride. The Town of Chapel Hill and UNC have grown too complacent in maintaining an unfriendly atmosphere to cyclists.
A viable first investment in bicycle infrastructure might entail wide bike lanes, painted and marked differently than roads and sidewalks.. Cities in the Netherlands, for example, have steered away from car-centric urban planning in favor of substantial investments in bicycle infrastructure that has led to the country actually having more bikes than people. This could be replicated in Chapel Hill’s streets, but likely not without fierce advocacy within our local government against status quo transportation policies. If our local representatives choose to champion sustainable, carbon-free transportation, we will be able to implement necessary bike infrastructure.
Some claim that Chapel Hill has already provided adequate bike lanes in certain parts of town. Currently, white bike signs painted on the road indicate cars must share the road with bikes, and these residents contend that this is better than no bike lane at all. Such surface-level efforts local politicians are making to appease drivers and cyclists alike are kind gestures, but further action is needed. The Town of Chapel Hill and our University must invest in cycling infrastructure - infrastructure that is separated from roads and sidewalks. To anyone questioning the feasibility of funding these initiatives, I encourage you to consider high expenditures the university has already spent on construction projects this year. Surely there is room in the budget to create meaningful bike infrastructure.
If we want to shift public perception concerning transit and affect real change in decreasing emissions, we must consider radical alternatives to the status quo. What would it look like if the campus section of Cameron Avenue were closed to traffic save for buses and bikes during certain hours? Would a bike trail along Franklin Street, taking cyclists to both East Chapel Hill and Carrboro, be feasible? Continued investment in cycling infrastructure initiatives, such as Chapel Hill Transit and the Tar Heel Bikes program, alongside spearheading more of such programming, will lead the community further along to a low-carbon transportation future. As Lot van Hooijdonk, a Vice Mayor of Utrecht, the Netherlands, put it: “We found that if you build it, people will use it." It’s time for Chapel Hill to build bike infrastructure so that we the people can use it.