Category Archives: transportation

Statement on the Discontinuation of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project

Today is #TransitThursday. Today, my usual commute from Carrboro to Durham on the GoTriangle 405 bus comes a day after the discontinuation of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project. I have thoughts.

Even without the DOLRT Project, the challenge of the Durham-Orange transportation corridor that it was designed to address remains. It is one of the most intensively traveled commuter corridors in North Carolina; it will only become more challenging.

As Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said yesterday, before we look ahead, we must acknowledge the enormity of this setback for the people of Durham and Orange Counties. Planning to address the Durham-Orange corridor took many years. Planning another meaningful transit solution in the corridor will take many years more.

The DOLRT Project faced challenges from the start. Reactionaries in the North Carolina General Assembly set absurd funding limits and arbitrary deadlines to undermine years of planning that had broad community support. We persisted. The path ahead for the DOLRT Project narrowed considerably after Duke University withdrew from planning discussions, a devastating decision that showed little care for the people of Durham, as my colleague Commissioner Jennifer Weaver has said.

Thanks to the many community members who invested time and energy in a vision and a plan to transform the public transit network of the western Triangle. Thanks to the professional staff of GoTriangle and the staffs of local and regional governments and planning organizations who brought amazing technical expertise, planning chops, and passion to implementing our communities’ priorities. Thanks to the committed, visionary leaders of Durham and Orange Counties who stood up for our communities, backed up by Governor Roy Cooper, Secretary of Transportation Jim Trogdon, Congressman G. K. Butterfield, and Congressman David Price, among others.

We’re up to the new challenge. It will take renewed commitment to the community’s vision, expressed over and over again, of a truly regional transit network. And it will require a General Assembly that is responsive to democratically determined local needs.

Want to be part of the action? Watch for new opportunities to participate in amending the Orange and Durham transit plans. Completing the important local projects in those plans, and finding new approaches to regional cooperation, is where you’ll be needed.

Damon Seils is alderman and mayor pro tempore of the Town of Carrboro and chair of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization Board.

Good News for Carrboro’s Amblers and Pedalers

Late-breaking news from the North Carolina Department of Transportation at this morning’s meeting of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization: With the completion of the latest statewide prioritization of transportation projects, NCDOT programmed funds for three important pedestrian and bicycle projects in Carrboro.

1. A sidewalk on the north side of Jones Ferry Road from Davie Road to Main Street. This project will complete a large gap in a heavily used portion of Carrboro’s sidewalk network in the most densely populated part of town.

2. A sidewalk on Barnes Street between Jones Ferry Road and King Street. This project will connect residential areas in and around the Lincoln Park and Whispering Hills neighborhoods to the major pedestrian corridor on Jones Ferry Road.

3. And now for the big one: Sidewalks and bike lanes on Estes Drive between N Greensboro Street and the town limit (and continuing to Martin Luther King Jr Blvd in Chapel Hill). This project promises to improve one of Carrboro’s biggest problem areas for pedestrians and cyclists. It will take time for the project to move through public comment, design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction, but we’re finally on the list.

While those of us on the policy-making board of the MPO have the fun of making decisions about which projects to submit for funding, the real work is done by professional staff on the technical committee. This committee includes staff from the Carrboro Planning Department, who worked hard this year (as they do every year) to identify projects that meet our community’s needs and have a strong likelihood of receiving funding. I’d say they’ve had a good year.

Comments on House Bill 232 Study Report

Today I submitted the comments below to the North Carolina Department of Transportation regarding the H 232 Bicycle Safety Laws Study Report. This report makes recommendations to state legislators for changes to state laws on bicycle safety.

Most of the recommendations are sensible and will promote the safety of cyclists, which is the stated purpose of House Bill 232, the legislation that called for the report. A few of the recommendations, however, would lead to the opposite of cyclist safety.

Read more about the legislation and the study report at More resources are available from BikeWalk NC.

Tour of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Corridor

Today I took a tour of the Durham-Orange light rail transit (LRT) corridor, courtesy of Triangle Transit staff. We started at Triangle Transit headquarters in RTP, picked up a helpful if bulky set of maps and other materials, and made our way to the proposed western terminus of the LRT project in Chapel Hill. I used the event as an opportunity to live-tweet the tour for local politics blog OrangePolitics (where this entry is cross-posted).

Below is an archive of my tweets from today’s tour.

Do you have questions about the Durham-Orange LRT project? The next couple of public meetings will take place on June 4 (4:00-7:00 pm, Durham Station) and June 6 (2:00-5:00 pm, John Avery Boys & Girls Club). Attend a forum and/or find more information at

Another Year of Improvements to Chapel Hill Transit

In my previous post, I mentioned that I would be advocating for an increase in the town’s contribution to Chapel Hill Transit. On June 17, the Board of Aldermen included this increase in the budget for the new fiscal year. Together with contributions from the Town of Chapel Hill and the university—and with our second annual allocation of funds from the Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan—Chapel Hill Transit will be able to purchase 6 much-needed replacement buses and address critical personnel shortages.

Funds from the transit plan will also bring a second round of improvements in bus service. In Carrboro, these improvements will include new trips on the D and J routes. Other improvements will include new trips on the A, NS, Saturday D, and Saturday FG routes. The EZ Rider service for persons with disabilities will operate 7 days a week. All new trips will begin during the week of August 17.

With the beginning of the new academic year at UNC, keep a look out also for the return of the Safe Ride service, including the Safe Ride J route, which provides late-night rides on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro to neighborhoods along Smith Level Road, BPW Club Road, and Rock Haven Road.

Our joint contribution to Chapel Hill Transit with our friends in Chapel Hill and at UNC is one of the most important investments we make in our community. Learn more at, and let us know how the system is working for you. Happy riding!

A Visit With Senator Hagan

Interesting meeting between Senator Kay Hagan and several Orange County elected officials today. Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer made a passionate statement about Hagan’s vote against the DREAM Act. Hillsborough commissioner Jennifer Weaver spoke about the urgency of climate change and pleaded with Senator Hagan to reconsider her support of Keystone XL and other impending disasters.

I spoke on the following 3 issues:

  • Carrboro has a higher percentage of residents who commute by public transportation than any other community in North Carolina. (Side note: We also have the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the state.) However, federal and state funding for transit projects is becoming more difficult to access. I spoke about the importance of increasing the ready availability of these funds (which used to be available through earmarks) and the need for transportation legislation with an authorization period longer than 2 years to enable more effective planning for large transit infrastructure projects. 
  • I thanked Senator Hagan for supporting marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and for opposing Amendment 1. I asked her to consider cosponsoring Senate Bill 1790, the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, which was introduced by Senator Coons in December. Nearly 40,000 North Carolinians are living with HIV/AIDS. North Carolina is one of more than 30 states where the health code stigmatizes and criminalizes behaviors of people with HIV/AIDS. The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act calls for interagency review of these discriminatory federal and state laws and regulations. (I also gave a shout-out to the NC AIDS Action Network.) 
  • Finally, I asked Senator Hagan to reconsider her opposition to providing a conditional path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth. More than 1 in 5 Carrboro residents were born outside the United States. These are largely Latino and Asian immigrants, many of them children, many of them undocumented. The defeat of the DREAM Act in 2010, due largely to a handful of Senate Democrats breaking ranks (like Senator Hagan), was a real heartbreaker for more than 50,000 young North Carolinians for whom the legislation would have offered an opportunity to become citizens of the state and country where they grew up.

Main Street and the Carrboro Music Festival

Viva la Venus

Viva la Venus at the 2012 Carrboro Music Festival. (Photo: Damon Seils)

Update below.

The 2013 Carrboro Music Festival is coming up at the end of September. If you’ve attended the music festival in previous years, you probably remember the tangle of cars, cyclists, and pedestrians that formed as people made their way through downtown during the peak hours of the event.

This year, what if we turn the music festival into another “open streets” event? Below is a message I sent to my fellow board members today.

Hi, everyone.

I want to make a proposal regarding the Carrboro Music Festival.

During last year’s music festival, E Main Street was clogged with cars—and full of people trying to make their way around cars. Traffic was bumper to bumper for a substantial period that afternoon.

I propose that we seek approval from NCDOT to close E Main Street to vehicular traffic between Greensboro and Rosemary Streets during this year’s music festival (on Sunday only). This closing would be in addition to the closing of E Weaver Street.

Jeff Brubaker [the town’s transportation planner] reminded me that the idea would need to start with staff-level conversations. So, I would like to ask that conversations begin among staff to determine whether the closing would be feasible. The board would need to hear from staff soon to allow for a conversation with NCDOT and to allow sufficient time for planning.

Drivers attending the music festival would be able to park in the new parking deck (I assume), the other public parking lots downtown, and the park-and-ride lots. As in previous years, drivers not attending the music festival will be able to avoid downtown via Merritt Mill Road, Highway 54, Estes Drive Extension, etc.

Other areas in and near downtown would remain accessible. The Lloyd-Broad neighborhood would be accessible via Sunset Drive. Businesses on the 100 block of E Main Street would be accessible via Greensboro and Roberson Streets. Roberson Place and Maple Avenue would be accessible via Carr Street. Carr Mill plus the residences and businesses on the west side of downtown would be available via Greensboro Street, W Main Street, W Weaver Street, etc.

Closing this part of Main Street would make the music festival even more enjoyable for attendees. Also, considering how traffic flow through downtown was impaired last year, I believe this closing would not create much more inconvenience for drivers. If it’s too late for us to achieve it this year, perhaps we can consider it for next year.

Please share your thoughts.



Update: September 27, 2013

Town staff and volunteers will collect information during this weekend’s music festival about shuttle ridership, parking, and vehicular traffic.

You all have provided important feedback about the idea of closing E Main Street during some or all of next year’s festival. Issues include early conversations with NCDOT, early notification of business owners and managers (including finding ways for them to take advantage of the opportunities presented by having a downtown pedestrian mall), access for persons with impaired mobility, access for musicians, access for the Chapel Hill Transit shuttle, Fire-Rescue and Police protocols, and costs.

This information will important for us to have in planning next year’s event.

From the Archives: Perspectives on Planning, Transportation, and More

Last week, a friend asked me on Facebook to share my thoughts about housing, planning, and transportation issues in Carrboro, especially in light of Chapel Hill’s recent experience with the Chapel Hill 2020 process. Largely because of my time on the Carrboro Planning Board, several of my priorities and interests in the campaign relate to planning and transportation.

I recommended to my friend that he read a statement I coauthored last year, “Progressive Perspectives on Chapel Hill 2020.” Although the statement is primarily a reflection on issues facing our neighbors to the east, many of the values it expresses are also important for us in Carrboro. Read the full statement here.

And remember to vote in the special election on March 19!