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monsoon

Why we need to keep building train transit.

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A few observations about Charlotte's LRT, CATS and the city.

First the negative.

CATS still seems to be challenged to run the LRT in a manner that one would associate with mass transit. For example the Carson St. station was vandalized a few days ago. Looks as if someone busted out the glass that makes up part of the art at that station. CATS answer to this was to wrap the station in red tape that states "Danger High Voltage". Aside from this sending the wrong message in the middle of a transit station, it shows that CATS is running somewhat of a mickey mouse operation. Along with this, they really need to stop the habit of stopping the train in mid route to change drivers. I have ridden on a lot of transit lines around the world and I just don't ever remember this being something that I've seen before. This isn't a bus system.

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However despite the drawbacks that are mostly due to CATS continued questionable ability to run this line, there is a big positive that I see for the city that isn't related to transit, congestion, air pollution, and the other items that are incorrectly credited to LYNX for solving. It's something that I had not considered before in regards to Charlotte. It's the reason that I was wrong about ending the transit tax. (Some of you might remember that I was against the tax because of the mis-management of the money and lack of accountability for results.)

The positive is this. Lynx so far continues to draw passengers from a wide range of demographics and places them in a shared somewhat social environment that would not otherwise exist. I was on the train this weekend and saw everything from a middle aged lady wearing a "Stop the Drama, Vote for Obama" tee shirt, to an elderly White couple, to a very young Hispanic couple with kids, and so forth. I can't think of any other venue in the city where people are willing to get together in a common environment such as this. It's really the first time it has happened since the days of segregation and because of that, the first time that most people now alive in Charlotte have experienced it. It's the first time it has happened in Charlotte with everyone on an equal basis.

It's this mixing of people that I think is an intrinsic but often overlooked reason for building a train transit line. There are so many arguments made for and against trains based on numbers that this effect is completely missed and not appreciated. This shared experience might go a long way to make Charlotte feel like a real city instead of just a collection of neighborhoods mostly segregated by income. When people ride a transit like they may be less willing to look at city problems as someone else's issue and instead look at it as our issue. Buy-in goes a long long way towards a lot of things. I wish there was some way to quantify it so that it could be considered as part of the very mechanical equations used to determine if a city such as Charlotte was ready and deserving of a transit line. It's for this reason alone that I think we should keep building the train lines.

What do you think about this?

Note: I was going to post this in one of the transit topics but decided it might be enough for an independent topic.

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I posted about this in the LYNX thread in my initial reviews of riding LYNX on opening weekend. I believe I said something along the lines of it making feel like Charlotte has grown up, or at least had this whole social "improvement" that seemed to happen overnight as a result of the light rail, solely. Our bus system has never really been able to make this jump prior to the train running (there are a few lines that are an exception, but overall it does bring a valid point). The bus system is changing slightly more towards this social mixture, but that is more an effect of LYNX than anything else.

I believe there are several reasons to this social and demographical molding with LYNX. First- I will acknowledge that Charlotte is a fairly diverse city, respectfully, with a large Latin population in South Charlotte and along N. Tryon, and a large German presence, hence the German businesses that are located here, and I heard recently that there is a large Italian group that are finding Charlotte home, which I have a feeling is due to Northern relocations to the south (myself included in this demographic / there are high populations of Italian immigrants in the NE). With that background- I believe the LYNX success to this molding is given to a) It's the new thing to do, clean, safe, entertaining, and extremely practical for reasons discussed in the transit threads. A lot of demographics, actually most people in general, can contend to finding the LYNX good for their needs, and get them to where they work, where social and demographical festivals are taking place, etc.

The LYNX location, particularly, helps this I believe as well. Like mentioned, the line runs through an area that has a heavy Latin presence, but at the same time, runs through a very artsy and more wealthy S. End / Dilworth. Companies, like Wachovia, are credited to hiring well diverse groups, that is one of their prides, so uptown is being filled, at least during work times, with a variety of people.

As the city continues to grow, it's going to collect more and more people with different backgrounds, lifestyles, etc. These are the same people that will fill our mass transportation in the future in Charlotte, as well as those already living here. It's up to CATs to keep the line clean, safe, and affordable- that's how this line will appeal to the masses.

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I agree that having a rail line will blend people better than anything else in town (well, except maybe Price's Chicken Coop at lunch. :rolleyes: ) Rail always seems like the upscale transit option and buses downscale. I venture to think that this is because big cities of the northeast and midwest have had rail for a very long time and it goes to wealthy suburban areas. Buses were what the comparatively poorer south used to move poor (usually African American) people around and so carried a stigma for white people that has started to fade just a bit. It's great that lots of different kinds of people are using rail in Charlotte. That will ensure its continued support and build-out.

I would gently correct the impression that rail systems don't change drivers mid-route. This happens almost all the time on MUNI in San Francisco on the J and N lines as they surface at Church & Duboce. It's always annoying (MUNI is usually annoying and poorly run, FWIW.)

I'm sorry to hear rail stops have already been vandalized and that CATS' response seems inept. That's too bad.

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I noticed the same things this evening at the CTC train stop. It was nearly dark outside and the crowd waiting was definitely different than one you would see at a bus stop. Maybe it's the fact that train platforms are nicer than bus stops, maybe it's the stigma that buses have, but it does seem that LRT draws more of a diverse crowd than CATS buses.

I'm all for building more train transit lines; this social benefit is icing on the cake!!! :)

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Its not clear that the glass was broken because of vandalism. Nothing else around the area is damaged or marked. I'm also not entirely clear on what kind of response you expect from CATS - sure the red tape doesn't look great, but its only been a couple of days. If its still like that in a week or two, then I would say there's a problem. But anyway, to the more interesting topic at hand.

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The kind of diversity that is so readily witnessed on the trains is a nice counterpoint to the interstates. Rather than everyone being focused on their own little space and simply dodging giant heaps of metal hurling down the road, a rider on the train is actually exposed to elements outside their usual domain.

So much of the time (urban planet is an example of this), we tend to congregate and drift toward people that think, look and speak like we do. Because I'm always around people of my own profession, I tend to forget that we have a minority view - people outside the profession have entirely different views. On the highway, its easier to imagine that all the cars around yours are people like you, and that the whole city is people like you. On the train, you're forced to realize that Charlotte is very diverse in thought, creed and color. I like that.

(this almost turned into a rant against organized religion, but I'll omit that... for now :whistling: )

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It's funny you mention switching drivers. They do the same thing on uptown trolley lines!!!

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I agree that having a rail line will blend people better than anything else in town (well, except maybe Price's Chicken Coop at lunch. :rolleyes: ) Rail always seems like the upscale transit option and buses downscale. I venture to think that this is because big cities of the northeast and midwest have had rail for a very long time and it goes to wealthy suburban areas. Buses were what the comparatively poorer south used to move poor (usually African American) people around and so carried a stigma for white people that has started to fade just a bit. It's great that lots of different kinds of people are using rail in Charlotte. That will ensure its continued support and build-out.

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I think your are seeing big changes in CATS now. Most all cities around Charlotte are asking for more buses because of rider increases. As gas keeps going up, it is going to be important of keeping our public transportion in good working order. We should have started the building of our LRT years ago when it was cheaper, but the numbers were not there to do so.

If the south Blue line is any indication on how the LRT will work, hopefully we will get funding to finish the system. Charlotte will have a mixed of LRT, DMUs, Buses and Trolleys.

I still would like to see a line built to the airport.

The southeast line will be hard to put a LRT line, but if BRT is done right, I think it will be as attractive as LRT.

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For whatever reason, I feel a major pyschic shift in this city now that it has a mass transit line. Maybe it is a function of many things coming together, sort of the cummulative effect of everything we talk about on this site and many others that we don't. The city simply feels bigger and more important and more cosmopolitan. I'm not sure it is just my observation, either.

There is no question that underlying all the infrastructure and economic growth and numbers and urban theory, there is a social element that sets the tone for living a life in this city. It is one thing to crunch the numbers to determine that you can save $30.87 per month in commuting costs or something. There is something very real about sharing that experience with strangers where somehow you all feel like you are in an important place or something.

I rode the 9 bus to Plaza-Midwood a couple weeks ago and it certainly got the job done. It was quite easy, the bus had a very decent number of people on it, and it practically felt like door to door service considering where we were going. I felt like that was a shared experience and there was some level of diversity on the bus. But something about the experience was just not positive. Maybe it is the walking into the diesel-fumed transit center, or sitting amongst the sticky litter to wait for the bus, or the noises the bus makes, or that bang-rattle that jars everyone when you go over something that otherwise seems inconsequential on the street, or maybe the dim lights, or the miserable look on half the people's faces....

When you think about some of the often cited issues with sprawl, social disconnection is a major factor. People not only see other people in general less often, as they go most places in their cars and don't see their neighbors that often, etc., but when they go places, they generally go where people like them go. The train helps to dissolve some of that effect.

I've seen many conversations strike up among vastly different types of people while sitting on the train. My favorite example was a very stereotypical black teenager, with do-rag and baggy colorful clothes and (whatever else you might picture just to solidify the stereotype) sitting down on a seat on a modestly full train. I saw him offer his seat to a ~4 month pregnant lady who, from the way she dressed, was almost certainly upper middle class, and looked perfectly made up for the occasion of going downtown. She passed up the offer, and they had a very friendly conversation for a while with her standing and him sitting (try to picture that happening a couple generations ago). Then a stereotypically lower middle class white couple, that you'd maybe expect to see at a Speed Street this weekend, joined in the conversation from the seats across the aisle and continued it after the pregnant lady moved on. I then heard the pregant lady talk to another person, and I heard her say 'I have lived in Charlotte my whole life, but I have never been along South Blvd or downtown.'

I'm more of a concept over people person, and I sure think the city needs rail transit to focus economic development, redistribute urban growth to denser and more compact corridors, and create alternatives so that people can avoid 20th century vices like cars and sprawl. But I absolutely agree with monsoon that the social impacts inherent in having the rail in action speak volumes, and help create a sense of social safety and social connection. Had each of those people in my anecdote been in the car, they would have never made a connection and would forever have been the stereotype they represented. Instead, each were riding near the others, spoke with one another, and became individuals connecting.

The more we become a society of individuals connecting, rather than a society of stereotypical groups staying apart, we will have solved a lot of issues that face us that otherwise seem scary and unsolveable.

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It's funny you mention switching drivers. They do the same thing on uptown trolley lines!!!

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While not ideal, this happens all the time on transit systems- switching operators midline. It is more common in bigger cities with subway lines that branch in different directions, and it is done to minimize the amount of overtime a train driver is paid to ride trains back the yard where they parked their car earlier in the workday.

Generally, you cannot eliminate this practice in a transit operation, especially one where the yard/shop facility is in the middle of the line, as is the case with Lynx. CATS should focus on making the procedure for operator swapping faster.

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^You must not be familiar with the way CATS does it. it does not resemble anything that I have seen in larger cities.

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Sometimes I have seen them do the driver switch at the New Bern station, but most times the train will stop briefly at the VMF and they will change drivers there. New Bern is all of a 5 min walk from the VMF so not sure why they can't make it standard practice to change drivers there.

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Southern cities had trolley cars that went to wealthy suburbs too. Just look at Dilworth, Myers Park, Plaza Midwood, etc. I can give you plenty of SC examples and GA examples too. The difference is that when American cities ripped their systems out, Southern cities were generally much smaller than northern ones.

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I've seen many conversations strike up among vastly different types of people while sitting on the train. My favorite example was a very stereotypical black teenager, with do-rag and baggy colorful clothes and (whatever else you might picture just to solidify the stereotype) sitting down on a seat on a modestly full train. I saw him offer his seat to a ~4 month pregnant lady who, from the way she dressed, was almost certainly upper middle class, and looked perfectly made up for the occasion of going downtown.

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There is absolutely no other place in the city that would have happened, and it's a wonderful sign for the city that LYNX is working to create connections across formerly-exclusive demographics.

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Interesting, but that's a lot of money to spend for warm-fuzzies.

Ultimately it must stand on its merits as a transportation platform, not the level of diversity it creates.

It happens to be failing in the transportation respect. Moonsoon has enumerated some of the reasons, but it's a young system, we'll see how it progresses - or doesn't.

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How is it failing in the transportation aspect? It is far exceeding all predictions for ridership and the numbers continue to grow each day. The continued success of the Lynx will bring more and more support for the additional lines.

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I think people are in general just better behaved on the train, than the bus. Less foul mouthed talk, less cranked-up IPODs, fewer kids verbally practicing "rap" lyrics out loud.

Maybe the hustle of people getting on and off, and the shorter trips, subtley prompts riders to think of themselves as being in a public space. (I think part of the change is that teenagers take some of the "acting up" they used to do on school busses onto the city busses... And it feels a little more out-of-place to do on the train.)

Unfortunately, I've notices some vandalism to the ticket machines at Archdale. Somebody is picking away at the plastic displays and scratching them up.

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Interesting, but that's a lot of money to spend for warm-fuzzies.

Ultimately it must stand on its merits as a transportation platform, not the level of diversity it creates.

It happens to be failing in the transportation respect. Moonsoon has enumerated some of the reasons, but it's a young system, we'll see how it progresses - or doesn't.

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.....

And I don't see any basis for saying that it's "failing". It's not a perfect system but it's a pretty good one. I have yet to encounter any strong evidence that it has underperformed in its duty to move bodies across town.

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No doubt, but one must remember this wasn't given as the reason to build it. Instead we heard that it would reduce air pollution, fix Charlotte's congested streets, and create new development. Yet there are no metrics in place for measuring how much the LRT actually does these kinds of things relative to the costs. So the supporters who made this argument have opened themselves up to criticism on this front. The congestion and air pollution claims are dubious at best and there are people that argue we should not build a transit system as a development generator as opposed to a transit system that solves transit problems.

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No doubt, but one must remember this wasn't given as the reason to build it. Instead we heard that it would reduce air pollution, fix Charlotte's congested streets, and create new development. Yet there are no metrics in place for measuring how much the LRT actually does these kinds of things relative to the costs. So the supporters who made this argument have opened themselves up to criticism on this front. The congestion and air pollution claims are dubious at best and there are people that argue we should not build a transit system as a development generator as opposed to a transit system that solves transit problems.

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The congestion and air pollution claims are dubious at best and there are people that argue we should not build a transit system as a development generator as opposed to a transit system that solves transit problems.

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Many could easily argue with success that we have some big-time social and health issues to deal with in this country, so the social and health benefits have always been an element of why I perceive building transit as a necessity in growing urban areas. While it's difficult to impossible for planners to quantify boosts in social activity among diverse populations, and community health gains caused by walks to and from stations, anyone who has experienced this knows it to be true. The act of simply sitting on a train car (or bus) among widely varying groups of people breaks through the notion that everyone ought to move around in their own little cocoons from place to place without any sense of connection to the outside world or one's fellow man. It's also clear that anyone who bases their lifestyle on getting around without depending on a car is almost sure to be in better physical shape as a result.

To sum it up for me, one might call it helping build a greater sense of community and improving public health person by person.

My two philosophical cents.

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