Friday, January 14, 2011

HOT proposal for Indy Blvd should spark some heat

Forget putting light rail transit down the middle of Independence Boulevard, and instead put bus rapid transit on high-occupancy-vehicle lanes already planned. Send a streetcar down Monroe Road. And convince the state to move its Regional Farmers Market to some of the vacant properties on Independence.

Yep, I think the recommendations this morning from a panel from the nonprofit Urban Land Institute will prompt some talk.

"My eyes lit up at the options," was the reaction from Carolyn Flowers, chief of the Charlotte Area Transit System. Even before the panel presentation had wound down, she was emailing to see if a presentation could be made to the Metropolitan Transit Commission, CATS' governing body, next month.

Her eyes lit up because the transit recommendation for Independence would, in essence, mean the state builds that Indy Boulevard transit line, and all cash-strapped CATS would have to find is money to buy buses and other equipment and to pay drivers. The ULI panel recommendation would even mean cost savings for the N.C. Department of Transportation for its long-planned Independence Boulevard widening project.

That's because the current plans to widen Indy Boulevard – a project for which there is at present no money in the state's five-year plan, but which is likely to get funded at some point later – call for a 52-foot center section to be reserved for a future CATS transit project – maybe light rail (LRT), maybe bus rapid transit (BRT); the MTC still has to decide. If you eliminate that 52-foot section but still build the planned HOT/HOV lanes, you could run BRT or express buses in the HOT lanes (and remember T=toll=revenue stream), and still need a narrower overall corridor, i.e. less money needed to buy right-of-way.

NCDOT secretary Gene Conti was part of the panel, so I'm assuming he'd have scotched recommendations that were thoroughly unworkable from NCDOT's point of view.

But .....

East Charlotte residents have spent years pushing for light rail transit, not bus, along Independence. They know LRT in general attracts more development than bus transit, because the rail means the route won't get switched, unlike a less permanent bus route. How will this new idea go over with them? Will the suggested addition of a streetcar along Monroe Road be enough of an inducement?

Several ULI panel members, from cities such as Houston, Denver and New York, all sang variations on this theme: Putting light rail along a limited-access, high-speed and high-volume highway like Independence won't attract much development. That's been a lesson from Denver's light rail, which runs next to a freeway, they said. "Nodes [neighborhood centers] on high-speed corridors do not work," said Carlton Brown, an economic development expert with Full Spectrum, a development firm in New York and Jackson, Miss.

So, they say, plan to put rail along the smaller commercial corridors where it does have a chance to attract transit-oriented redevelopment: Central Avenue and Monroe Road. Of course, no one had concrete proposals for how to find revenue to build even the Central Avenue streetcar, much less adding another. Their suggestions: Get creative. Build in phases. Find a benefactor, like Bill Gates helping the Seattle-to-Tacoma line. That led to a quip from an elected official in the audience – whom I'll not name, and so this person owes me one – about the "Leon and Sandra Levine Line." After all, the Family Dollar headquarters is right on Monroe ...

I was sitting next to East Charlotte activist Susan Lindsay. Her immediate reaction was that she wanted to know more before coming to a conclusion about whether to support or oppose the suggestions. But since the MTC lacks money for any transit of any form down Independence – or for any streetcars, any West Charlotte transit, or even enough money to extend the one light rail line past UNC Charlotte – a proposal that might allow rapid transit there in our lifetimes could just win some support.

Note: The ULI panel's recommendations are simply that – ideas from a group of experts from around the country. They don't supersede any existing plans or change any priorities.

Photo: Streetcar in Portland, Ore.


Anonymous said...

I'm still angry about how the HOV lane on Independence was converted to a bus-only lane without input from the voters. I carpool every day down Independence and could use that lane, but Nooooooo....not hopeful that they will ever listen to anyone about the East side anyway--they just do what they want to do, regardless.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea, mass transit is needed throughout charlotte.

Anonymous said...

I think it is an ok solution with 2 modifications.

1) The Streetcar extends no further than Eastway.

2) The very-far in the future Charlotte-Monroe commuter rail have several stops in Charlotte to provide suburban east Charlotte with rail options. Stops at Village Lake, Crown Point, Downtown Matthews (limited parking), and the Matthews CPCC/485 (major park and ride). The ROW acquisition for this route alone though I've heard is more than the construction costs of LRT on Indy.

Anonymous said...

i take Indy everyday and NEVER see a bus in the middle lane. why not open it to buses AND cars with two or more?

Anonymous said...

I'd be open to a lot of ideas, provided:

- We can get a good idea of where the development generated by various forms of transit is

- We can get these things put in place in a quick timeframe. I'm not talking 2030, but rather a 5 to 7 year kind of schedule.

- How does this solve the commute, especially for those of us in outer CLT and the suburbs that work uptown?

- How does the city/state/fed generate sufficient funds and who contributes what?

- How does somebody become an influencer to give CATS a kick in the butt to make something happen? Because sitting in traffic in front of a bunch of crappy buildings isn't really a good solution for anybody.

Anonymous said...

But if the East side get the farmers marlet near the new Super Wal-Mart.........I am for it!!
1. State pays for transit
2. Commerce from Farmers Market

WIN WIN..........Do it fo he EASR SIIyid

Anonymous said...

Timing and political will are everything:
1) MTC can finally re-visit the mode
2) Shared lanes provide CATS with a free guideway
3) Matthews can have a branded, branch bus service off Independence with express service into Uptown
4) East Charlotte businesses gain certainty against future widenings
5) NCDOT can speed up improvements out to 485
6) Turnpike Authority will already have Monroe Bypass customers feeding into Independence

Ed Garber said...

There was also an optional connector streetcar proposed on Sharon Amity between Central and Monroe. The Monroe streetcar would run from Elizabeth to Matthews.

Ed Garber said...

There is 170 million dollars approved and ready to fund phase 3 of widening on independence Blvd. from Sharon Amity to Conference Dr. ROW acquisition has been funded and is near completion.

Mary Newsom said...

Thanks for that clarification.

I'm writing too many things today (Saturday op-ed plus a Tuesday editorial) to do a lengthy explanation of all that was in the plan. Since you were there this morning (didn't I see you?) please don't be shy about adding any more details you think are of interest.

Anonymous said...

Build an elevated expressway of 6 lanes all the way from Uptown to I-485, and give the businesses access on both sides of the street so they can develop and create jobs and flow underneath the cross streets. The people need relief from this concrete barricade monster that kills and swallows up businesses and the tax base.

Anonymous said...

Not bad ideas at all actually. Whila at it, why not have the street car loop down Central to Eastway and up Monroe? This would be a boon for moth Elizabeth and Plaza Midwood.

Keep Independence a busway with an express route from eastland (or whatever name it takes) up Ablemarle to Independence? Dedicated busways are not a bad option, especially in this case on Independence.

Anonymous said...

I always tought an elevated highway above Independence was a great idea. It would definitely have saved a lot of business and many neighborhoods and solved the traffic problem, win-win for everyone. Unfortunalely, that was way to innovative thinking for this area.

Anonymous said...

I commented earlier on having the Steetcar go no further than Eastway.

I don't like hearing that proposal to go all the way to Matthews, because you are pushing an urban transit solution into a very suburban context. Maybe extending to Idlewild, but certainly no further. BRT on Indy coupled with the existing #27 bus, plus future commuter rail is ample transit for those who chose to live in a suburban environment.

I do like the Central to Monroe Rd via Sharon Amity link. Which could be extended to Cotswold and eventually South Park to be an effective cross-town line.

Ed Garber said...

Yes I was at the presentation today. I was a contributor in the discussions with the panel yesterday. The Monroe Rd. Streetcar recommendation was the most shocking recommendation. You are correct that many of the transit recommendations will stir up debate. No one left the room without some sense of surprise. Interestingly one of the landowners who was not able to attend has approached me on several occasions about starting a farmers market on their large property. Moving the state farmers market made sense to me. Much more traffic and convenience than the current location.

Anonymous said...

I take the commuter express bus now from the Matthews park and ride. It's not optimal so I'm curious about the earlier comments about 'pushing' and urban solution to the suburbs.

The bus still has to go through traffic so it actually takes longer than driving in by myself. So figuring out how to speed up that process would help. It also only runs at certain times in the morning and in the evening. What if I want to catch a game after work? What if I want to go to a restaurant uptown on the weekend? I don't have too many options. What if my daughter gets sick during the day and I have to leave work, how do I get back? While the 64 and 65X are options, they are limited.

Many of the folks in Matthews are faced with this problem. Additionally, where Matthews is today, in 20 years, will be 'the city' so planning and building infrastructure is important.

Anonymous said...

Elevated highway? Sounds expensive. Plus, businesses could still die, though then likely from visual impacts, instead of access.

Phil Kabza said...

I took the express bus from a stop along Monroe most mornings for two years. I reached uptown faster than I could drive, and traveled in comfort. It works very well.

Independence became a permanent wound in the east side when it was converted to high speed divided traffic. Development along Independence will have great difficulty overcoming its access problems and its isolation from the surrounding communities.

Development along Monroe and along Central Ave. on the other hand could have valuable impact on the communities integral with those streets. We don't need the heavy full scale redevelopment carried out in the wasteland of the former South End. That's been successful and attractive, but that kind of property is not available on the east side, except along inaccessible Independence.

So considering slower, less sexy, but effective mass transit along Monroe and Central may be a good thing for the residents of those areas in the coming age of $5.00 per gallon gasoline.

Charlottean said...

i just can't fathom the idea of why so many people want to live so far away from their jobs and civilization.

if you want a spacious lifestyle, great.....but all these people that drive up and down independence everyday are part of an economic problem in the united states revolving around oil dependency. it's insanely inefficient for all these people to spend 2-3 hours every day in the car so they can have a slightly bigger house where their values will never rise.

there's not another country in the world that practices the same kind of commuting via car. bus lanes might be the cheap quick fix but that doesn't solve the absolute problem. we need mass transit based on electricity and not oil. and we need more educated people.

Anonymous said...

Here's a tip: come up with the money first, then talk about ideas.
Reminds me of my neighbor growing up. He would walk around, non-stop, saying "when I grow up, I'm going to own a restaurant, then I will buy a few more. I'm gonna have a Rolls Royce when I grow up". As we grew older, into our 20's, mid 20's, 30's... he would still be saying "I have a big business idea, I'm going to buy some office buildings, put some retail in it, and hae a restaurant." He is almost 50 now. He is on disability (never really worked more than a few months at a time...he has over 12 cases right now where he is "suing" a former employee). He lives in a 400 square foot apt. in California...and he's still talking about owning businesses and restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte peaked around 2002 and is tanking fast. No more new investments can be afforded by its shrinking tax base.

wiley coyote said...

Mass transit = Mass money.

Reverse the equation.

Mass Money = Mass transit.

Find the Mass money, then you'll have mass transit.

Right now, we have neither.

Anonymous said...

"Here's a tip: come up with the money first, then talk about ideas."
This is the rhetoric of someone thinking on individual micro level terms who obviously has no experience in dealing in finance and civil engineering projects running in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Whether it's a business or civic infrastructure the only way to get the money is to have a plan and a strategy to get the the money. How do you get 300 million dollars from the feds. 150 million dollars from the state. 150 million from the local revenue? Locally you have to consider revenue sources like TIPS, property tax, sales tax, new taxes i.e. you have to KNOW what you want to build, before you know how much money you need to build it. Have to sell the project, and then you have to compete with other projects for the money.
I mean seriously, like I can walk into the city council and say i need 100 million dollars. Mayor says what's it for? and I say I don't know give me 100 million and I'll come up with something. As if that's really going to happen. As if the city can ask the feds for hundreds of millions of dollars with no reason why they need it. meanwhile other cities are applying for SPECIFIC grants with SPECIFIC criteria required to qualify. Seriously. you are more like your friend in California than you think...

Anonymous said...

Charlotte peaked around 2002. It can't afford goofy mass transit projects with its shrinking tax base.

Anonymous said...

The elevated highway idea is not a good one. I spent my life living in a city full of elevated highways, and no business wants to advertise "come on down! we're located in the shadows under the highway with the trucks rumbling above your head!"

In fact, most of the cities with elevated roadways have/are tearing them down (Boston, San Fran, Seattle, NYC).

Imagine this: high speed highway in the CENTER of the ROW, with streetcar running on the two edges - allowing hop-on-hop off access to business by streetcar.

Anonymous said...

In response to Charlottean:
I don't consider Matthews far away from civilization. I actually consider it civilization. I plan on moving there very soon. I currently live right along Independence just minutes from uptown.
I used to think the same way you did about the pointlessness of living far away from the center of the city and inefficiency of suburban life & traveling long distances to work. I agree home prices in the burbs don't increase quickly and auto-centric society is foolish.
Problem: the elementary school my kids will go to is 90% below the poverty line, we live in a neighborhood with 50% rental, home equity is just as flat as burbs, less square footage for the same price, crime is significantly higher here, we live next to a horrible section 8 unit. People in our neighborhood are not involved in the community improvement at all. Blown out rentals are all over and there is no retail nearby catering to middle class.
15 minutes down the road is Matthews and it's like another world. houses are slightly higher priced but affordable. good schools. middle class, involved community, no section 8 less multi family. My wife wont scream and complain about all of the slobby unmotivated neighbors that don't care about their houses or their kids. So i can come home from work and enjoy the silence and peacefullness of a cold beer
Costs me another $100 max if gas hits $5 and my commute is only 15 mins. more. I can take the bus and it's only $15 more than the local bus pass I have now. Guess where we are moving?

Anonymous said...

To the person that said Charlotte peaked around 2002 and is tanking fast. No more new investments can be afforded by its shrinking tax base.
- I have lived in Charlotte for 40 years. I have seen numerous highs and lows. history tells me this in not THE highest peak or the only peak. Investments have to be made in civil infrastructure regardless of if we are high or low or tax base is shrinking or growing. There has to be investment in the future regardless. Some of hose investments can bring a city back to boom years. This will not be the last boom in Charlotte. And to say a short term boom or a short term low is evidence that the city is tapped out is contrary to history and that isn't limited to Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

I would love for mass transit to go down sharon amity and go through cotswold.

Ed Garber said...

"I like the idea, mass transit is needed throughout Charlotte."
Some clarification should be made here. *This study did not introduce the idea of mass transit, nor is it the first or only plan for mass transit there.*
The city already planned BRT (bus)with a backup option of light rail on Independence. The city also has plans for streetcar on Central Ave.
This plan is simply a *different* plan from existing plans. It adds a streetcar on Monroe and possibly a connector streetcar on Sharon Amity between Central & Monroe
As a historical/political note: Most of the residents along Independence have been advocating for light rail over BRT on Independence. So this plan would eliminate the option of light rail.

This is more about the details of mass transit rather than if there should be mass transit.

Mark said...

I really need to study the presentation itself, but my own initial thoughts:

Wholeheartedly agree with the idea of BRT over LRT on Indy with the caveat that just running standard buses down Indy alone will not provide a solution.

The BRT be a true BRT with necessary BRT infrastructure which includes stations, off-bus fare collection, and articulated, perhaps bi-articulated, buses. (I would love to take it to shows at Ovens - I might even be interested in checking out a show at Bojangles or an event at the Merchandise Mart)

That also includes more standard operating hours beyond rush hour. There certainly could be limited stops after standard commuting hours.

Monroe, Central and Sharon Streetcars
These ideas seem more in-line with the idea of optimal streetcar usage beyond just a tourist attraction. I really could see this line (particularly if an extension were added to South Park) be a true workhorse line.

Commuter Line to Monroe
Another commenter mentioned that this is an ideal longer term solution, which I think is spot on.

It would work well in tandem with the BRT and Streetcar ideas. Granted this is a much more forward looking proposal but one that makes sense for the commuters in those areas with the BRT and Streetcar servicing non-commuter needs.

Farmer's Market
Yes, Please (as long as it is accessible (car and BRT) and not just placed there because there is an empty big box shopping center.

Elevated Highway
No, thank you. I realize this is a commenter's idea and not part of the presentation, and I understand their initial reasoning, but I am in full agreement with what another commenter's reaction: It's ugly, it's not business friendly (to the neighborhood's in which it resides) and one only has to view the costs of maintenance of an elevated structure versus non-elevated to see it's not worth it.

Now if we wanted to make a wish list of dream projects that have astronomical costs, I'm all in favor of Indy Tunnel road with a long massive urban park above...

oneofestelles said...

There's a lot of pedestrian traffic on Independence particularly around Idlewild and Conference. There are neighborhoods of apartment complexes and those residents need to be considered. As a driver on Independence each day it's a bit scary as people try to cross at sections other than the lights.

Whether it's light rail, bus rapid transit, elevated highway, pedestrians need to be accommodated. Unfortunately the widening by the state in this stretch is just going to make life more difficult and dangerous for those walkers.

And when talking about the East side, no one seems to talk about transit on Albemarle. With all of the traffic and how busy the intersection is at Harris and Albemarle, why not start a light rail line around Eastland that runs out to I-485 or beyond? Connect it to a street car or bus rapid transit. There's more to the East side than Independence and Monroe.

Anonymous said...

To the people who argue that an elevated highway over Independence would be ugly or an eyesore, uh sorry, but Independence is ugly anyway and when I'm driving to work or shopping at Walmart or Staples, I'm not exactly looking for the most beautiful place on earth at that time. I'll go to a park later for that. An elevated highway would at least let the Uptown to matthews travelers get back and forth efficiently while letting local car and foot traffic move about freely below to the businesses and neighborhoods. and for those concerned about the residential, amny of thos houses and apartments are a couple hundre yards away and buffered by trees and only hearing a some white noise. Heck the houses in Elizabeth and Chantilly back right up to the freeway now and don't seem negatively affected by the location (check zillow, ouch). If elevating is not an option how about service/frontage roadson the sides with more bridges, just like you see in Houston or Dallas? But hey, God forbid Charlotte actually act like LA or Houston or Dallas? That would mean having to address problems like a 'real' city instead of giving into local nitpicking sensibilities.

Anonymous said...

The idea that commercial high-speed corridors can not coexist with dense urban development and rail transit is a fallacy. Think of Buckhead in Atlanta. It is filled with beautiful high rises, high end shopping centers, hotels, and condos, yet, it is dissected by a freeway with a median running MARTA line. Such nodes could be part of the Independence corridor if the city would commit to Light Rail and proper land use planning around the stations. I think the city should pursue LRT for Independence , however running Light Rail (NOT STREETCAR) line somewhere in the vicinity of Monroe Rd. would not be bad either.

kickazzz2000 said...

I came on here to mention Texas-style freeways (with Frontage Rds.) but looks like Anonymous 10:33 beat me to it. Crapital Blvd. in Raleigh would benefit from this design as well. Yeah, its ugly and cluttered, but it's already ugly.

Anonymous said...

Tee'em up Mary. Mass transit-here come the blogtards!

By the way, where is Consultant? Anyway, I'll stand in for him, or her, or it.

Let's have more mass transit. And to borrow one of Consultant's lines, I hope they build it right through the most dense Republican/conservative districts.

Please, everyone, get to know your neighbors and I'll see you at the farmers market.

Indy Schmindy said...

What we really need is for Congress to approve another transportation fringe benefit - one that gives substantial tax breaks to businesses located in center city.

The law could apply to any American city with a population of 250,000 or more, and to center city businesses which subsidize the housing costs of employees who live within, say, a 4-mile radius of a their job.

Conversely, employees who could show they live within the pale of settlement could take pre-tax deductions - similar to how a flex-spending plan works - for the payment of their house and condo mortgages, or even for apartment rent.

That solves the problem of decaying center cities. That will attract more folks, especially younger ones, closer to the hub, discourage suburban “ranchers” from tearing down more forests and fields, and reduce the need to futilely pour millions into Ranch Roads like Independence Blvd.

While Congress is at it, repeal or greatly reduce the mortgage interest deduction. At minimum, allow only for primary residences. That will take care of the revenue problem someone hinted at above, get America out of this false housing-oriented economy, and get Charlotte-Mecklenburg officials thinking of a more suitable tax revenue source than real estate taxes on residential homes. (Senior Citizens will celebrate).

Federal tax law already allows employees to reduce their cost of using public transportation (bus, carpool, light rail) costs via a (1) a tax-free employer-paid subsidy, or (2) a pre-tax employee-paid payroll deduction, or (3) a combination of both methods.

The pre-tax option allows the employee to set aside up to $230 a month in pre-tax wages. The employee saves federal withholding and FICA payroll tax on the amount set aside. The employer saves paying their share of FICA taxes on the amount.

The existing law also allows employers to reimburse, with tax advantages for the employer, up to $20 a month to a person who uses a bicycle for a substantial portion of their route to work. The reimbursement can be for bike purchase, maintenance or storage.

We need less bad laws and more good ones.

Pathmaker said...

Congratulations to the posters responding to this blog for an intelligent and meaningful dialogue without the usual venom.

Mary Newsom said...

Pathmaker, thanks for noticing, and thanks to all the commenters who made such excellent points.

Note: I now monitor comments before they're posted, and I screen out those that are vicious, racist, insulting, or that I know to be nonfactual.

But almost everything sent in on this one got posted. So thanks again, to all.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I do think you allowed a couple of insulting comments to slip through--the poster who thinks Matthews is outside of civilization, and the poster who wants mass transit to run through the "most conservative, Republican districts". Funny, it does not appear to be suburbanites who are being insulting.
But you're right, most comments are very thoughtful.