|A bus in uptown Charlotte, where most bus routes begin and end. Photo: Claire Apaliski|
Some background: Charlotte's first and only light rail line opened in late 2007, just in time for the massive 2008-09 recession that had Charlotte unemployment lingering in double-digits or near it for months. The northern couple of miles of the 9-mile route, closest to uptown, have seen massive apartment development in the past several years. The southern part of the route? Nada.
But the South End neighborhood – an area of old industrial buildings dating from the 1960s back to the late 1800s – is popping with hundreds of new apartments, and hopping with new microbreweries and trendy restaurants.
Car-free in Charlotte? It isn't easy by Carolyn Reid, published last June at the PlanCharlotte.org website I run, helps explain why ridership may not be growing as quickly as you'd think.
Even in South End there's little easy or walkable access to routine shopping needs like grocery and drug stores, no easily accessed, widely connected network of bike routes, nor robust bus service with headways under 10 minutes that spreads cross town. Because of lack of funding, the city's bus service – while much improved over 1990s levels – still focuses on delivering workers to uptown rather than building a widely connected network.
South End remains a place with better transit, bike and pedestrian connections than almost any other Charlotte neighborhood. But it's still not a place where living without a car is going to be easy. Unless you're trying to go uptown, the light rail can't deliver you where you want to go.
My prediction: Ridership will zoom when the Blue Line Extension opens in 2017, taking riders to the 27,000-student UNC Charlotte campus about 10 miles northeast of uptown.