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bchris02

Is Independence ironically becoming the next Freedom Dr?

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Freedom Drive is mostly known for its blight, sketchy night clubs, and urban stores. It was however at one time lined with big box stores and large strip centers. It seems Independence is starting to go down the same path. Quality retailers are closing shop, strip centers are becoming abandoned creating blight, and it seems all thats really thriving is urban stores, night clubs, head shops, etc. Does anybody think the future of Independence is Freedom Dr and if so, what can be done to stop it from happening?

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The freeway/expressway conversion isn't ideal for retail or any kind of urban activity centers. Getting in and out of strip malls with cars flying at 55 mph or bumper to bumper traffic doesn't seem appealing, access is one of the main problems. Some do prefer the convenience of having an expressway over urban amenities such as retail on the East side. IMO retail is long dead on Independence b/c of the slow expressway conversion, any business along it right now is just waiting to die until its section of Independence gets converted. Walmart will do ok b/c that's the only Walmart serving that area, but even with all the planning IMO the access to it will be a mess, right in and right out between two busy interchanges and Pierson is a residential street with a partial interchange with Independence.

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"Is Independence ironically becoming the next Freedom Dr?"

Frankly, I don't see it.and think it's too simply an analogy. The very problems that are plaguing Independence (Freeway/expressway conversion) offer the same kind of problems to any kind of establishments (including nightclubs and head-shops) as big box retailers.

That said, Independence is lost right now and will remain so for the foreseeable future until the conversion is done. I'm most disheartened by the dropping of plans for the BRT/LRT silver line for the foreseeable future as well (though I agree with the MTC budgetary choices) as the revitalized mass transit component down this route will be necessary to shape it's future.

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Closest to Uptown, both Freedom and Independence show signs of revitalization. Freedom has the new Wesley Heights Village, while Independence has the new Elizabeth Square. Of course, neither development really orients towards either thoroughfare, and Independence especially so, since it functions as a limited-access freeway going under the Hawthorne bridge. Freedom, at least, has a new enhanced signalized intersection at Wesley Heights Village. But as others have said, these are really different roadways.

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My trips on Independence were most recently between uptown and Eastland, and I thought that the area was terrible. In the early '90s it was fine; it's really gone downhill.

YES, Independence = Freedom.

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Freedom Drive is mostly known for its blight, sketchy night clubs, and urban stores. It was however at one time lined with big box stores and large strip centers. It seems Independence is starting to go down the same path. Quality retailers are closing shop, strip centers are becoming abandoned creating blight, and it seems all thats really thriving is urban stores, night clubs, head shops, etc. Does anybody think the future of Independence is Freedom Dr and if so, what can be done to stop it from happening?

Both Independence Blvd. and Freedom Drive have maintained a status quo for the past decade. With the exception of Ovens and Bojangles, most everything on Independence is dying or on its way. I personally don't see much realistic hope for the two including most of Wilkerson Blvd. It is a shame as I am a westsider and grew up walking up and down both Freedom Drive and Wilkerson Blvd. at night without fear of crime.

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Mary Newsom reported the Urban Land Institute's presentation this week on recommendations for Independence. Two key recommendations:

  • Forget LRT and Focus on BRT for Independence (also suggested a streetcar down Monroe)
  • Bring the Farmer's Market to Independence

Both her editorial piece and her blog piece (including the comments of the blog piece) are worth a read.

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I live off Margaret Wallace, just past WT Harris. Independence is my daily commute into & out of the city, as well as the main route for anything south towards Matthews.

A couple observations over the 4 years I've lived here:

A lot of the big name Auto dealerships have closed and moved elsewhere. Small mom and pop "No credit no problem!" places have taken up the slack. A couple of the bigger established dealerships have swallowed adjacent empty yards (Keffer Dodge/Jeep for instance) but there's still quite a few big lots sitting empty at this point.

There's zero shops that appeal to me along the entire stretch into the city. I go to the Compare market occasionally. Good selection of fruits and vegs. Otherwise... fast food, auto repair / tire shops, all the standard 'strip stores... no appeal. Well, the strip right at the corner where I live has a Harbor Freight Tools. The Best Buy evacuated a while ago when the Cicuit City over by (the "nicer") Lowes/Starbucks died and took its spot.

Death Valley as I like to call it, (that is the descent from Sharon Amity down into the city, well up to the Coliseum or so) has actually seen a big improvement over the last year, and that is a LOT of the standing buildings that would never have been invested in / rehabbed, have been TORN DOWN. Believe me this is an improvement, as having clean commercial pads ready to go are a lot more appealing then crumbling structures that would never have been rented. There's plenty more that should get this same treatment (the closed bowling lane and adjacent hotel across from the coliseum) but at least this is a good start, and of course there is the mega Walmart development which should do quite well I'm sure.

Light rail, down Independence anyhow, is not gonna happen any time soon, and I'm fine with that. I'm very glad that it is at least getting the existing line pushed up to University, which I think is totally a good thing, though it would have been better if they could have pushed it out to 485 to grab commuters too, but having it come right into the UNCC campus is a good first step.

After that the Light Rail line up to Mooresville etc should come next, IMHO. Again, we're not even close to that, so, whatever.

There's apparently plans to continue the freeway aspect of Independence up to Idlewild road I believe. Which is fine I guess. The years of construction are going to suck and make a pretty crappy traffic situation that much worse. There's also plans drawn up to completely re-do the Margaret Wallace / Village Lake intersection. We're selling our home and hopefully we'll be out of here before any of that gets started ;)

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Having been back in Charlotte for only about four months after setting up shop in Florida for the last eight years I haven't found myself on Freedom yet so therefore I cannot comment on that stretch, but my opinion on Independence is that it is a lost cause (in regards to nurturing business). The wheels of change have already begun to turn. Independence will inevitably be a very wide freeway so it just needs to be viewed as such today.

What I would like to see is the foresight to turn all of the cross streets into dense neighborhood roads complete with midrise buildings consisting of apartments/condos and small, neighborhood-sized storefronts. There should be an effort put forth to retro fit more side streets into some of these huge blocks. Any possible new development should be oriented toward these roads and not Independence. For some roads closer to town Indy is already an over(or under)pass and eventually the same will be said for the rest of the stretch. I don't think the conversion has to be so daunting so as long as it is thought out far enough in advance. It is possible for that area to be a decent, middle-class neighborhood that just so happens to have a highway carving through overhead.

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^Frankly, I'm disappointed how little discussion the ULI proposals have generated locally. You would think a forum of URBAN wonks and groupies would find some interest in what the URBAN Land Institute was recommending.

Of course, I think this is just a reflection of the larger problem locally, and that is, the Eastside lacks political champions and clear vision. If thinking of NoDa, Plaza-Midwood, and Elizabeth as Central Charlotte, and Cotswold as South Charlotte, there is not much excitement for the development prospects of what remains as East Charlotte. No wonder then, that the area lags, if it has been written off by Charlotteans.

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^Frankly, I'm disappointed how little discussion the ULI proposals have generated locally. You would think a forum of URBAN wonks and groupies would find some interest in what the URBAN Land Institute was recommending.

Of course, I think this is just a reflection of the larger problem locally, and that is, the Eastside lacks political champions and clear vision. If thinking of NoDa, Plaza-Midwood, and Elizabeth as Central Charlotte, and Cotswold as South Charlotte, there is not much excitement for the development prospects of what remains as East Charlotte. No wonder then, that the area lags, if it has been written off by Charlotteans.

I wondered the same thing about the lack of response (here) to the ULI proposal. I suspect a large part of the ambivalence is Charlotte's recent history with developing grandish plans and then largely abandoning them (but yes, I do understand the financial necessity of backing away from the 2030 plan).

Compounding my 'plan fatigue' is my own mixed feelings about street car investments. From my perspective the future, more urban, Charlotte is built around employment growth downtown. As employment grows residential demand should follow. To make this happen Charlotte needs rapid transit (meaning commuter and LRT) to move people quickly into the central core and then back to their residential space. Ultimately this process will create walkable villages served by the previously mentioned rail transit. Its only at this point that I see street cars becoming useful for urban circulation within and between the innermost of these villages. Since street cars do nothing to speed commutes and since they replace (at the same speed) buses that already run the routes I don't see the Monroe route to be all that transformative at this point.

Don't get me wrong, I am very pro transit and I am please the center city streetcar is underway. Its just that I think the limited resources could be better allocated to LRT and commuter rail at this point in Charlotte's development.

Perhaps my perspective would be different if I lived on the east side.....

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^^^Agreed. In order for a transit line to be truly successful, it should provide a safe, efficient mode of transportation as well as shape land use to encourage dense development. That is where I think the ULI plan falls drastically short. Although streetcar may spur redevelopment Monroe Road, it is not efficient. Streetcars are typically slower, have more stops, and are subject to traffic. Furthermore, if a wreck occurs in front of a streetcar, it has no means to negotiate that wreck by going around it. Streetcars should not be formed as linear mass transit modes, but rather should be formed as systems around a dense urban core. I would think a streetcar system might do well if it provided transportation to passengers in the immediate uptown area to include Presbyterian and CMC Hospitals, Midtown, Areas of Freedom Drive, JCSU, as well as Uptown itself. However, I think a commuter streetcar line to Matthews would be a bad idea...a very expensive bad idea that provides virtually no benefit over a bus when considered strictly from a transportation perspective. I would be inclined to avoid riding the Monroe Road Streetcar for commuter trips into downtown if I lived in the area, and I am reasonably sure many residents would avoid it as well.

I think the better idea is to place LRT near Independence. It would provide an efficient, fast transportation option, and although those at ULI would disagree I think that LRT would spur redevelopment contingent upon proper planning and zoning. High speed corridors with median running rail transit can work well together. Buckhead is a good example of how rail, freeway, and dense urban development can all work in the same area. Also there are ways to reduce capital costs associated with LRT. One way is to build a diesel LRT system like the River Line in New Jersey. That would completely eliminate the need for overhead wires.

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^Well I guess I disagree. I think real BRT down Independence with streetcars down Monroe (road) and a commuter rail line to Monroe (town) is a a smarter plan.

I'm stating this in context of two things:

1. You can't take one line/geographic area and plan a mini area system in a vacuum, You need to think about what role it plays in the larger city/regional mass transit plan.

2. REAL BRT down Independence with a Commuter line from Monroe would serve the majority of those who would use mass transit for quick work commutes while the streetcar focuses on aiding the building of a denser and walkable city culture.

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^Well I guess I disagree. I think real BRT down Independence with streetcars down Monroe (road) and a commuter rail line to Monroe (town) is a a smarter plan.

I'm stating this in context of two things:

1. You can't take one line/geographic area and plan a mini area system in a vacuum, You need to think about what role it plays in the larger city/regional mass transit plan.

2. REAL BRT down Independence with a Commuter line from Monroe would serve the majority of those who would use mass transit for quick work commutes while the streetcar focuses on aiding the building of a denser and walkable city culture.

I completely understand your perspective on this and we are not far apart on it. First, I think BRT down Independence to Matthews is a good idea -- anything that gets a rapid, fixed route service between Matthews and downtown is a good thing.

My concern about the Monroe rd. street car plan is that it does not appear to provide feeder service to whatever rapid link exists on Independence (I may be wrong about that). The local circulatory benefits provided by the Monroe rd. streetcar seem (to me) to be kind of empty without a stronger linkage to employment centers -- most neighborhood residents are still going to be forced into driving to work everyday so they may as well drive to run errands as well. This is why I think the Monroe street car is destined to poor ridership in the current commuting climate.

EDIT: If they rerouted this streetcar down eastway to connect to the Central ave streetcar (and the Independence BRT) and then a connection to the far in the future Monroe commuter line stop at Windover and then down Monroe to connect back up to the original streetcar in Elizabeth then I am totally on board....

I can certainly see the merits in your perspective as well, guess my confusion is why I am not a transportation planner.

I do think commuter rail to Monroe / Union county would be a great idea. I don't think CSX would be willing to consider it with their current track conditions. Since CSX and NS no longer really need access to central Charlotte for freight distribution its really a shame that NCDOT did not build 485 with double tracked freight rail in the median (or off to one side), this would have allowed the freight railroads bypass the city and give their inside the beltway lines to the state and allowed them to avoid the headaches (and taxes) of urban freight facilities. Ahh to dream.....

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My concern about the Monroe rd. street car plan is that it does not appear to provide feeder service to whatever rapid link exists on Independence (I may be wrong about that). The local circulatory benefits provided by the Monroe rd. streetcar seem (to me) to be kind of empty without a stronger linkage to employment centers -- most neighborhood residents are still going to be forced into driving to work everyday so they may as well drive to run errands as well. This is why I think the Monroe street car is destined to poor ridership in the current commuting climate.

EDIT: If they rerouted this streetcar down eastway to connect to the Central ave streetcar (and the Independence BRT) and then a connection to the far in the future Monroe commuter line stop at Windover and then down Monroe to connect back up to the original streetcar in Elizabeth then I am totally on board....

I completely agree about the streetcar/rapid link connection. Not only is it good for the local areas but it helps avoid a commuter rush into center city in order to get out of the city at 5:00 p.m.

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I believe a slow ride on streetcars poorly serves the majority of existing transit riders on local routes, along with long-distance riders, existing or new. Granted, an inner-core streetcar system can attract new riders, but only for short-distance trips. Likewise, planned rapid-transit corridors can attract new long-distance riders. But existing riders on local buses are still being overlooked by all of these system plans.

Existing patrons on local routes, who are largely transit-dependent, mostly make suburb-to-suburb trips, or trips with both the origin and destination outside of Uptown. And these riders are today inconvenienced by forced transfers at CTC. There has to be a system solution for these riders as well, if CATS is serious about adding streetcar to its system.

I have several ideas for balancing streetcar with new bus service. Routes with similar ridership and frequency should be interlined, such as #7 and #9 buses. And as streetcar is built on portions of high-ridership routes, like the #7 and #9, those routes should reduce their stops on comparable segments. Additionally, there should be frequent service running completely outside of Uptown, linking multiple transit centers, so as to reduce travel time for suburb-to-suburb trips. I envision a Sprinter-like ring connecting Rosa Parks, Sugar Creek Station (BLE), Eastland (or Harris/Albemarle/Lawyers), Independence Wal-Mart, SouthPark, Scaleybark Station (joint development deck), Wilkinson Wal-Mart, and Freedom Mall.

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