Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Congestion worsening, so buy more asphalt?

A new report from a Washington think tank and transportation research group says 44 percent of Charlotte’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and increasing congestion is costing local drivers a work-week’s worth of delay. Read more at Eric Frazier's article here. And here's a link to the press release about the report.

The group is TRIP. But before you read it, check who's on the board of directors: construction companies, asphalt and cement executives, road builder associations, etc. Its website says the group "is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction, labor unions, and organizations concerned with an efficient and safe surface transportation network that promotes economic development and quality of life."

There is no denying that in many areas, especially high-growth suburban spots, traffic congestion is worsening. And no question that many roads and bridges need repairs, as do many city streets. This winter's cold-warm-cold spells has certainly not helped.

But to assess congestion and to think road-building is the only solution is simplistic, even for places that unlike

Monday, March 24, 2014

Another N.C. city eyes a downtown streetcar

It's not just Charlotte wanting a streetcar. Winston-Salem's city council is looking seriously at planning a streetcar to run from its downtown to the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

The proposed route would pass the city's baseball park, also known as BB&T Ballpark, as well as the convention center and Winston-Salem State University, and it would go near Salem Academy and College. The council is to vote today (March 24) on whether to adopt that route.

How to pay for it? The city is looking a a menu of potential federal sources, including Small Starts and TIGER grants and TIFIA loans. (Transit fans will know what those are). The article does not mention any potential local source of funds, and it notes that city council member Dan Besse said the state government these days offers little political support for rail systems.

Read more, and see a map, at this link.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Readers, this ball is in your court

Readers, engage! Two PlanCharlotte.org articles last week deserve wider play.

Honor the places you love

One is a way for everyone, not just planners, to honor the places they love in North Carolina.  Once again, the N.C. chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-NC) is sponsoring a Great Places in North Carolina contest. Find more information here.

APA members can nominate places in a variety of categories, such as Great Places in the Making (downtown Gastonia won that one recently). Non-APA members this year can nominate a spot for the Great Public Place award, or the Great Main Street award. Then online voting taps the Peoples Choice Award for each of those categories.

As it happens, I've been asked to be on the panel of judges - as a non-planner - so please, give me a great group of nominations from which to choose. And don't forget, a street is part of the public realm and so it should qualify for Great Public Place. Queens Road West, anyone? Or Camden Road, outside of Price's Chicken Coop? 

Consider different growth scenarios

The second way for readers in the Charlotte region to get involved is a series of workshops scheduled for March by the CONNECT Our Future initiative, a 14-county, three-year planning effort being led by the Centralina Council of Governments. Read more about it here.

The workshops begin March 6 (Thursday) in Statesville. Charlotte's is March 7 (Friday) at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.  It's north of I-85, on Beatties Ford Road. (As you head that way, consider whether Beatties Ford Road has any spots eligible for Great Public Place. What about Five Points?)

Participants will hear about four different scenarios of the region's future, and the possible social, economic and environmental effects of each scenario. The four are: 1) continued suburban-form growth, 2) following current plans, 3) development of city centers and downtowns, and 4) regional transportation options.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

D.C. planner: Affordability is cities' next big challenge

“Rock star planner” may be an oxymoron, but if there are rock star planners, Harriet Tregoning is one. Tregoning has been chief city planner in Washington, D.C., since 2007— a time of rapid growth and change in the District of Columbia. She's stepping down to run the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A looming problem in many U.S. cities is affordability, she said in an interview with Next City, but looking only at real estate prices masks the problem.  “I think the challenge for American cities for the next decade or more is indeed affordability, but it’s not just about housing,” she said. (Read the whole interview here.)

She noted that for the 8 million jobs lost in the recession, the average wage was $24 an hour. While that number of jobs has been created in recent years, their average wage was $11 an hour.

“Middle-wage jobs are declining,” she said. “Or if they’re growing, they’re growing at a much slower rate than the other categories (high-wage, and low-wage hospitality and retail jobs). So affordability needs to be broadened to talk about job creation, middle-income job creation. What are we going to do with our infrastructure to enable us to produce more employment?”

Two topics in the interview have specific resonance for Charlotte. Tregoning talked about the retrofitting of some

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Weirdest city list ever?

Mural in downtown Kings Mountain. Photo: Nancy Pierce
We all love to look at those lists of "Best Places To ... " I plead guilty as charged. But this list is one of the weirdest I've encountered. It's the Movoto.com blog's Best Places to Retire in North Carolina.

No. 1 is -- wait for it -- Morrisville. Really. It's only 5 miles from an international airport, so that pushed it to the top. As if that is what everyone is looking for in retirement.

The rest of the Top 10, in order: Mount Holly, Apex, Holly Springs, Kings Mountain, Mint Hill, Stallings, Harrisburg, Sanford and Matthews.

Charlotte ranks No. 30, below -- among others -- Spring Lake (a suburb of Fort Bragg), Indian Trail, Gastonia and Goldsboro.

The criteria the website used? Cost of living, total crime, total amenities, weather, distance from nearest international airport.

As one colleague of mine, who happens to be retired, quipped: "That is the weirdest list that I have ever come across.  I wouldn’t want to retire in any of them. I notice that the picture used for Harrisburg is the Speedway, which, of course, isn’t in Harrisburg."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

LaHood-Foxx love-fest?

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx in 2012 as city's bike-share program opened.
When former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told President Obama he was leaving the job, he suggested Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as his replacement. At least, that's what LaHood tells Chicago magazine, in a wide-ranging interview with Carol Felsenthal, "A Complete Q&A With Ray LaHood."

Here's the section about Foxx, who did indeed win the job of U.S. Transportation Secretary (and who snagged some noticeable face-time on national TV on Tuesday night during Obama's State of the Union Speech):

Q. Did you get the chance to consult with the president about who your successor as transportation secretary would be?
Absolutely. When I met with the President and told him that I wanted to leave, he and his team gave me lots of opportunities to consult with the White House.

Q. Did you suggest the name of Anthony Foxx [LaHood’s successor; previously mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina], or did you have other people in mind?
I did, but they knew Mayor Foxx because the Democratic Convention was in Charlotte and they liked very much working with him on that. One of the reasons I suggested him is because we worked with Mayor Foxx a lot on his streetcar and his light rail project…. He was a transportation leader so it was pretty easy to recommend him.

Photo credit: Mary Newsom, 2012

Thursday, January 23, 2014

You call that an auto mall?

An auto dealership in an urban environment in Manhattan
I was in New York over the weekend for a meeting, and Saturday morning I went out for a quick walk beforehand. I was staying on West 55th Street so I decided to walk west toward the river.

By the time I got down to 11th Avenue I realized I had been walking past a large auto dealership. Sure enough, a look at signage told me this Mercedes dealership was taking up a substantial part of the block.

New York-style dealerships
Nearby was another new-looking, large building selling Audis. Across 11th Avenue was a building with the names for numerous makes of car - Ford, Volvo, Mazda, Jaguar, etc. I had stumbled on an urban auto mall! (It was the Manhattan Automobile Company.)

It seems developers - at least those who are not in Charlotte - are perfectly capable of designing auto dealerships, even facilities housing several dealerships - that sit right on a sidewalk along a city street, and do not require vast surface parking lots designed with the elegance of a Walmart superstore.

Back home in Charlotte, of course, the City Council just unanimously OK'd a rezoning to allow a vast expanse of auto mall asphalt within the quarter-mile walk zone of a to-be-built light rail station. (See "Don't derail transit areas with an auto mall," and "University City auto mall rezoning complete.")

This was after the appointed planning commission recommended it, and after the city planning department recommended it. Those decisions remain a bafflement to me. None of it matches the city's stated goals for its transit station areas. While in New York, I mentioned this transit-station-area rezoning vote to a former city planning director from another state who now teaches planning at a large state university. His jaw dropped. He was incredulous.

The said thing is, as these photos show, there are creative ways to have both auto dealerships and a pedestrian environment. I'm left to conclude that our local folks may just be too provincial to know better.

Mercedes-Benz Manhattan.