Archive for April, 2017

Downtown to downtown, depending on route, it is 12-14 miles from Chapel Hill to Durham.

Our local governments are in the final stages of deciding whether to spend about two BILLION dollars building a light rail line that would connect Chapel Hill and Durham, especially UNC Hospital and Duke Hospital.   But these same local governments, with massive non-assistance from the state government, have failed to succeed in building a safe way to BICYCLE from Chapel Hill to Durham.   I know this because I bicycle to Durham regularly, despite its dangers.

Now I can say definitively that there is also no safe or pleasant way to WALK to Durham.  I sort of knew this already.  Why not spend the money to build greenway, or a bike path on some relatively direct route  from Chapel Hill to Durham?

Both my regular bicycles are currently being worked on.   I live on the Carrboro/Chapel Hill border.  Some compulsion yesterday morning led me to walk out of my home, walk east down Franklin Street (in the direction of Durham),  and just keep walking.


I walked across Franklin Street next to where the huge town-supported apartment buildings are nearing completion.



Three quarters of a mile down Franklin Street I passed McCorkle Place, where the University of North Carolina campus runs up to Franklin Street.


There is a sidewalk on both sides of Franklin Street has it winds through a leafy neighborhood before suddenly heading steeply downhill, off the “hill” Chapel Hill was originally built on.


At the bottom of the hill, after about a mile of commercial strip centers, I walked away from Franklin Street through Eastgate shopping center before crossing the highway bypass called Fordham Boulevard.   It is a tricky pedestrian crosswalk.


I walked through another shopping center before heading east down Legion Road, a street that has a sidewalk only part of the way.   After about a mile Legion Road dead-ends next to Old Chapel Hill Road.

I needed to walk several miles down that road to get to Durham.   While some subdivision streets run into Old Chapel Hill Road, these streets are all dead-end and not interconnected.   Old Chapel Hill Road does have a sidewalk on the portion of it that runs behind a series of car dealerships.

There is a nice path to walk on where Old Chapel Hill Road runs behind the reflecting modernist Blue Cross/Blue Shield building.


After the Blue Cross building the sidewalk just ends.


For the next mile or two I had to walk on the highway facing traffic, but step off into the grass whenever a car came, which was about a third of the time spent walking.  Old Chapel Hill Road crosses over I-40.  This was the view looking back.


Somewhere along this stretch is the border between Chapel Hill and the City of Durham.   Although it did not yet feel like much of a city, at least I felt I was making progress.   Near Githens Middle School the sidewalk started up again, but then the sidewalk stopped.   After crossing Garrett Road, Old Chapel Hill Road turns into University Drive.

While it is an uncomfortably wide road, it least now it has a sidewalk.    I had walked about two-thirds the way from downtown to downtown.   With about a third of the journey still to go there would be a sidewalk most of the remaining walk.

About a mile later I cut off University Drive and walked through the huge parking of Target Superstore, so I could sit and drink a decaf latte with lots of sugar (and read The New Yorker) at the Starbucks located inside the store.

Refreshed, I walk out of Target and walked along the sidewalk of the strip mall, past Sam’s Club.


Crossing through the lot of Durham Volkswagen, I inspected lots of new model cars.   I then walked facing traffic along the feeder road along 15-501.   It was a more pleasant walk than it looks, in that there is almost no traffic on this road.  Note the obliterated remains of a car dealership on the right of the photograph.


I made a hard left on Academy Drive that crossed the 15-501 highway, then a right on Pickett Road, then a left on Chapel Hill Road.    Once on Chapel Hill Road it was a continuous sidewalk lined by pleasant 1920’s houses.    The sidewalk is only on one side; I had to walk across the street to take this picture.


I took a right down Lakewood Avenue.


I was getting close.  I could soon see the tall buildings of downtown off in the distance.  Eventually I just walked up to downtown.


I had just passed where the Durham Bulls play.


Downtown Durham is booming.    Starting about ten years ago lots of people decided they wanted to live downtown but there were very few apartments available.    Apartments are now being built right and left.    Downtown Durham now has five or six hotels, three of which are aggressively trying to look trendy.  (Desk clerks dressed in black, modern art museum in the lobby, mid-century modern decor right out of Mad Men.)

I really like this building.   It is some kind of Masonic Lodge.  I hope nobody tears it down.


It was almost 3:00 PM when I finally sat down at Bull City Brew and Burger, for what else, a cheeseburger and a stout.

I took the bus back to Chapel Hill, after walking around awhile looking for the stop.


Walking along Chapel Hill Road on the west side of Durham, I had never noticed the quantity and quality of 1920’s looking bungalow houses in this area.  They must have all been built about the same time.  They are generally big houses with enormous deep front porches.   This part of town does not seem yet completely yuppified.














Northeastern North Carolina, inland from the beach was the first part of North Carolina settled by Europeans.   It is also the poorest, most rural, and most heavily African American part of the state.  I had the bicycle in the trunk as I parked the car at about noon on a Saturday in the town of Windsor, population 3,600.




Windsor’s biggest industry now is probably this prison.



I biked the next five hours through almost entirely rural countryside.    The land is absolutely flat, interspersed with inland estuaries.  There were pine tree farms.


Near here, in the direction of Virginia Beach, is the site of the infamous mercenary training base operated by Blackwater Worldwide that had a huge presence with the U.S. military in Iraq.    It is named after the nearby Blackwater River.  This was not that same river but the water is about the same color.


This area has apparently has been depopulating for many years.   I passed scores of historic homes that were fixed up just enough to keep from falling down.  In many cases it looks like the residents abandon old houses and move to an adjacent double-wide.







I crossed the Chowan River, which is really an estuary of the Albermarle Sound, on a five mile bridge on North Carolina Route 32.   On a bicycle, when you were in the middle you felt like you were out in the ocean.


Edenton has a current population about 5,000.  At least on one website makes the claim “the prettiest town in the South.”  It is indeed a pretty town, but isolated 150 miles northeast of Raleigh and 75 miles southwest of Norfolk.    It was originally an ocean port in the eighteenth century, sitting on the open calm waters of Albermarle Sound.   I think it is slowly being rediscovered by retirees from somewhere else.




I do enjoy the minor thrill of biking into a town without having planned exactly where I am going to sleep that night.   I found this motel near downtown.  When I walked in to ask about a room, the expected Indian owner was sitting at a table, eating McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets with an overweight non-Indian looking woman.

The price of sixty-three dollars including tax was a good deal and the room was fine.


Dinner that night was at the 309 Bistro downtown.    It was a conservative looking crowd.


I ate lamb chops sitting at the bar.   Partway through the meal these two guys I imagine as Log Cabin Republicans came to the bar for their takeout order.


The next morning while watching CBS Sunday Morning I tried to eat an Egg McMuffin.   It was just so bad that I could just not finish it.  I really have become a food snob.


The bike ride back was peaceful on a Sunday morning.  To get across the Chowan River again I took a different bridge, this time US 17.   It was likely was illegal for bicycles but I took it anyway.    After the bridge I got back on small roads.   Like the day before I saw lots of abandoned farms.    It reminded me again of what V.S. Naipaul had written about Eastern North Carolina:

It was a landscape of small ruins. Houses and farmhouses and tobacco barns had simply been abandoned.   The decay of each was individual, and they were all beautiful in the afternoon light.