Value of Transit is More Than Just Transit

As a native Charlottean and proud alumnus of UNC Charlotte, I’m excited to finally see the Blue Line Extension (BLE) from Uptown Charlotte to UNC Charlotte’s main campus open today. I hope this will help shift the mindset of Charlotte being an automobile-dependent city to a transit-dependent city.

blue-line-extension-map

Source: CATS, City of Charlotte

I wish I could write that I’m as excited to see the success of transit-oriented development (TOD) within walking distance of the BLE stations. While I realize development changes are often long-term, these changes are influenced by past and current planning and zoning decisions. My friend and mentor, Martin Zimmerman, researched how Charlotte has the zoning enforcement tools available to get the best value out of its $1.2-billion-dollar BLE investment.

Insiders know that zoning enforcement tools have been available for at least 14 years to assure orderly growth on transit corridors. It’s just that those granted the public trust lack the gumption to use the tools and say “no” to landowners who could care less about building to transit-friendly standards.

For readers that aren’t transportation or land use planners, I want to make sure you understand what I mean by “value”. While most of the Charlotte mainstream media’s focus on the new BLE has been on the light rail trains and stations, the BLE’s value extends far beyond this. The BLE is also impacting the surrounding land use and people’s travel behavior. As Martin’s op-ed shows, much of this is currently automobile dependent. Automobile-dependent land uses and travel behavior have many costly negative externalities. Through promoting TOD land use and encouraging active travel behaviors like walking, biking, and riding transit, Charlotte can get the best value out of its $1.2-billion-dollar BLE investment. Since I’m a visual learner, I tried to find a visual to explain this. I hope the below visual helps you. Do you understand what I mean by “value”?

Since this post was focused on Charlotte, I want to clarify that many cities throughout the US have the same issues with getting the best value out of their capital transit investments.

TOD education

Source: @adifalla

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2 thoughts on “Value of Transit is More Than Just Transit

  1. Great article Ray.

    Having lived in cities with both legacy and modern rail systems, I quickly learned about the benefits of land use in order to get the maximum benefit of a rail system.

    It may take a couple of decades before the land use starts to catch up with the transportation infrastructure especially in cities that have been largely dominated by the automobile such as a Charlotte or Salt Lake City.

    One player that should usually be working towards this is different levels of government but they are often too caught up in their own silos. For example building libraries with very poor transit access that requires a car to reach it when it could be moved on a few blocks away and be in a major transit corridor.

    But as you say in your article it often comes down to those that will not say no to bad developments. They are too worried that if the developer is told no they will take there money elsewhere and the developers often threaten that, or they just want to be able to say that they brought economic development to the area.

    • Thanks for reading my blog! I agree with your perspective. Hopefully, it won’t take a couple decades before land use planning catches up with planning for active transportation. While the city can adopt progressive regulations, the progressive regulations aren’t effective without developers proposing good development projects or the city saying “no” to bad development projects.

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