Today, Charlotte’s transit agency, CATS, will vote on the proposed alignment for its new Silver Line Light Rail project. The Silver Line is the city’s second light rail line, and will run from east to west through the region.
The board that governs CATS will choose between two options for light rail to traverse Uptown, Charlotte’s jobs and employment center. In one scenario, rail would run in a tunnel through the center of Uptown, with a station at the Charlotte Transportation Center, the city’s local bus hub. This is a good alignment that serves where Charlotte residents live and work.
But somewhat bafflingly, planners at CATS are instead recommending a much worse alignment that would run along a freeway, skirting the city core rather than connecting people to it.
This alignment would dramatically shrink the number of destinations within walking distance of stations, limit access to the 70,000 jobs in Uptown, and generate significantly less ridership:
In a presentation to Charlotte transportation advocates, CATS staff justified their support for the freeway alignment by promoting the real estate development potential around the new stations. They estimate that this alignment would be less expensive, would involve less risk, and would be able to be completed by 2030. This is short-term thinking that fails to consider what makes transit useful to people.
TransitCenter research has shown that the more easily people can walk to transit, the more likely they are to use it. Sound Transit’s massively successful expansion in Seattle, for example, has demonstrated that if you build light rail stations in the heart of dense neighborhoods that are easy to walk to, people will flock to the service. Conversely, situating transit along freeways is a recipe for low ridership, as evidenced by recent rail projects in Los Angeles and Denver.
Completing a project faster is an empty victory if no one rides it. Leaders in Charlotte should make the smart choice to invest in transit that connects residents in their region with the jobs and opportunity in Uptown.