Charlotte Transit - Commuter Train or Light Rail Line?

With the success of the Lynx Blue Line, transit is all the rage in and around Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Nothing new, though, they're still either raging for it or against it. If you move beyond the noise-makers you find the Charlotte Area Transit System(CATS) faced with the same problem most other government agencies face - limited resources available to meet a growing demand.

Observer reporter, Steve Harrison, has done an excellent job of outlining the problems faced by CATS, especially for those of us on the outside.

The next proposed light rail line in Charlotte will connect the University area to downtown Charlotte, the commuter line will haul residents of bedroom communities near Lake Norman into the city to work and the proposed streetcar will connect designated business corridors and will bring much needed economic development to underserved areas of the city. All three are important projects, but CATS and the city of Charlotte do not have the money to complete any of the three.

As a former resident of the University area I can speak in support of that proposed light rail line. It would connect two important business and tourist areas. Downtown Charlotte is obviously an important business center, but it also houses the city's most important cultural area with museums, theaters, historic homes, restaurants, professional sports and the new NASCAR Hall of Fame. The University area is home to UNCC, Concord Mills Mall, Lowes Motor Speedway, University Research Park and a large number of hotels. This area is also home to a large number of commuters.

The commuter rail line will connect people who have chosen to live outside of Charlotte with their jobs in Charlotte. Hundreds of millions have been spent widening I-77 and Highway 16 to better serve these areas of Mecklenburg and Lincoln Counties. A commuter rail line would ease traffic, improve air quality and save wear and tear on the roads and highways we've already spent so much money to build and service. I have no problem with this line, but I do have a bit of a problem with requiring Charlotte to prioritize this project over the funding of the other two projects that will serve Charlotte and will also help improve air quality, ease traffic and save wear and tear on our already stressed roads.

I would not want to have to make this decision. What are your thoughts? Sometimes it is easier for folks who are removed from the issue to cut through to the heart of it. What do you think Charlotte should do?

Comments

Without looking at specific plans,

I would say the commuter line should get priority, since that area/demographic has yet to be served by public transit. Unless I'm mistaken (and I could be), CATS has solid bus routes both downtown and between the University area and downtown. The commuter line should (theoretically) cut the number of cars entering the city, and also boost ridership of the intra-city buses.

Just my 2c.

I think my point about that particular line

is that it serves communities outside of Charlotte and even other counties, while the brunt of the cost is carried by Charlotte and it doesn't serve to increase economic development in Charlotte as much as it does the areas outside of Charlotte. If the city concentrates on those lines that promote economic development within the city, theoretically that would mean the money would be more easily found/raised/granted for the lines that serve areas outside Charlotte.

I'm being selfish here. I know it. I live in one of those counties and I hear folks up this way blame their traffic on Charlotte and Mecklenburg County instead of accepting the fact that they chose to live outside of those areas and now expect someone else to pay to ease their commute.



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What does it cost

people to ride the rail lines? Are those in existence well used?

I enjoyed using the trains in England so much. I know the light rail lines are different but there is something so freeing about being able to get anywhere you want on clean, fast, reliable public transportation.

Lots of options

I live along the North Line and I'm a big supporter of mass transit, so obviously I'd like to have it, but it makes a lot of sense to build the North Line now. It's the least costly, the most shovel-ready, and has a lot of potential for connections with other parts of the CATS system (the new sprinter service to the airport, for example). The half-cent transit tax affects all of Mecklenburg County, so the argument that we should only build in Charlotte doesn't strike me as being meritorious.

Nevertheless, I think that elected officials and representatives are slowly realizing that rigid municipal boundaries don't tell the entire story. If more workers can get to Charlotte faster without taking up lanes on the highway, that's a good thing for Charlotte. With the new CMS boundaries, there are more Charlotte students than ever going to North Mecklenburg HS and Alexander Middle in Huntersville - they need a way to get home from band practice. With the impending NCDOT funding crisis, a project that can quickly alleviate strain on a growing, high-use portion of our transit system is a good thing for North Carolina.

I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero—that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. - Bill Hicks

My 2c on transit

Commuter train would be a mostly rush-hour service. A main benefit is reduced congestion and reduced commute times at peak travel times. A similar service could be provided with express bus in a dedicated lane or corridor until demand for commuter rail was demonstrated and overwhelming.

When people get to the city they still need to get around, especially if they come by transit. A streetcar circulator amplifies the benefits of existing transit by providing cross-connections.

The University light rail line is no doubt important also.

All of these needs could be addressed in the near future to varying degrees with rubber tire transit. Long term, dedicated corridors and rail based systems are cheaper to operate especially as ridership increases. Buses wear out and require one driver per unit. With rail systems you add another unit.

My inclination would be to focus on the circulator. It will add to and improve existing service. Dealing with thorny right-of-way issues will never get easier than they are now.

Demand for the University line and commuter rail will still be there and public support will be even greater in the future. Demand for commuter rail might even be met by a third party.

Not being a big traveler by air, I can't claim much expertise...

in transportation. But a couple years ago, I flew to San Francisco, and to get to the car rental places which were a few miles from the heart of the airport, I rode their tram, or monorail out to the location. I was really impressed with the setup, all controlled with computer technology, and no manpower. It made about six stops at different points, and did them flawlessly, and did quite well with the speed, and some fairly sharp turns. And I do remember many places talking about their use for commuting, but I think the money wasn't there at the time. But the main point is that most big cities have existing highways, which would allow easy right of way for the pillars required to suspend the rail. Maybe there are some limitations, like not being able to handle large volumes of people, or not being fast enough. But it could be a consideration.

The area has a good

The area has a good opportunity to develop a rail transport network and it's important that Mecklenburg and its contiguous counties are planned as a region. That isn't being done and meanwhile the growth of the overall region is ignored by provincial interests with a limited view of their own community's needs. I seldom hear about rail tie-in plans for the Concord-Kannapolis area or Gastonia, Monroe and Albemarle, which are all communities that will continue to experience a high percentage of growth due to their comparatively lower housing costs and taxes.
It makes sense to continue to improve connectivity in Charlotte metro but I think there needs to be more county cooperation for funding and plans to establish lines to connect all the population areas in contiguous counties. I'd like to see an inter-regional commission of representatives from each of the counties established to develop more sensible plans that can eventually serve everyone. I don't think people mind who gets tied in first as long as there's a promise that everyone will eventually be tied in. The priorities of tie-in should probably be based on existing commuter traffic flows, but other considerations need to be taken in to account. And it isn't fair that Charlotte should bear the brunt of the costs for a pan-rail system that could eventually benefit the entire region.

I like the idea of Charlotte

getting more and better connected to the rest of North Carolina. It's a win-win situation ... and it is a big job for the next governor.