Friday, January 23, 2015

The mayor's view: Transit funding (the dilemma), a more diverse city, and more

Local dignitaries at a 2012 ceremony for the Blue Line Extension. Then-Mayor Anthony Foxx, now U.S. Transportation Secretary, is at right. (Photo: Mary Newsom)
Charlotte Magazine's Greg Lacour has posted a meaty Q-and-A interview with Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, in which the mayor discusses the city's dilemma on transit funding, what's different about being mayor vs. being in the N.C. Senate (where Clodfelter served 1998-2014) and what's different about Charlotte compared to when he was on City Council (1987-93).

The questions hit heavily on the problem the city and county face in funding any expansion of the Charlotte Area Transit System. (For more background, see this article about remarks Clodfelter made in  September, "Mayor: Transit sales tax funding may be at risk.")

Among his other remarks to Lacour, Clodfelter had an interesting analysis of state transit funding -- or the lack thereof. He suggested that the state would be disinclined to pay any more for mass transit projects (for the first two legs of Charlotte's light rail, the state paid 25 percent of the cost) regardless of which party is controlling state government. Why? Because statewide transportation needs are great, and gas tax revenue is lagging. Add that up and it's difficult to fund anything, he said.

On a more political note, although Clodfelter isn't saying for sure he's running for mayor, he also recently gave an interview to Here's that interview

(At-large Charlotte City Council member Michael Barnes this week hopped into the mayor's race, joining Democrats Jennifer Watson Roberts and fellow at-large City Council member David Howard. To date, no Republican has emerged as a likely candidate. But filing isn't until this summer, with the primary in September.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why slow-growing light rail ridership should not surprise anyone

A bus in uptown Charlotte, where most bus routes begin and end. Photo: Claire Apaliski
Today's Charlotte Observer brings an article from Steve Harrison noting that ridership on Charlotte's light rail line, the LYNX Blue Line, has finally rebounded to its pre-recession levels but has not increased dramatically despite rapid growth in apartments along part of its route. See "Lynx light rail ridership back to 2008 levels."

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 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.