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LYNX Light Rail: Five Years Later

Nearly five years ago, Metro Jacksonville covered the opening of Charlotte, North Carolina's LYNX light rail line. Today, we present a photo essay of the environment that has developed around Charlotte's rail line to illustrate what could be possible in our own city when community-led vision enters the picture.

Published July 23, 2012 in Transit      16 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Charlotte's first light rail line officially opened on Novemeber 25, 2007. Transit officials estimate over 60,000 people waited up to two hours in line to ride during the first day. Will Jacksonvillians come out like this when BRT blesses our streets?

Link to full Metro Jacksonville artice:Charlotte's LYNX light rail: Open for Business 2007

About the LYNX Blue Line



The LYNX Blue Line is the Charlotte region's first light rail service. It is 9.6 miles long and operates from I-485 at South Boulevard to Uptown Charlotte. With 15 stations including seven park and ride locations, the LYNX Blue Line provides a congestion free commute with a consistent travel time. LYNX operates seven days a week. Weekday service operates from 5:26 a.m. to 1:26 a.m. and service is available every 10 minutes during weekday rush hour and every 15 minutes during non-peak hours. Weekend service operates every 20 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes during late night hours.

http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/cats/lynx/Pages/default.aspx



In the months following opening, the line was averaging 80% over initial ridership projections, leading Light Rail Now to proclaim the line a "huge success". Jim Puckett, former Mecklenburg County Commissioner and a leader of the campaign to repeal the transit tax, said in the Charlotte Observer: "I have to admit, they are doing better than I expected... Our concern was whether we would have a white elephant, and it doesn't seem we do."

Prior to the opening of the line in November 2007, CATS projected ridership for the completed Blue Line to be 9,100 on an average weekday in its first year of operation, gradually increasing to 18,100 by 2025. In its first few months of operation, the Blue Line saw an average daily weekday ridership of 8,700 passengers. By the end of the first quarter of 2008, weekday ridership had increased to 18,600, double first-year projections and ahead of the 2025 projections. In March 2008, the single light rail line accounted for 19.5% of total system ridership – 402,600 of the 2,061,700 monthly passenger-trips of all lines including bus, dial-a-ride, and vanpool. Daily ridership continued to climb through the fall of 2008 due to increasing gasoline prices, peaking at 22,300 in the third quarter, only to drop to 15,400 in 2011.

By summer 2009, a CATS survey indicated that 72 percent of Lynx riders did not use public transportation prior to its completion. On December 11, 2009, Lynx celebrated its 10 millionth passenger trip since its opening in November 2007. For 2009, Lynx saw a decrease in daily ridership from 19,700 to 19,500 passengers per day. As of the second quarter of 2011, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has Lynx daily ridership at 15,400, making Lynx the 23rd largest light rail system in the United States in terms of ridership.



I-485/South Boulevard Station serves as the southern terminus of the Blue Line.  Connecting bus service provides ties LRT riders with Carolina Place Mall.  The station was designed for commuters in mind and features an underground 1,120 "Free" parking garage.  The garage's roof serves as a playing field for an adjacent elementary school.  Carolina Pavilion, a big-box shopping center similar to Jacksonville's River City Marketplace, is located one block west of the station.  Featuring Target and Kohl's, the 875,000 square foot shopping center is the eighth-largest retail center in Charlotte's metropolitan area.




A pedestrian overpass connects the Sharon Road West Station with the intersection of Sharon Road and South Boulevard.  Planning for the LRT line commenced in 1999.  Much of the LRT line operates along a Norfolk Southern rail line paralleling South Boulevard.  With several industries still receiving freight rail service, LRT and freight tracks operate side-by-side.





Charlotte Rail History

1938: Last streetcar goes out of service in Charlotte

1996: Charlotte Trolley opens with restored streetcar

1.8 mile line attracts 25,000 riders on weekends over 6 months

Trolley generates $600 million in development and 90% property value increase

1998: 1/2% transit sales tax referendum passes

November 2007: "Stop the Train" referendum fails 30-70

November 2007: LYNX Blue Line opens




“We congratulate the City of Charlotte on this accomplishment, which confirms what we’ve known for years: Charlotte is showing the way for American cities that want to turn away from sprawling, automobile-oriented development toward providing livable streets that are safe and comfortable for all people, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation,” said Barbara McCann, executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. In its goal to distinguish itself from regional sunbelt peers like Jacksonville, Charlotte complements its mass transit investments with an agressive complete streets policy.  This has led to a number of pedestrian and bicycle projects that tie the Blue Line with adjacent neighborhoods and destinations.



LYNX Ridership Numbers

Projections:

2007: 9,100 (trips per weekday)
2025: 18,100

Reality:

2007: 15,027 (65.1% higher than expected)
2009: 14,694
2011: 15,400


Just south of the South End District, Scaleybark Station is located in the median of South Boulevard.  The station itself also serves as a median refuge for pedestrians and cyclist crossing the busy four lane arterial highway.



CATS Light Rail Maintenance Facility is located just south of the South End's New Bern Station.



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16 Comments

vicupstate

July 23, 2012, 05:04:32 AM
The soon to start extention into North Charlotte has already fueled redevelopment in the NoDa district even though construction won't be complete for several years yet. Just the anticipation of Light Rail has spurred redevelopment there for several years now.

Noone

July 23, 2012, 06:27:31 AM
Interesting!

Doctor_K

July 23, 2012, 10:22:00 AM
And JTA's short-term plan is to STILL use BRT "as the spine" of the system.

<facepalm>

mbwright

July 23, 2012, 10:29:41 AM
The brief bus lane on Blanding, in front of the Flea Market, removed parking, and contributed to the decline.  Imagine if rail was on Roosevelt, or Blanding, or Philips, or other major artery.  I think buses will always have a poor impression, at least in this town.  I Boston, it is seen as part of the transportaion options.  BRT just is not the same. 

Are there any studies showing BRT creating a similar impact in growth as light rail?

I especially like how the actual number of users is much higher than the original estimate.

fieldafm

July 23, 2012, 11:07:08 AM
I would encourage you to listen to First Coast Connect tomorrow morning as JTA will be talking about their long range transportation plans ahead of Thursday's forum.

I would also encourage you to attend Thursday OR write JTA to let them know why fixed transit and stimulating TOD is so important to our economic future.

One of the first things they could do (and probably most important) would be to advocate for the Mobility Fee moratorium (a fair and equitable structure agreed upon by the development community) to sunset in October. 

cline

July 23, 2012, 11:36:05 AM
^Do you know who will be speaking from JTA on Connect tomorrow?

fsujax

July 23, 2012, 12:02:18 PM
You should also write or call your councilperson and the Mayor's office. Of course with the current administration I can't see the city spending money on anything unless Council intervenes.

hightowerlover

July 23, 2012, 01:21:20 PM
I think the ideal route would be from the san marco skyway station then down beach or atlantic blvd all the way to the ocean. I would say down butler, but I dont think PVB would be on board.

Doctor_K

July 23, 2012, 03:18:42 PM
I think the ideal route would be from the san marco skyway station then down beach or atlantic blvd all the way to the ocean. I would say down butler, but I dont think PVB would be on board.

Maybe, but you've already got a bulk of the infrastructure in place paralleling US1/Philips. Park & Ride or Bus-to-rail transfer stations at Atlantic near San Marco Square, and then on down the road at Emerson (or) University, Butler, Baymeadows, Shad, Avenues, Greenland, and Old St. Augustine (or any combination thereof).

Use the existing bus fleet to run from those station-locations up and down those east-west arteries, and all of a sudden you've got a much more useful, relevant, and meaningful transit system.

And that's just the Southside!

And that's just the SE portion of the potential system, which has been covered ad nauseum throughout MetroJax's forums. 

That's not to say I don't necessarily disagree with your sentiment, Hightowerlover, but at the same time why not use what we've already got?

JFman00

July 23, 2012, 04:10:14 PM
I saw in the 2012 Consolidated Plan a map of prospective commuter rail corridors with a first operational date of 2021. How serious has JTA really been about this?

thelakelander

July 23, 2012, 07:27:18 PM
When we formed Metro Jacksonville in 2006, it was an afterthought.  In fact, in light of the criticism generated by this group, they initially publicly talked down commuter rail locally and tried to highlight why it wouldn't work and why BRT was the superior mode of transit to any fixed rail alternative.  Even the thought of transit oriented development was a foreign thought to the agency.  Since then, they've at least acknowledged that what we were claiming makes sense and have added it to their "long term" plans.  Looking back six years later, I'd say without Metro Jacksonville, there would still no discussion about fixed rail of any kind and the economic impact that it can have on our city.  With that said, 2021 is too long for the implementation of a starter segment.  2021 pretty much places you in the starting phases of begging for federal dollars with little to no intention of finding alternative creative financing methods. 

Seriously, I don't know if Jacksonville can afford to wait that long for reliable economic stimulating transit options with the way the world around us is changing.  The H.J. Klutho's, Cora Crane's, Jacob Cohen's and James Weldon Johnson's of Jacksonville a century ago would roll over in their graves if they saw how slow we've become in making progressive decisions to improve our quality of life.

Nevertheless, real implementation will only come with community support and bold leadership.  If those two things can align, we'll have something operational well before then.  Luckily, it appears at least some people are starting to get it locally but we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

RexMontana

July 24, 2012, 04:29:25 PM
Until the people at JTA get their heads out of the manhole, this project will never succeed. We need people that are more forward thinking to get this project going. Jacksonville has needed some type of rail system since the 70s. It really surprises me that for a city with the largest land area in the country, no one has implemented something to get its citizens moving around faster. The bus system is a joke. I know first hand because I had to depend on it when I did not have a car and it was pure hell. You could not catch a bus from point A to point B. You always had to go downtown and catch another bus and IF you were able to catch the connecting bus, then you would get to work on time. And that's a big IF because the buses did not run on schedule. Plus, a normal 1/2 hour drive to and from work in a car would take at least 2 hours to work and 2 hours from work before you arrived home. Just think how easy it would be for everyone if you had a rail system that you could take from one place to another. Look at how easily it has worked for other major cities like New York, Boston, Atlanta and Miami.

fieldafm

July 25, 2012, 08:47:55 AM
This is particularly relevant with JTA's new visioning process.

Do we want to encourage highly fiscally responsible development patterns associated with TOD that have clearly been successful in peer communities like Charlotte (or Tampa)?  Or do we want to continue to subsidize and incentivize low density development further out that only puts further pressure on already strained municipal finances?


BTW, here is the link to First Coast Connect yesterday
http://www.wjct.org/radio/shows/wjct_news#fcc

Ocklawaha

July 25, 2012, 10:25:18 AM
I think the ideal route would be from the san marco skyway station then down beach or atlantic blvd all the way to the ocean. I would say down butler, but I dont think PVB would be on board.

The beaches would be a great destination, but we don't even have the starter core system. Jacksonville tends to develop 'skyscraper plans' with no foundation whatsoever.

What could be done quickly and effectively would be to get commuter rail up and running from downtown to Orange Park/Green Cove Springs, and downtown to St Augustine parallel to Philips Highway. A BRT line could be quickly implemented along Atlantic, Beach, or JTB to the beaches.

Until the people at JTA get their heads out of the manhole, this project will never succeed.

Just think how easy it would be for everyone if you had a rail system that you could take from one place to another. Look at how easily it has worked for other major cities like New York, Boston, Atlanta and Miami.

A commuter rail system will only work if it's well connected to a mixed base of Streetcar/light-rail, bus/BRT and Skyway. Putting 5 miles of rail in downtown and the immediate vicinity, will only effect the passenger traveling from Bay Meadows to MLK, in that it should relieve bus equipment that is currently tied up circulating in the downtown-Riverside market. While this SHOULD allow more bus frequency, it won't magically transform everyones commute.

It works in New York, Boston, Atlanta and Miami, because those cities have fairly complete, and well connected, mature systems. While streetcars and commuter rail would be a huge development tool in Jacksonville, there is no magic bullet.

vicupstate

July 25, 2012, 02:12:28 PM
As if on cue...

Quote
Crescent Resources has completed a record-high sale in the state for a multifamily property, collecting $74 million or $205,555 per unit for the 360-unit Circle at Sought End and its 8,000 square feet of prime retail space.
CBRE represented Crescent Resources in the sale. Dallas-based Sarofim Realty Advisors was Crescent Resource's equity partner.

Circle at South End opened in May 2009, the first 100 percent smoke-free development in Charlotte. It was accorded LEED Silver certification in 2010. It also was selected for a merit award as Green Project of the Year by Multifamily Executive magazine and won a 2010 recycling competition of Charlotte-based Waste Management Concierge.

"Like all our apartment communities, we started Circle at South End with an irreplaceable location and infused it with high-quality products and green features as well as innovative programming," said Brian Natwick, president of multifamily with Crescent Resources.

Circle at South End sits at the intersection of South Boulevard and Bland Street beside a light-rail station. The units are a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans that have been historically 100 percent leased from the day it opened. Amenities include a residents' lounge with billiards, movies and a gourmet kitchen plus poolside grilling stations.


100% occupancy for three years and a statewide record sale price, even in a down economy.  Money talks pretty loudly in this case.

tufsu1

July 25, 2012, 09:07:34 PM
and a condo building in Tampa just sold for roughly $165,000 per unit....and guess what, its on the streetcar line!
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