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.
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.