The story of greenways in Carrboro is a story of high hopes and missed opportunities.

Carrboro has been working to plan a connected network of greenways since at least the 1980s. This page will cover the long history of support for greenways in Carrboro—including the many town planning endeavors aimed at connecting all of Carrboro, from north to south, via a network of open space, greenways and parks. The history clearly shows public desire for uninterrupted biking and walking trails and off road access to natural areas, downtown, schools and other important destinations. 

In all of these plans, greenways, parks, and open space go hand in hand. Carrboro’s history of planning for greenways has long emphasized that intentionally designed multi-use paths are a means of managing low impact public access to environmentally sensitive areas in dense urban areas while simultaneously preserving natural space, preserving wildlife corridors and creating community spaces for people. In Carrboro, many such spaces remain unmanaged and increasingly well used by those on foot and on bicycles, which is contributing to environmental degradation.

The Bolin Creek Greenway and the Morgan Creek Greenways have been envisioned as the two main spines of a network that could be expanded to reach many corners of town. Planning for these two main linear park corridors began in earnest around the same time, in the late 2000's. For each of these trails, a conceptual master plan was created, with extensive community feedback and input. In 2009, Carrboro's first Bike Plan called for 19 miles of off-road trails, connecting existing and planned parks and destinations around town. However, despite years of broad community support for off-road rolling, walking and biking trails, Carrboro's greenway network remains unbuilt. 

1980: Neighborhood parks and greenway system plan

The first specific mention of greenways that we identified in Carrboro’s planning documents dates to the Neighborhood Parks and Greenway System Plan, published around 1980. This plan proposes a greenway along the Bolin Creek between Estes and Seawell School Road, for the dual purpose of “preserving natural ecological process” and “providing low-cost recreation areas."

The NSA's proposed greenway network map.

1998: Northern study area plan

In 1998, the Northern Study Area Plan contained lengthy discussion of trail and greenway connectivity, with access to several parks from a town-wide network centered around the idea of a Bolin Creek Greenway. Under the heading “Completing the Loop," the document lays out a connected system of multi-use paths that extend north of Eubanks Rd to the Northern Community Park to the southern tip of Carrboro, emphasizing the importance of publicly accessible, interconnected open space, trails and parks. Special attention is paid to ensuring wheelchair accessibility on the future trails. This plan also called on developers to dedicate land for expanding the greenway network as the town developed and specified that a portion of all development would be designated as connected “open space."

2000: Carrboro vision 2020

In 2000, the Town of Carrboro adopted Carrboro Vision 2020. Carrboro Vision again promotes colocation of greenways and parkland along streams and existing public easements, stating:

“The town should encourage and support the development of greenways and parklands dedicated to public use along streams and easements. There should be a network of connected greenways throughout the town. These greenways should serve as nature trails, biking and walking trails, wildlife corridors. All should protect our natural environment.” 

The document envisioned a Carrboro future where downtown is car-free, and a person could walk from Southern Village to a mixed use development, neighborhood center north of Calvander, or ride a bike on an off-road path from Carrboro to Durham. 

2003: Greenway bond referendum

In November 2003, Carrboro voters showed strong support of greenways when they approved a $4.6 million bond referendum by popular vote. The bond passed “by a margin of 1803 votes for and 782 votes against. 69.75% for, 30.25% against” (Orange County Board of Elections). 

The bond funds were explicitly for sidewalks and greenways, specifically for the Bolin Creek and Morgan Creek Greenways. A flier distributed by the Town of Carrboro discussed the two planned greenways, stating that the trails “would also be a part of an interconnected system of greenway trails planned for Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Orange County.”

In its endorsement of the bond referendum, the Independent Weekly asserted that the greenway bond would be "crucial to quality of life as Chapel Hill and Carrboro continue to grow."

2006: Recreation and Parks master plan

The current Recreation and Parks Master Plan was adopted in 2006. This plan includes the most comprehensive vision for a network of Carrboro greenways and a detailed articulation of greenways' importance as a public space:

"Additionally, a greenway can be an amenity in urban areas that fosters the kind of community spirit, activism and bonding between local citizens that is presently being lost as metropolitan areas grow larger and larger. For municipalities, it can be a land use planning tool that helps to reduce the impact of flood damage by providing an alternative type of development within the floodplain, an economic asset that increases the real estate value of adjacent properties, thereby increasing municipal tax revenues. Or quite simply, a greenway can be a quiet place from which to draw strength."

The map below was included in the R&P Master Plan, showing an even more fleshed out network of linear parks connecting major civic destinations around Carrboro. Off-road paths loop across Old 86 and back on the northern end of town and extend from Smith Level Road along the edge of University Lake connecting back to Jones Ferry Road in the south.

The greenway map included in the 2006 R&P Master Plan.

The 2009 Bicycle Plan's recommended network.

2009: Carrboro bicycle plan

The 2009 Carrboro Bicycle Plan again articulated a vision for greenway connectivity, imagining a network that would allow someone to travel from one end of the town to the other on a combination of on- and off-road infrastructure. The plan recommended a total of 19 miles of greenway trails. 

2009: Bolin Creek Conceptual Greenway plan

The Bolin Creek Greenway Plan was adopted in 2009. This plan served as a decision-making process tool intended to bring everyone to the table on the question of greenways in Carrboro. The Town of Carrboro strategically fostered participation in this process, in a bid to create support for the project and to ensure the creation of a plan that is a product of group decision-making. 

When the town resolved to fund the development of the plan for a greenway along Bolin Creek, staff reported the following information to the Board of Aldermen:

2010: Morgan Creek Conceptual Greenway Plan

Planning for the Morgan Creek Greenway, which will run along the Morgan Creek between University Lake and Smith Level Road in Carrboro, ultimately connecting with the Morgan Creek Trail in Chapel Hill, paralleled the planning for the Bolin Creek Greenway during the late 2000's. A final feasibility plan for the trail was adopted in 2010, and the Town is currently moving forward in planning this linear park which will provide east-to-west connectivity in the southern end of Carrboro. 

Advisory board "restriction" on discussion

Sometime between the adoption of the Bolin Creek Conceptual Master Plan and now, a "restriction" was placed on advisory board members, preventing them from speaking about the "north-south" greenway corridor. This restriction was also placed on the 2019 bicycle plan steering committee (allegedly). 

So, after decades of planning, greenways in northern Carrboro remain stalled.

2015: Climate action plan

In its initial drafting, the 2015 Climate Action Plan contained the following recommendation:

"Transportation Recommendation #2 Improved Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure - Significant federal and state funding exists to support greenways development. Local matching funds to access the federal/state funds for later phases of both the Bolin and Morgan Creek Greenways have not been identified. Local fundraising has been successful in may areas and provides an opportunity to unite the whole community for a good cause. To go after funds, the Town of Carrboro needs to approve a route and alignment for phases 3 and 4 of the Bolin Creek greenway." At the 11th hour, this recommendation was struck from the plan. Despite the needs articulated in the recommendation, it does not appear in the final draft of the Climate Action Plan.

2019 survey on increasing bicycle usage shows that greenway access is crucial!

2019: Updated Carrboro Bicycle plan

In its effort to update the 2009 Carrboro Bicycle Plan (described above), town staff conducted a survey, asking nearly 500 community members what factors would encourage them to bike more. 71.3% of individuals surveyed indicated that "trail or greenway access" would encourage them to bike more, second only to "bike lanes." However, the 19 miles of greenway trail recommended in the 2009 Bicycle Plan were reduced to only 3.1 miles in the updated Bicycle Plan. 

2021: Town of carrboro community survey

Survey data collected in 2021 showed that the rate of residents who were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with various town transportation services was: ease of walking in Carrboro (82%), ease of driving in Carrboro (76%), adequacy of street lighting (70%), and availability of greenways/multi-use paths (67%).

Based on the sum of their top two choices, the transportation services that residents thought were most important were: 1) ease of walking in Carrboro, 2) availability of greenways/multi-use paths, and 3) ease of driving in Carrboro.

2022: Carrboro Connects

In the recently-passed 20-year Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan, the Town of Carrboro highlighted greenways as a key town priority. Discussion of linear parks appears in the Transportation, Green Infrastructure and Stormwater, and Recreation and Parks sections, often in relation to the Town's Climate Action and Equity goals—an indication of the wide benefits of greenways.


Green Infrastructure and Stormwater:

Recreation and Parks:

The Recreation and Parks section articulates the centrality of greenways to the town goals stated in the Carrboro Connects comprehensive plan:

“Throughout the Carrboro Connects engagement process, there was a common vision for a comprehensive greenway system with connected paths and greenways to facilitate car-free access to parks and natural areas in the Carrboro area. Greenways serving a connectors achieves multiple goals of this plan and reserving land for such connections should be considered in land use planning processes.”

When the Town has met its goals with respect to greenways, Carrboro Connects states, "All people in Carrboro, of all races and backgrounds, will have safe and equitable access to recreational and cultural opportunities, including a connected network of parks, green space, and trails."

What will it take to get us there?

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