Friday, April 12, 2013

Bike-ped trail along rail route hits the ground running

I had just spent 2 1/2 hours listening to Charlotte City Council members talk about the upcoming city budget  with the specter of the proposed streetcar hanging overhead, in the gov center's windowless Room 267. And that was after Mayor Anthony Foxx and City Manager Ron Carlee, in his second week into the job, said any streetcar discussion should be off the table for the day.

The discussion before the non-discussion of the streetcar was not exactly optimistic. As the Charlotte Business Journal reported this week, ("Consultant: Charlotte transit plan at least $3 billion short") the income from the county's half-cent sales tax for transit isn't enough to allow any more of the proposed transit system to be built after the Blue Line Extension. No money for the Red Line commuter rail to Davidson (although the problem there is lack of federal money). No money for the Southeast Corridor, whether it ends up as light rail or bus rapid transit. No money for the West Corridor. (Remember it? I thought not. The 2030 Transit Plan calls for a streetcar to the airport. Yes, the plan calls for TWO streetcars, in case you had not noticed.) No money for the East-West streetcar  which, yes, has been in the adopted transit plan for a decade and which the city has proposed building without waiting for the Metropolitan Transit Commission to find any (nonexistent) money.

In any event, Foxx told the council, referring to the "promise" to build the transit system using only the sales tax: "When people say a promise was broken, I'm asking which promise are they saying was broken? The promise to do it within the half-cent sales tax? The promise to get the plan built in 2030? 'Cause one of them's going to get broken."

I left that, yes, depressing meeting to go another one, much more sparsely attended, which also focused on a long-range transportation proposal that doesn't, today, have money to be built. But this one was, strangely, more cheering.

See below for link to click for larger map
The venue was, if possible, even bleaker than windowless Room 267. This was a public workshop at the extremely utilitarian (and remote, unless you live in northwest Charlotte) Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department building on Brookshire Boulevard. It was held to share information and listen to public comments about a proposed Mooresville-Charlotte Trail. 

The trail would  be a 30-mile bicycle and pedestrian path running, roughly speaking, along the proposed route of the Red Line commuter rail line from Charlotte to Mooresville (although the train wouldn't go to Mooresville unless Mooresville or Iredell County ponies up some money).

Maybe it's because the trail is so young in terms of  planning and so far under the publicity radar, but people in the room  the few people in the room, let me say  were excited and optimistic.

Imagine being able to hop on your bicycle in Mooresville and ride an off-road trail 30 miles into uptown Charlotte  no traffic lights, no fighting cars and trucks. Eric Gorman, a planner with consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, estimated that an experienced rider going 20 mph could do the trip in about 90 minutes. In other words, commuting to on bicycle could be a real alternative for residents  well, very fit residents  all along the trail.

Some details:

Time frame: "It will be decades for the whole thing," said county greenway planner Gwen Cook.
Where, exactly, it would run: Hasn't been fine-tuned. It would start uptown along Irwin Creek near Ray''s Splash Planet. Much of the route is proposed to run along the Norfolk Southern rail right of way between Mooresville and Charlotte, but no negotiations have begun with the railroad. Click here for a  pdf map with some details of the early thinking.
Who's paying for planning so far? The project won a $35,000 planning grant from the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization (MUMPO).
How is it connected to the proposed Red Line transit project: It isn't, other than being referred to by some people as the Red Line Trail, and by its hoped-for location near or in the Red Line right-of-way. Funding and planning don't rely on the transit project.
Who would pay for it? According to planner Cook, funds would be found the way they have been for other greenway projects: Local government partnerships, land dedications from property owners and developers, grants from various state and nonprofit sources. In other words, piecemeal, over time.The group anticipates about 60 percent of the needed easements would not need to be purchased. For example, land has already been dedicated for it in the Brightwalk development on Statesville Avenue.
What happens next: The last scheduled public workshops were this week, although more might be scheduled. With consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff and Alta Greenways, a report will be finished in June. Then, all seven  local governments involved would be asked to include this trail into their plans. Cook noted Mooresville and Iredell County have already have such a trail in their pedestrian and bicycle master plans, and it is included in the nonprofit Carolina Thread Trail plans.
Then, as money becomes available, she said, some "low-hanging-fruit" projects that would get a lot of immediate use are likely to be launched first.
Want to know more?
See a map, a presentation, a video and a fact sheet by clicking here.


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