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dubone

Ideas for improving the North Line

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I struggled as to whether to put this in the existing North Line thread, but I think it is hard enough to keep brainstorms and theories distinct from the reality and what is officially being discussed and planned.

There has been universal criticism among pro-transit people who consider the design of this line to be severely flawed, which has resulted in a total lack of federal funding, a severely limited number of expected riders, and a growing price tag.

The assumptions I have made for creating this brainstorm alternative were to try serve the same corridor boundaries that were part of the original 2025 strategy, but to create a North line that follows the model of the lines that received or are expecting funds from the Federal and State governments (S, SE, and NE):

- High frequency of service

- More station locations

- A 10-12 mile length (resulting in an end of line being closer to 485)

Here is the resulting theory, that I actually feel really good about. I know it has some flaws, but I believe that if we are trying to go back to the drawing board on a highly flawed line, this is the most reasonable alternative.

In my view, the fundamental flaws of the original plan are the following:

- Overreaching on the distance to be served by rail mass transit, at least in Phase I

- Being too married to the actual rail line (which caused it miss some significant activity generators)

- Being too married to ending the line at Gateway Station, which still leaves people a significant walk away from most of the jobs, and prevents most reasonable chances for transfers to other lines to capture the market outside the standard uptown commute.

- Only running during rush hour, which severely limits this line's chances to capture non-commute transportation market.

- Selecting a commuter rail model in the first place, which is handicapped for federal funds.

The fundamentals of my solution are the following:

- Use light rail technology, which is favored by the federal government and is already in use in the system

- End the line in Huntersville, just beyond 485, with Enhanced Bus service beyond that to avoid high cost for low ridership situation

- Use the existing Norfolk-Southern O line only to Harris Blvd, and then use the ample right of way along Harris to connect to the Blue Line in University City.

This plan not only creates a significant enhancement to the source and destination options of the North line (Purple Line), but also provides a significant enhancement to the riders of the Blue line. This follows the model of many other cities, where a core spine cuts through the center, with multiple variations at the end. This increases frequency in the center, decreases costs in reaching the center with multiple dedicated paths, and increases the permutations of sources and destinations of the whole system.

The most efficient way to connect the Purple line to the the Blue line, while adding new sources and destinations along the way, is to use the ample right of way on the side of Harris Boulevard. Not only does Harris Boulevard contain a large number of commercial and retail centers, but it has a number of multifamily apartment complexes, and a huge office park with 10-20k employees that are not being directly served by the current mass transit system. As you can see in the map, there is an opportunity to cross 85 using the recently planned bridge that links through the Crescent project (IKEA and multifamily).

A key benefit is that the associated construction in this route is FUTURE construction. That means that the planned bridge across 85, the street network within the Crescent project, and the City Boulevard extension and intersection with Tryon will all be built or rebuilt in the next few years. Crossing 85 and connecting the Purple line with the Blue line in this zone allows for sufficient space and engineering factored into the existing projects with limited additions to cost.

While the Purple line would connect into the existing NorthEast extension of the Blue line, this proposal would NOT be to then stop at every stop along the NE line to get to dowtown. The distance from Huntersville to Charlotte Transportation Center along this path is 17.2 miles, with 11.6 of those miles being the dedicated Purple line. For the 5.6 miles of the Purple line sharing a path with the NE extension of the Blue line, it would be an express train, with transfer points only to serve the actual Purple Line riders. One would be where they first would connect, City Blvd, allowing transfers to the University area and other areas to the Northeast. The other would be a destination point, such as Sugar Creek or NoDa. While the trains would continue South of CTC, they would operate exactly like the currently planned South line, with stops at each location.

Not only does this plan serve the North corridor riders more effectively and add significant ridership at URP and stops along Harris, but it would add those destinations to riders and potential riders of the currently planned Blue line. That means, not only would ridership within the dedicated Purple count, but also the net additions to the existing line. There are countless people working at the 10-20k jobs at URP which reside in South Charlotte or beyond. These riders could get on the South line and ride all the way to their job in URP. Likewise, there are countless destinations on the Blue line, such as at the University, NoDa, and many places in South Charlotte that the North line riders cannot get to without an arduous transfer process. By seemlessly tying the North line directly into the Blue line, those trips can now be added to the mass transit market.

A major downside of this plan are that Cornelius and Davidson are not served directly by rail transit, however, it has always been a slightly irrational goal to include those destinations a rail transit plan, considering they are an extra 10 miles beyond downtown Huntersville. That is considerable cost to serve very small relative populations, dilluting of the whole corridor plan and the expected ridership results. With the rail line corridor remaining indefininately, an extension in the future would not be ruled out, when the area has grown considerably larger or Iredell's population explodes and wants to pay for an extension to there.

Another downside of the plan is that it adds 2.3 miles extra to the rail distance between Huntersville and Downtown, however, I believe this is offset by the considerably higher value of service. The plan has a better destination within downtown and better connections and destinations along the way, making those extra few miles less of a factor. End to end riders will just be a percentage of the ridership rather than the entirety of it.

A third downside is that this plan will cost much more per mile than the current commuter rail. My belief is that this plan will result in ridership numbers that are comensurate with the ridership numbers of the NorthEast extension of the Blue line. The NorthEast line is receiving federal engineering money, and has a signal that it is likely to be funded by them for construction. They have a much higher cost for construction than the North commuter line, but were able to get this funding because of much higher ridership projections. I believe that the same would be true by redesigning the North line to follow the pattern of the two Blue line sections. Not only would it be of similar length, but it gains riders by being an extension of an existing line, and adds a significant employment destination. Right now, the 2030 plan expects to cover close to a majority of the costs for the North line, roughly $100m. Using the $48m/mi cost of the South line, this 11.6mi extension would tally $550m. Inflation hurts that total, but I also believe that without the costs of the maintenance facility and significantly fewer bridges needed, this is likely to be a wash. The local tax would only need to cover $150m to cover a $600m line that is eligible for federal and state matching funds. This is an extremely reasonable amount to find within the budget, considering close to $100m is already budgeted and this approach yields significantly more service to the whole system.

If the North line were built in this fashion, I would be supportive of it as a higher priority than the East-West Streetcar. As it stands now, I believe the North line should be put at lowest priority as a result of its miserable ridership numbers. The status quo was so firmly rooted, that it was barely an event when CATS determined that the FTA would not fund the North line as designed. Instead of going back and figuring out alternatives or deprioritizing it until new ideas can gel, they increased priority to be able to throw more money at the problem. That plan will virtually die if the towns don't agree to fund most of the line with property taxes, which will be a hard sell with so few people expected to use it.

Here is the image of the plan. You can zoom in a see how many commercial, multifamily and offices are within .25mi and .5mi (5 minute walk and 10 minute walk respectively). As you'll see, including Harris provides significantly more destinations served than the Derita route.

219536106-O.jpg

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I like your idea, but putting LRT along W.T. Harris is like putting LRT along Independence IMO. Whether it's feasible to put LRT in the median or adjacent, I'd still feel like it would create a concrete canyon to a lesser degree than Independence. W.T. Harris's speed limit through that area is 55mph and not very pedestrian friendly at all. Prelimary engineering for LRT on Independence would required island stations in the median with pedestrian bridges going over vehicular traffic and having LRT along W.T. Harris might have the same fate. I'm particularly interested in the route you chose, you totally avoided W.T. Harris and Tryon. CATS thought about tunneling underneath that intersection for the Blue line. W.T. Harris from Mallard Creek to NC 49 is a traffic nightmare at all times.

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While the Purple line would connect into the existing NorthEast extension of the Blue line, this proposal would NOT be to then stop at every stop along the NE line to get to dowtown. The distance from Huntersville to Charlotte Transportation Center along this path is 17.2 miles, with 11.6 of those miles being the dedicated Purple line. For the 5.6 miles of the Purple line sharing a path with the NE extension of the Blue line, it would be an express train, with transfer points only to serve the actual Purple Line riders. One would be where they first would connect, City Blvd, allowing transfers to the University area and other areas to the Northeast. The other would be a destination point, such as Sugar Creek or NoDa. While the trains would continue South of CTC, they would operate exactly like the currently planned South line, with stops at each location.

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I am all for redesigning this system in order to make it more effective. However one has to address the basic problem and the real reason the North Line is in trouble, is there isn't enough money available to build it. Despite the fact there is a transit tax coming in that is closing on $80M/year, scant amounts of this are available to build rail transit.

The problem I see with the above plan is part political and part technical. The political part is that it places the North Line after the NE line is build since it now becomes dependent on that line and it cuts off Davidson and Cornelius. I can't imagine they would vote on the MTC to approve something like that. On a technical basis, I don't think the light rail system being used in Charlotte is robust enough to handle something like this if this is all considered the Blue Line. As a minimum, they would need to do something like add an express track on the Unversity route so they could move trains from the lake area to the downtown maintenence house without disrupting the other lines.

One note, there is relatively inexpensive technology available that creates a "hybrid" train. It has a diesel engine in it that generates electrical power but the train is driven by electrical motors. This gives it the performance of LRT, but without the need for the very expensive overhead electrical system. Going to something such as this would reduce costs considerably.

On the route, if they moved the train off of the Hwy 115 route and instead put it on Hwy 21 like they are doing on N. Tryon. The could immediatly pick up all the shopping at NorthLake, Exit 23, Exit 25, the proposed mega shopping/retail development at Morehead Rd, and could then optionally move the train into downtown Cornelius and Davidson.

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Well done D! Thank you for putting what appears to have been alot of time and thought into this.

I agree with Metro that the biggest hurdle to this will be the 2 north towns. Perhaps a more efficient bus system feeding into the towns with a transfer to the final station? The big plus is that it now hits two employment centers, and I'm guessing there is a large prescence in the northern towns that commute to URP. But how much longer will this take commuters to get downtown? A slower technology, that now has a wider route over to Tryon.

115 vs 21? 21 takes a much closer parallel path to 77 which would help, but it would miss out on alot of the TOD opportunities with the open land around the northern stations, and would miss the heart of downtown Huntersville. 21 would be much more successful with park and rides though.

I guess this will all come back to weighing the pros and cons to determine the best alternatives. But again, it will get people, and maybe even CATS to think outside the box for alternatives.

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As much as I would like to see train service in the North, I just don't see how the current design could be cost justified, and they are no going to be willing to pay $1 Billion+ to give it the specs that it really needs to make a difference, so I think the current design needs to be scrapped. I also think the train going to UNCC has many of the same issues. While it is a noble idea to provide LRT access to UNCC, I am not sure they can get those numbers to work either.

So I suggest the following instead:

  • Drop the plan to build commuter rail to Mooresville. Instead build a light rail line from the multimodal transit station to Derita using Graham street as the primary route. When the train gets to Derita, they should try to get the final stop at the Wachovia campus were upwards of 20K people are employed. However the goal should be serving the residents and businesses of N. Graham.

  • In order to do the first step, the NE line should be shortened to only go as far as Sugar Creek. It might be possible to get the final stop at the Asian Mall where some new development could take place.

  • There should be a connector built that connects the Blue Line to the new Purple Line. Possibly they could use the old Amtrak station as one end of this with the other end being the new multimodal station.

  • If the previous step is perfomed then why not extend this line into Plaza Midwood and out to west Charlotte? Either in the W. Morehead/Freedom area and/or Wilkenson. Eventually this line could make it's way to the airport

  • Finally I would figure out how to connect the South Line possibly at Woodlawn or Tyvola to Southpark.

  • They should look at building a low cost commuter rail line on the present day Amtrack connecting Kannapolis to the downtown multimodal station. Maybe this line cold be extended to Gastonia where there is a station.

The above scenario would create 4 light rail lines and 2 commuter rail lines serving the most populated areas of the county.

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I have been working on some small proposals for corridor improvements to the 2030 plan. I don't know all of the areas as well as I know my own and center city, so work with me here. I am open too all criticism, as I know this isn't perfect, but hopefully I have highlighted some important aspects that could possibly be incorporated to some better proposals.

Here is one proposal that I created for a North Line alternative. I am not considering cost with this proposal (as I know it will run high), however since it is Research Park Intensive, it would possibly receive corporate support and some funding. Also I am not taking in consideration of the current land availability, zoning or room for LRT or development, just trying to cover areas instead.

Some highlights that I'd like to note:

  • The Blue is the current proposal for the NE Line from Center City through NoDa to University City.

  • Purple highlighted land is business land that have high jobs (in return high ridership for commutes).

  • Green is residential along Harris Blvd, for the most part, a lot of it mixed zoning (large mix of renters, townhomes, and homes, of all income levels, and tons of potential for TOD)

    • Northlake Mall (high employee base as well shopping, future land for TOD and denser development that is retail intensive, neighboring housing and business park on the other side of 77, plus already in place- parking for Park and Ride coming from the Northern Commuters.

    • Statesville Rd. -Not currently dense, but high traffic area with potential TOD and current build outs from NorthLake.

    • Davis Lake - Still new retail and residential area with future expansion for retail and lake. Land across the street, also, for development. Big opportunity for TOD, with already a large residential base, and beginning retail base with shops and Lowe's Food. Also one of the most padestrian friendly area's in North Charlotte- where all streets throughout this area are lined for biking, with seperate sidewalks, 2 mile trail around lake, already lighted, etc.

    • Sugar Creek, high retail/residential - improved for TOD, plus free land on corners. Heavy apartment area.

    • Mallard Creek- high traffic area, office space, land available for TOD, apartments and homes.

    • The big station- tons of traffic- Wachovia CIC (10,000+ employees), Verbatim, ECPI, IBM, Solectron, etc.

    • Inner-Research Park - TIAA-Cref (2nd Largest Employer in UC after Wachovia CIC. Considered like a second HQ from NYC Based Company). Other major corporations.

    • Mallard Creek Church - North edge of Research Park. Close to N. Tryon which has open land for development. Also close to new Trader Joes / retail.

    • Verizon Ampitheter - Heavy use during events, which occur quite often. Lots of parking for park and ride from Cabarrus Co. Could be set up for an easy Express Route to LMS during events as well as the mall. Close to 485/N Tryon.

    • 485 Station - Already planned for the NE Blue Line, would connect this line to the N Line. Proposed Park and Ride.

    Light Blue Line (travels from Gateway Station in uptown, replacing the current N. Commuter Line (Purple) with LRT and focusing more effort on the West Side (lower income area), as well as riding along 77-N. The reason why I changed from Commuter Rail to LRT is because 1) The politics in the north, they don't even want it, so why give it to them, 2) dense TOD, 3) Higher Ridership, More stations and access in center city and neighborhoods that would get heavy use.

    [*]3rd Ward / Panthers - One idea is for future and proposal, to include more transport south of the Gateway Station where it is much wanted and needed (opposed to the current proposed N Line which only includes commuter to the North, where it isn't even wanted). This station would cover much of the 4th Ward, which is growing heavily and densely in the future, including Novare, Knights Stadium, and Panthers Stadium.

    [*]Gateway Station - Already was proposed, would incorporate all of the mixed transit system together, and easy access to J&W University among other things.

    [*]4th Ward - Cover the Vue and other high density developments as well as easy connection to center city.

    [*]Music Factory / 277 / 77 - Connects a high travel corridor, also connects the Music Factory, which has been discussed in its forum about how it is currently isolated and how to connect it to the rest of the city. Here is one way. Future area for residential, etc, plus lots of TOD opportunities.

    [*]This is where things aren't as familiar for me, but I wanted to get coverage on the West Side since the bus system is heavily used and connect lower income areas to the rest of the city. Beatties Ford Rd / Brookshire intersection would be able to connect the future Streetcar, or eliminate it from this area all together, and help promote TOD on this heavy traffic / residential area.

    [*]Peachtree Rd / Brookshire - this is where I have it proposed of getting off Brookshire (high traffic) and helping change the area with TOD which is already a populous area.

    [*]Sunset Rd / Peachtree- Heavy residential area, help promote TOD. Lower income area.

    [*]Beatties Ford N - Residential Area- room for TOD, retail, and office.

    [*]Northlake Mall - critical station that would connect a high employee base, developing area, as well as residential. Lots of space for park-and-ride and allows an easy exit off of 77 for commuters to and from the northern counties/areas, including Lake Norman. Also promotes denser development and gives good alternatives for a high tourist and retail area. Hotels in area, also. This station would connect the proposed N or NW LRT Line to the Harris Blvd. Connector highlighted in Orange. Also to mention, NorthLake Mall lays in the corner where the future 485 is finishing. Since there is little developed off that interstate here, it would be nice to builout dense development, TOD, and help limit sprawl in what would have otherwise been just another suburban exit off of 485.

    NorthDensity.jpg

    Hope you all enjoy my proposal. Although not perfect and filled with flaws, I hope I may have enticed some ideas and improvements among other projects, which is how the 2030 plan can only better itself (incorporating other valid ideas). I am coming out in the beginning and criticizing it myself- saying it is costly and may not be on the best street/land grids. I am open for any criticism, ideas, and anyone on these boards can freely use any ideas/the map/etc. Most importantly, this concept connects some of the highest employed areas, mixed areas, and helps to give alternatives to very busy roads, currently. Also, lots of land for future development in contrast to the already huge developments and mixed use areas that currently lay. Enjoy.

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My only problems are

1) NorthLake should not be a stop. Thats not a land use thats going to change in the foreseeable future.

2) Keep the Orange Line on Harris Blvd. Suburban office parks should not get direct rail service just for their existance. Feeders busses are the way to go.

I like the concept o the light blue line the best. I don't think Brookshire is the way to go, but this is the first proposal (both real and hypothetical) that gives rapid transit service to the west side (streetcars are not rapid transit). I would run it down Rozzelle's Ferry and Trade the entire way. You'd be more likely to serve more people and encourage better development.

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my personal opinion is that the north line should be cut off much sooner, maybe at 85, the density is just not there after that to support the system, southbound though, there are singly family homes (sucks doesnt it) for 9 miles down providence road, and i think ignoring providence road is going to lead to problems... its already choked

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my personal opinion is that the north line should be cut off much sooner, maybe at 85, the density is just not there after that to support the system, southbound though, there are singly family homes (sucks doesnt it) for 9 miles down providence road, and i think ignoring providence road is going to lead to problems... its already choked

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That makes sense, but how much of the traffic on 77 is going to uptown... that is a major route that truckers and all take to go further south and north, though I know several people who do commute that way every day, it might work as a commuter rail but then it needs less frequent stops

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That makes sense, but how much of the traffic on 77 is going to uptown... that is a major route that truckers and all take to go further south and north, though I know several people who do commute that way every day, it might work as a commuter rail but then it needs less frequent stops

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I would keep the North Line as is in the short term. There is a ton of growth going on in S. Iredell, and eventually, you have to think they will want a piece of the action. The north line connects these areas leveraging the NS "O" line, that has very little freight traffic, so utlilzing it makes a lot of sense.

I think the real long term potential is to implement a DMU-type system that could make more frequent stops and utilize bi-direction service throughout the corridor. Of course, we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars quite a few years in the future, but you never know... someday (like Denver) there could be a push to add another 1/2 cent to the transit tax in order to implement the plan more quickly and diffray the cost of inflation. In that case, lots of options could be put on the table.

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I would keep the North Line as is in the short term. There is a ton of growth going on in S. Iredell, and eventually, you have to think they will want a piece of the action. The north line connects these areas leveraging the NS "O" line, that has very little freight traffic, so utlilzing it makes a lot of sense.

I think the real long term potential is to implement a DMU-type system that could make more frequent stops and utilize bi-direction service throughout the corridor. Of course, we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars quite a few years in the future, but you never know... someday (like Denver) there could be a push to add another 1/2 cent to the transit tax in order to implement the plan more quickly and diffray the cost of inflation. In that case, lots of options could be put on the table.

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LRT would be more expensive, that's a given and wouldn't reach a population that is in the far north around Lake Norman, but much of the north voted down on the proposed transit so I think commuter rail should be directed elsewhere and its ridership numbers were a thing of discust.

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Jed is right, Davidson came out with high turn out and extremely high percentage support for transit. Downtown Huntersville had the lowest percentage supporting transit (against repeal), but none of North Meck had less than 50% opposed to repeal.

The people that rejected transit were the eastern tip in Mint Hill and the area west of the airport, which are both very rural parts of the county and don't have hardly any direct benefit from the transit system.

I'd like them to rethink the plan to serve the corridor, especially if they can't get the right pieces in play to fund the part of the currently planned line within the towns (like is currently in the 2030 plan). Without that, it is too expensive to do it without federal funding, and they might as well re-think the line design so that they can do it in a way the WOULD get federal funds. (As my manifesto states above).

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I'm not really sure what you are trying to say here, but if you're saying the northern part of Meck Co. voted to repeal the transit tax, you need to check your facts. This is simply not true.

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No- I wasn't talking about North Meck Co- I was talking about the northern Counties- Iredell / Lake Norman Area / Huntersville. ...

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Uhh, Huntersville is in Mecklenburg county and voted by more than a 60% margin in favor of keeping the tax. It's the second largest city in the county both in population and land area and makes up the majority of North Meck and the portion of Lake Norman that is in Meck county.

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