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North Corridor Rail Demonstration Project Proposed

Maximize the Usefulness of Transit Corridors
Elsewhere in this newsletter we have taken a look at Pittsburgh and compared the ridership and general public acceptance of light rail with that of busways. We have noted that light rail has achieved a better rate of success in attracting and holding ridership.

Recently released figures show a 35 per cent increase in vehicle registrations in Mecklenburg County. This is even greater than the 29 percent increase in population. In the same ten year period the average commuting time also increased about 4 minutes.

We’re now in the process of selecting route structure and transit modes on four different transit corridors in the Charlotte area. Whatever is decided upon will pretty much cast in stone the transit system we will have for the next 75 to 100 years. If you doubt that, look to older systems such as New York and Chicago and you will see that their systems are fundamentally the same as laid out well over 100 years ago. Certainly there have been some changes and additions, but when the basic system was laid out it set the pattern for whatever was to follow.

We expect this will be no less true here in Charlotte. That is why it is so important that we do the right thing in the right place when building our transit corridors. First, let’s consider doing the right thing. We know that even after building these transit corridors, traffic congestion will not disappear. It will only lessen the overall increase in congestion, and just as important, give people a choice. However if we want to get the maximum benefit from these transit corridors we need to chose the transit mode that will draw the greatest number of people out of their cars and onto mass transit. We feel strongly that the mode of choice should be light rail. Some will say busways are cheaper to build. To that, we answer: What good does it do to save money building a system when the end result will fail to maximize ridership? Isn’t that the reason we are building it in the first place? Besides that, we are firmly convinced busways will actually end up costing more money because they cost more over the life of the system in operating and maintenance, wiping out any savings found in construction costs.

The second consideration we mentioned was building in the right place. Since these transit corridors are “fixed guideways” they obviously can’t be moved from place to place. This is true of both rail and busways. This is not true of ordinary bus lines on city streets, that can and are often moved. The fixed transit corridor therefore is rightly regarded as a big commitment to a neighborhood. In closer-in urban neighborhoods along these transit corridors we are planning station stops with little or no parking. Around these stations we plan transit oriented development (TOD). These neighborhoods will be denser and include both residential and retail within easy walking distance. Charlotte has become a leader in planning for these liveable neighborhoods. We need to chose them carefully.

Let’s not forget the reason we are building these transit corridors. It is not to save money on construction. It is to relieve as much congestion on our urban highways as possible, and to give people a transportation choice. Let’s not lose sight of our ultimate goal!

July, 2002