Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to pay for future transit? MTC to study

Mecklenburg's transit agency, the Metropolitan Transit Commission, is launching a study group to look at how to pay for future transit projects.

According to a news release from Charlotte Mayor and MTC Chairman Anthony Foxx's office, the working group's leaders will be Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain, a Republican, and Charlotte City Council member David Howard, a Democrat who chairs the council's Transportation and Planning Committee.

Finding new money for transit projects beyond the Blue Line Extension has been difficult. Revenues from the half-cent sales tax for transit tumbled after the 2008 financial crash. Federal funding is highly competitive, and state transit funding has been cut and with a Republican-led General Assembly, may be cut further. The study group will look at a variety of transit-funding strategies, including tax-increment financing, synthetic tax-increment financing, special tax districts, and more.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tried to read Sorry it's broken

The websites for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute's online publications, including, have been broken since Saturday, Jan. 19. The institute apologizes if you've tried to reach the sites, or have clicked on links in this blog that haven't worked.

Latest word is that the sites might be repaired by late Thursday, Jan. 24, or shortly after.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for something to read, you can help us at the institute by taking this survey of our online publications, so that we can improve our content. It's not long, and we can't access your name or email address for any commercial or nefarious purposes. And we really are are looking at every comment that's made.   Click here to take the survey.

Safer sidewalks ahead

Starting next week, the City of Charlotte launches a publicity campaign to get residents to keep sidewalks clear. They'll start with a campaign about garbage and recycling carts, yard waste and other bulky items.

This is much-needed, and some might say long overdue. A tragic accident last May killed a Myers Park High School student riding a bikee to school along a Sharon Lane sidewalk which was next to the curb. He encountered a rollout garbage bin blocking the sidewalk, and in trying to avoid it clipped the bin and fell into the street. He was hit by a car and killed.

In my walks around the city I note this is a problem in many places. The city built many back-of-curb sidewalks well into the 1990s, to save money. Where to put the rollout garbage and recycling bins? If you put them in your driveway you can't get out of your own driveway. Sometimes there's room to put them in the yard next to the sidewalk. Sometimes there isn't, especially if the lot slopes steeply up or down.

Yard waste is another problem: One Sunday morning not too long ago I was walking down Wendover Road and

Friday, January 4, 2013

A greener home for cars

I stumbled onto what's below after Wagner Murray Architects posted a notification and link on the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute's Facebook page. (If you haven't "liked" us, now's your chance: Click here or,  on Facebook, search for  The link led to the Charlotte architecture firm's newly redesigned blog, and what especially caught my eye was the entry proposing a vertical green wall.

Update, Saturday Jan. 5: I ran into architect David Wagner this morning at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. (And yes, Nise was there with her fabulous lettuce, the last day until the spring crop. Mostly these winter days you'll find local meats, sweet potatoes, kale, turnips and carrots.) He confirmed that he's the author of the Wagner Murray blog, so I've edited what's below to reflect that.

Here's an illustration, below, courtesy of the Wagner Murray blog:

The idea architect David Wagner proposes is to convert an existing parking deck in uptown Charlotte into a green wall (constructed with living plants) topped with a photovoltaic installation. Here's a link to the item.

It's reminiscent of ideas others have proposed here and there to try to enliven, visually, some of the many dead spots built in our downtown during the design-bleak years of the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

Here's a link to an essay, from Charlotte writer Tracey Crowe, in the website I run, in which she proposes using green walls to spruce up (pun intended) some bleak areas: "Turn uptown's street canyons green."

And PlanCharlotte's Keihly Moore has suggested similar ideas, among others, to soften those dull walls: "The great walls of Charlotte."

How many of you recognize the spot where the proposed green wall is illustrated?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why funding Charlotte's streetcar is tough

Maybe this item's headline should be Yet Another Problem with Single-Use Zoning.

There's been chatter among city policy types about finding some creative finance tools for Charlotte to use to build the second phase of what would ultimately be a Beatties Ford Road-West/East Trade Street-Hawthorne Avenue-Central Avenue streetcar route.One tool being talked of is a special tax assessment district.

(For the purposes of this post, let's set aside whether said streetcar is a good or bad idea. I tend to think it's a good idea, as a way to shape and lure development to parts of the city that could use a development boost, but I know others disagree with that. Topic for another day. For now, let's talk about financing.)

Because of a reluctance to use regular property taxes (for reasons that have not been clearly articulated, at least not in my hearing, but that seem to be taken as gospel), some folks have talked of special tax assessment districts, akin to those that fund Charlotte Center City Partners or University City Partners, along the streetcar route. It's a tool used around the country to help municipalities pay for infrastructure seen as helping specific neighborhoods.

But here's why that tool isn't very sharp in Charlotte, at least not along the part of the streetcar route that is already