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Charlotte's Light Rail: Lynx Blue Line


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The current station will be 2/10 of a mile, a 4 minute walk, from Asian Corners and will be at the same grade and much more visible. So if near unanimity from the public and the quantitative analysis found no economic benefit for spending, what on earth would justify spending that $60m? ....

Funny that. If you were basing this solely on economic benefit, then it would be easily justifiable not to build Light Rail it at all. It's going to cost over a billion dollars to put up and when it starts running, CATS will lose money on every person that boards it. It's not a profit making enterprise nor is it supposed to be. CATS has a good history of using these kinds of arguments to justify it's position and avoiding them when this kind of question comes up. Instead they will drop that argument and say oh but it's good for bringing back the neighborhood.

On the argument this station will serve NoDa. There is already a station in Noda, so this station will not be used for that purpose. It is a long and potentially unsafe walk from there and it will be my guess the gentrified there will use the NoDa stop if they use transit at all.

CATS's plan for this stop is a case of value engineering where the end result will not be effective transit at all. They are creating a Park & Ride station in a neighborhood that does not need more of these things. I don't see how creating two fields of close to 800 parking spots is good for this area. Second the elevated station is not in a good location in that area. It's bound by a heavy freight train line on one side, and a perilous bridge for the other side that serves the second railroad line that CATS has chosen to ignore in this analysis.

If the station were on the Asian mall property, then all of a sudden you have a surface level station built in an existing parking lot that also has a lot of existing zoning, utilities and tradition there for retail. Much of it has been torn down, but 30 years ago there was a lot of retail activity in the outparcel area of that parking lot and a station there would help to bring that back. It's a win win.

Of course I know the reason that CATS has value engineered this out of the line. They know that it is unlikely they can build it for the budget they are currently claiming. They can't even build it with the current transit tax even though they promised this during the repeal effort. In other words, the premises of the 2030 plan in regards to funding are not dead, but CATS won't come out and say it. So now if this line gets built at all, we will end up with value engineered stations in this part of Charlotte that is going to force sacrifice on the residents, (it's longer than a 4 min walk) and won't do any of the things that are constantly claimed for it. It does not go without notice that during the 2030 plan meetings it was plainily stated that a station on the Asian Mall property would be a better locale for that area.

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Just some before and after photos of the view of uptown and the blue line from 11th street. Definitely a big difference!

Posted Images

So what would be the justification then for routing the line on a more expensive location? That one poster on Urban Planet really likes Asian Corners and thinks that that route would serve that location better even though most of the community said it would be better served with cheaper location?

Economic impact was assessed because the transit-based decision had been made years ago. This analysis was based on whether the City of Charlotte should spending $60m of non-transit money from their economic development budget if the economic benefits could be estimated to justify that spend. In the end, it could not be justified, so the routing decision went back to what was considered superior for service to the neighborhoods and to help contain cost escalations.

As for 36th Street serving the NoDa neighborhood, you are correct. What everyone is referring is a different service area that is within the 1/4 mile radius on North Davidson Street which is an area that is already setup to be good for becoming a TOD neighborhood because it has light industrial warehouse buildings of decent quality that could be reused, and a grid street network that will support a walkable district. The other station option has very few existing buildings and no grid and no proximity to existing mixed use projects. It is simpleminded to think that there is service overlap simply because an area is considered part of the same neighborhood.

The park and ride is justified by the fact that Sugar Creek Road is a signifant circumferential road (Route 4), which acts a significant connector between I85 and the Lynx and a link to many other nearby neighborhoods.

As for value engineering, that is a term often about using cheaper alternatives that have the same value, but it is often a negative because the chosen alternative is of lesser value. The neighborhoods in this case have spoken and said that they would be far better served by this location.

I will state for maybe the 5th time, that the station location ON the Asian Corners site was ruled out a while ago because it would have made the Sugar Creek Rd crossing much more expensive (as the turn would need to start happening before Sugar Creek Road, would have required tearing down a building in the way which has been listed as historic, and would have been significantly more expensive than the $60m estimate for the refined "Sugar Creek Alternative".

The last comment is logic contradiction. Every design decision has cost implications. You are mocking the decision to avoid a $60m or more cost increase but then saying CATS has mismanaged the whole line to the point where they are running over in costs. Pick a side. Other costs have been added during engineering for the purpose of improving transit efficiency (grade separations). So you oppose economic impact justification for spending economic development budget money saying it should be about transit service effectiveness, and then apparently oppose the other cost increases which are added for transit service effectiveness.

It was plainly stated in the 2030 meetings 3 years ago that the Sugar Creek option was 'better for economic development] ' because that was conventional wisdom before cost estimates, engineering, and economic development analysis came back. After hundreds of thousands of dollars of engineering and economic development analysis, that point of view has been disproven and is outdated. Did you attend the public meetings after the facts came back to hear those comments or are we to simply trust 3 year old hunches from politicians?

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Isn't the Asian Malls route significantly more expensive and requires a much more difficult acquisition of the land and getting it ready to support the transit? Monsoon- you are the one that criticizes the cost of this line most, so how do you justify paying more for an alternative route that was voted down in favor of by the public when this line is criticized as being too costly?

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I have criticized CATS bungling of projects which has significantly increased the cost of projects unnecessarily. I have criticized CATS for consistently underestimating the cost to build a line, then each year coming back and increasing it by 50%. I have criticized CATS for not being accountable for any measurable results for the amounts of money they spend on operations. However I have never questioned the need to spend the necessary amounts on light rail in order to make it successful and usable. That money should be spent in a pragmatic matter that provides the stated goals for the largest number of people possible.

Given that, I don't see where anything I have said above is inconsistent or suffers from logic errors. I will explain it a different way.

CATS choice to place the station on in that bad part of Sugar Creek is being done to save money. So once that decision was made, then came the study to justify that decision. What should have happened was a justification for putting transit in an area, then a plan put forth to implement it. Sugar Creek does not need a park and ride station, they need a TOD station that only a ground station at Asian Mall can provide. It's the difference between the station at Tyvola vs New Bern. The city has long had a goal for redevelopment of that section of town which is why the sisters go the city backed loan in the first place to re-develop that mall. If they have to spend more money to do this, then put together a plan to make it happen rather than serve up a plate full of nonsense for not doing it.

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Sugar Creek does not need a park and ride station, they need a TOD station that only a ground station at Asian Mall can provide.

^Except as everyone has shared (maybe they went to the open houses), you cannot reasonably place an at-grade station on the property. Due to the Sugar Creek grade-separation, LYNX needs to stay on a tangent parallel to the NCRR or build a much more expensive bridge (on top of the added bridges for entering Tryon sooner) over Sugar Creek Road. And since the buildings either side of Sugar Creek at the RR are eligible for historic listing, you can't curve off the NCRR without hitting these and still reach the Asian Corners property.

It's the difference between the station at Tyvola vs New Bern.

^Except area development has been more centered around Remount instead of New Bern. If only that station were NOT located for the sake of one property, namely 3030 South. Then maybe the City would have gone with Remount based on accessibility to all quadrants and wouldn't be considering adding yet another station at Iverson. In other words, go with the best station location for the broader area, not just one property.

Edited by southslider
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You are totally misinformed about the study, despite all efforts to explain it. The board that oversees the transit part already made the NCRR routing decision based on transit effectiveness due to cost and the fact that it would still serve the area, but retained the alternative for engineering in case the city chose to pay the added cost for economic development. That decision was made after studying the corridor and having lots of public meetings. The only reason for routing it to Tryon was to help with city goals to improve economic development on North Tryon, so the CITY funded continued engineering and included the added money in their capital investment plans. They had every intention of funding that routing because they had every expectation that the study would JUSTIFY the route you are defending. The study found the opposite case to be true, so the city backed down and deferred to CATS original plans. I know of no other person who is arguing that the city should ignore the findings a full study and engineering and simply return to the ill-advised conventional wisdom of 3 years ago! THAT would be bungling, to go with a significantly more expensive route that could jeopardize the federal funds for the whole project when no good reason was found to do so.

Routing the line to North Tryon balloons the cost of the line and they smartly opted NOT to do it because they can't find transit justification like they did for the UNCC routing. So they are pursuing the goals you state they should be pursuing, yet you continue to assess them by some inexplicable criteria. The changes from engineering that are ballooning the cost are the additional grade separations to avoid grade crossings that might be criticized like the Scaleybark crossings. We all know how you feel about the at grade crossings around Scaleybark, so I am not sure if you are saying you are opposed to those.

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Much of it has been torn down, but 30 years ago there was a lot of retail activity in the outparcel area of that parking lot and a station there would help to bring that back. It's a win win.

Does that mean that you now agree that LRT impacts growth patterns?

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My wish is that there would be a station on/around 11th St, or 12th St. Just seems wasteful to have stations every 2 blocks uptown, but nothing really in this section.

I think the spacing between 9th and now Parkwood (formerly 16th and now equivalent to 20th) is a shame too, especially when that's similar to the distance between Stonewall and East-West. Unfortunately though, underneath the 11th and Brookshire bridges, a two-block stretch between 10th and 12th at-grade crossings, is the best place for a pocket track for staging extra trains for special events. It is was for this reason that 9th also became a center-platform station. As an added dilemma, as soon as the extension crosses 12th at-grade, it starts climbing quickly to make it up and over the CSX RR (same line that crosses Davidson at-grade in Optimist Park) and barely makes it back down in time to cross 16th at-grade, but there, it is now curving so that it may reach and run along the front of the intermodal site, instead of the back as previously envisioned, and resulting in the 16th station moving to Parkwood. In summary, the pocket track, bridge over CSX, and lack of a tangent at 16th all led to a good distance between 9th and Parkwood stations, or much greater spacing than South End.

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Does that mean that you now agree that LRT impacts growth patterns?
Where have I not said that. Don't take my criticisms on how CATS implements light rail as criticism of light rail or mass transit. That seems to be an amazingly difficult thing here for people to understand.
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.... yet you continue to assess them by some inexplicable criteria. ...
I clearly explained my criteria for this above. Maybe you didn't see that post. The problem with the NE LRT line is that it was pre-ordained to be built, without any "criteria" as you put it, as to what purpose it will serve beyond the normal general platitudes that are meaningless rhetoric. So now, we are getting a set of endless studies and moving dates because nobody can say what spending $1 billion on this thing will bring given the absence of any comprehensive plans that it will support. Because this line was ordained there is no chance now to look at what worked and isn't working on the South line and make changes to the plan that might make use of that experience. So CATS is left with the pretty much impossible task of designing a light rail line that will run from downtown to UNCC which they know, isn't going to be cost justified when all the costs come in. So now we are getting value engineering where the end result will be a line that had a lot of money was spent on but has major deficiencies such as what I described above at Sugar Creek. That is, if it is built at all.

If CATS, the MTC and the city council were looking at light rail as a way to implement city development policy they would put the NE extension back onto the examination table and decide if they really want to build it this way. Maybe a better solution is to stop the line at Sugar Creek and not go any further. Beyond that point it's of dubious benefit to the city as from there on it is nothing more than a commuter rail line and there are much cheaper ways to address that problem. Unfortunately that isn't going to happen because, as demonstrated here, in this city, it is impossible to bring these things into question without immediately getting called anti-transit, anti-Charlotte, etc.

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...there is no chance now to look at what worked and isn't working on the South line...

South End is a development success story. Optimist Park and NoDa will also be development success stories. I-485 at South Boulevard is the biggest draw for new riders. I-485 at North Tryon will be the biggest draw for new riders. And surpassing the South Corridor, the Northeast Corridor taps into UNCC.

...the pretty much impossible task of designing a light rail line that will run from downtown to UNCC which they know, isn't going to be cost justified when all the costs come in. So now we are getting value engineering...

Staying with the tweaked Locally Preferred Alternative over the Sugar Creek Design Option wasn't value engineering but a very rational conclusion supported by a comprehensive comparison of benefits. In fact, the City has set aside money that would have gone to the increased local match if the Blue Line had entered Tryon sooner, to now instead support other economic development on the same stretch of Tryon. That's hardly value-engineering. And if you think corners are being cut now, wait until Final Design, so that the project earns a good enough cost-effective rating. One can hope that the new hope in Washington will move the goal-posts back to a more attainable reality. But rumors are already flying, from elimination of parking at Tom Hunter and McCullough to the complete elimination of the 27th Street (28th/Jordan/Brevard) station. Who knows, you may even get your wish then for no parking at Sugar Creek, but somehow I doubt many transit-choice commuters would walk to either Sugar Creek station location.

If CATS, the MTC and the city council were looking at light rail as a way to implement city development policy they would put the NE extension back onto the examination table and decide if they really want to build it this way. Maybe a better solution is to stop the line at Sugar Creek and not go any further. Beyond that point it's of dubious benefit to the city as from there on it is nothing more than a commuter rail line and there are much cheaper ways to address that problem.

So you would stop the line at Sugar Creek and have no parking there? Development potential, especially short-term, may be mostly, or at least stronger, inside Sugar Creek (aka Route 4), but transit needs riders, so you must go to UNCC and I-485. Maybe you could still serve in-town development with a streetcar and University Area ridership with a rapid bus, but with light rail you do both. And more importantly to FTA, which does consider transportation benefits as being key, you get dramatically improved crosstown travel-time savings with an extension of the existing line, as well as add riders to your original investment.

Edited by southslider
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^Honestly I am not going to respond to your line by line rebuttal, as you didn't even pay attention to what I posted just like you did further back on another of my posts you got completely wrong then would not answer my question about it. However you do demonstrate what I said exactly. That proof was easy enough.

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The problem with the NE LRT line is that it was pre-ordained to be built, without any "criteria" as you put it, as to what purpose it will serve beyond the normal general platitudes that are meaningless rhetoric.

And this one's my favorite, considering every major federally funded rapid transit project must go through the NEPA/New Starts Process, which requires a Purpose and Need Statement. Obviously, the Feds won't settle for a statement like "light rail is sexy and we like it." An extension of existing technology for a corridor, as the hardships Washington Metro to Tysons Corner/Dulles went through proves, isn't a given either. In summary, like the existing federally funded Blue Line, any extension will face scrutiny, including numerous criteria.

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This development near IKEA is just one of many reasons why this line must go past Sugar Creek. Sorry about it's large size on the page but I wanted the details to be visible.

BELGATE: In addition to IKEA, the developers plan 390,000 square feet of anchor stores, junior anchors and shops; 50,000 square feet of office-service space, 50,000 square feet of restaurants, 360 residential units and two hotels

Ikea1.jpg

Ikea2.jpg

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I'm a daily rider. I, one data point, don't have any problem with the "shelters". I can't imagine anyone riding and then choosing to not ride based (even in part) on the shelters, but I suppose it's possible.

On another topic, what is that smell of donuts and/or bread at the East/West stop? It smells soooooo good.

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^^^ Looking at that site plan, I am understanding that the University City Station would be in the wooded rectangular lot on the bottom left corner of the map (just south of the gateway traffic circle and abutting the residential portion. So I am wondering if anyone can anticipate what it would feel like to get off at UC Station and walk through the area. It seems like walking to the IKEA would feel like walking around Carolina Pavillion at 485 South Station. But maybe, if one were to make it through the CATS parking n ride lot, once you hit the gateway circle - is that a pedestrian lane that winds through the property from the traffic circle at UC Blvd to the next little circle up there (fountain?).

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Maybe a better solution is to stop the line at Sugar Creek and not go any further.

So a 23,000 enrolled University, which is expected to grow into the 30k numbers within 10 years is going to be one of the largest contributors is acceptable as not a contributor to the NE Line extension? You said it yourself in response to why you would cost justify going to the more expensive route at the Asian Mall. You said Light rail is proven to not make enough money to be profitable, but is about public works to serve the rider. Tell me now how you justify not reaching a majority ridership past where you would like to end the rail extension rather then servicing as many riders and citizens of Charlotte as possible knowing that it will never be profitable, but yet you would justify paying more money to serve the Asian Mall, a site that you have historically spoke with great pride about?

Edited by Andyc545
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I think he was suggesting one of an infinite number of alternatives that hasn't been "thoroughly researched," at least to our knowledge.

Having said that, they do have precedent data - including the South Corridor - to estimate how many riders each station will contribute. Combining such data with local conditions can be tricky and grey, but will give an image of what to expect. A few months after opening, I remember Kieth Parker saying that their planning for the South Corridor had overestimated Tyvola and Arrowood's ridership but underestimated 485 and Sharon Rd's. From examples like this, they can derive user patterns specific to Charlotte and begin applying those patterns to the extension. If nothing else, we can expect ridership estimates for the extension to be more accurate because they have better data to use.

Edited by tozmervo
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^^^ Looking at that site plan, I am understanding that the University City Station would be in the wooded rectangular lot on the bottom left corner of the map (just south of the gateway traffic circle and abutting the residential portion. So I am wondering if anyone can anticipate what it would feel like to get off at UC Station and walk through the area. It seems like walking to the IKEA would feel like walking around Carolina Pavillion at 485 South Station. But maybe, if one were to make it through the CATS parking n ride lot, once you hit the gateway circle - is that a pedestrian lane that winds through the property from the traffic circle at UC Blvd to the next little circle up there (fountain?).

No, it's not a pedestrian sidewalk but an access road to the stores. I have had some concerns about the scale of this as well and whether or not this area is 'stroll-able' from the light rail. There will be two stations that butt up to this; the second is on the north side at McCullough Dr. But even with two stations adjacent to this site with roughly a mile between the two that spans the entire development I just don't know if this will be very conducive to walking. Obviously this is an auto-centric development with large parking lots spreading the buildings out a fair amount. I see it as a larger version of Rivergate on the NC/SC line down 49. And I don't know if it is supposed to be a 'destination' once on the LRT because I am sure all the the stores in this shopping center will be in the Best Buy, Office Depot, Starbucks, Chile's, etc. ilk. Those aren't exactly places you go out of you way to find around Charlotte. And I sure as hell would not go to IKEA on the light rail knowing I had to carry my furniture-in-a-box back on the train with me. I think the station will serve those that may buy condos/apartments in the development but I highly doubt many will be riding the train seeking Belgate out specifically.

Edited by queensguy06
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With all due respect, I think it is unwise to showcase Belgate as a quality urban development. It is at best sugarcoated sprawl. This is the type of development that monsoon talks about, that completely ignores the plan that was adopted for University City. The street grid, the density, etc. were all dumped so we could get an over-priced, discount Swedish furniture store and massive amounts of parking. More importantly, it still segregates land uses so if you live in the apartment complexe you're more likely to drive than walk to the nearby stores.

Where have I not said that.

It was back in the discussion about BRT. See the quote below. It was in a different topic, but still in the appropriate context (development around stations). My sincerest apologies if I misunderstood what you meant. You seemed pretty adamant about it at the time, so it seemed to be an idea you felt was true.

I have yet to see where LRT has made any difference in growth patterns.
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I was not showcasing Belgate as an example of urbanity because it is far from it lol. It is however an example of what may draw folks to the light rail line. Few folks shopping at Ikea will use the train for obvious reasons. Many folks that work in this area will probably come in by train.

The #11 North Tryon bus (the route that currently runs the NE corridor) is one of CATS heaviest bus routes. Ironically, the number 12 and 24 bus routes (the routes that used to run the South corridor) had high ridership too before the light rail was built. Thanks to the bus routes, CATS already knows where the trains need to go. What is most interesting is the # 9 (Central Avenue/Eastside) is and has been CATS most popular bus route for years. I believe the #9 bus carries nearly 1.5 million passengers per year.

I really wish Belgate was more urban. I do believe that the NE corridor will bring in at least 30,000 new daily riders to CATS overall system. The NE corridor has more destinations than the current south corridor (ie UNCC, University Hospital, IKEA).

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I think it bears noting that the serious development on the existing corridor has been taking place north of Scaleybark. If the same pattern holds true on the externsion, the development will fill in towards NODA but not much will change beyond that.

I own 3 rentals near the Archdale station - and none of my tenants moved there to be close to light rail. They just liked the neighborhood, know people nearby, and preferred being close to South Boulevard for quick access to shopping.

I don't think we're yet at the point, where the presence of a rail line affects people's decisions outside of being a few stops from uptown.

Edited by MZT
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I think it bears noting that the serious development on the existing corridor has been taking place north of Scaleybark. If the same pattern holds true on the externsion, the development will fill in towards NODA but not much will change beyond that.

I own 3 rentals near the Archdale station - and none of my tenants moved there to be close to light rail. They just liked the neighborhood, know people nearby, and preferred being close to South Boulevard for quick access to shopping.

I don't think we're yet at the point, where the presence of a rail line affects people's decisions outside of being a few stops from uptown.

I used to live in Ashford Place which is not far from your rentals. Several of my neighbors (including myself) moved there because of the convience of light rail. There is a new apartment community near Arrowood on Old Pineville that is attracting people because of light rail also.

There is also a major development at Arrowood by the Harris Group. Here is an article on this (sorry if this is old news).

http://charlotte.bizjournals.com/charlotte.../19/story1.html

http://charlotte.bizjournals.com/charlotte.../27/focus1.html

Here is that site plan

Arrowood%20SiteWebsite09-13-07.jpg

Edited by urban980
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I think it bears noting that the serious development on the existing corridor has been taking place north of Scaleybark. If the same pattern holds true on the externsion, the development will fill in towards NODA but not much will change beyond that.....
But development has been taking place down South Blvd for 3 decades, long before the light rail was even a thought. There is no reason to believe the redevelopment would not have occurred without the light rail.

The most glaring example of this is the actual Scaleybark station. The city got involved in that one, as we all know, and even offered incentives for developers to put up Light Rail Specific TOD. This is the reason for the unusual station design and this station was highlighted as a big example of changes that light rail will bring. Yet, there is nothing there. It's a parking lot, some closed up businesses, and that station has very few riders except for transfers from the bus and park and ride. It proves my point that I have said consistently on this forum that LRT does not drive desirable development, city urban growth policies do. I note that CATS has put away the charts on that station.

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