LYNX Light Rail: Five Years Later

July 23, 2012 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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.

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.

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


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


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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