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Asphalt overkill on Smith Level Road

By Tom High

Any citizen driving Smith Level Road has probably noted the scores of pedestrians crossing the road at the BPW Club Road intersection after being dropped off at the bus stop. It’s bad enough for them currently, and that’s with only having to cross three lanes of traffic.

Imagine what it will be like to have to cross the equivalent of six lanes. That’s what the north side of the Smith Level/BPW intersection will be under the current Department of Transportation proposal.
Having trouble imagining it? Think MLK/Weaver Dairy Road in north Chapel Hill. How many folks do you see walking across MLK up there? For those that try, it’s a nightmare.

The engineering staffers at DOT are feeling pretty good right now. They have, over the course of the last 25 years, successfully beaten down Carrboro town staff and elected officials into quietly acquiescing to a plan to turn Carrboro’s section of Smith Level Road into a multi-lane highway.
Another part of the Smith Level plan is equally illogical: the inclusion of two sections of nefarious center turn lanes. DOT officials, when asked to justify the efficacy of the center turn lane, will usually mutter something about safety.

Hmm. Wonder why most folks refer to them as “suicide” lanes?

There is minimal left-turn frequency at any point along this project that doesn’t already have a traffic signal. All that the center turn lanes will do is give pedestrians an extra lane to cross before reaching the relative safety of a sidewalk. The fact of the matter is that there is no justification for a center turn lane in any portion of this project other than a desire to lay more asphalt.

Most assume the Town of Carrboro is desirous of a multi-modal, pedestrian-friendly transportation network, and in the past that has mostly been the case. While it is true this project includes sidewalks and bike lanes, both would have been included in any improvement project on Smith Level, regardless of the cross section.

Why carry out an improvement project that increases bike/pedestrian safety along the road while at the same time forcing those same bike/ped folks to put their lives in jeopardy each time they try to cross it?

Don’t Carrboro and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools want people to walk/bike to school, walk/bike to visit friends, etc.? If this plan proceeds down its current path, virtually everyone needing to cross Smith Level Road, from the Morgan Creek bridge to Culbreth Road, will do it in a fossil fuel-burning vehicle.

And one final question: In this time of budget woes and economic shortfall, why is DOT insistent on spending more money on a project the citizens of Carrboro don’t really want, when they could spend less on a project they do want?

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen, who gave DOT the go-ahead to proceed with the most recent “improvement” plan by a cowed 6-1 vote (thanks to Joal Broun for her dissent), need to stiffen their collective political spine and let DOT know that this plan won’t cut it.

The aldermen and town staff need to stop worrying about giving DOT “heartburn” and instead worry about doing the right thing for the future of Carrboro. We’ve made it through decades without sidewalks on Smith Level. We can make it another one or two.

This is not a question of the perfect being the enemy of the good. The DOT plan isn’t perfect or good. It compromises the safety of Carrboro pedestrians. And that is unacceptable.

All concerned citizens should make their voices heard at the DOT workshop at Carrboro High School on Monday, November 5 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and to their elected representatives. I’ll be standing outside CHS during the workshop with a petition opposing the current plan and in support of a viable, common-sense alternative. Hope to see you there.

Tom High is a Carrboro Transportation Advisory Board member who lives on Ray Road. A petition about the Smith Level Road widening is online at www.ipetitions.com/petition/SmithLevelRdU-2803/

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