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 Transportation -

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.

The South End

The South End, is a neighborhood immediately south of Uptown Charlotte.  Its beginning started in the 1850s with Charlotte's first railroad line, connecting the Queen City to Columbia and Charleston, SC. As time passed a thriving manufacturing community sprang up along the tracks, centered on the booming textile industry. The industrial area declined during the 1970s and 1980s, only to be revived in the early 1990s as restaurants, shops, and design-related industries discovered the old mills and warehouses, which were connected with Uptown Charlotte via a heritage trolley line. The area is notable for the number of renovated factories and eclectic mix of retail, commercial and high end residential construction. Notable businesses in the sector include the Design Center of the Carolinas, Price's Chicken Coop, Woods on South (the former Southend Brewery) and the national headquarters of Concentric Marketing.

South End is a unique urban neighborhood that hasn’t forgotten it’s historical past. It’s this combination of history and urbanity that creates a place filled with contrasting combinations that work so well together. Now served by both heritage streetcars and modern Light Rail, the neighborhood is the home of several transit oriented developments and an example of what rail connectivity could transform Jacksonville's Springfield and Myrtle Avenue Warehouse Districts into.

Now under construction, the Fountains at South End is an example of transit oriented development that has been attracted to the Blue Line outside of Uptown Charlotte.  The $26.2 million, 208-unit apartment community is currently under construction adjacent to the New Bern light rail station.

“The light rail line is a great location for new luxury apartments,” said managing principal Stuart Proffitt. “People can take the LYNX Blue Line to work, which means fewer cars on the road and cleaner air. Plus, rents will be competitively-priced compared to older communities with fewer amenities.”

"Light rail sends a powerful message to the companies here and the companies looking to come here - we are investing in our future so our workers have options for getting to work," Morgan, the chamber president, said. "Transit is not a luxury; it's a necessity. It sends a message and symbol of how you as a community are thinking about the future."
Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce


A University of North Carolina at Charlotte study last year showed that housing prices around light-rail stations closest to downtown have jumped more than 15 percent since light rail opened. Farther from downtown, housing values rose less or not at all.

Walter Broome, manager of Price's Chicken Coop, which has been selling fried chicken for 48 years just outside of downtown Charlotte, said: "At one time, this was the wrong side of the track. But people are coming back now. Real estate is at a premium."


When Metro Jacksonville speaks of the market rate economic benefits of fixed rail in the urban core, we envision projects similar to this being constructed in long forgotten and economically distressed neighborhoods like New Springfield, Brentwood, Durkeeville, LaVilla and Brooklyn.  Between 2005-2009, Charlotte witnessed 9.8 million square feet of new development built along the 9.6 Blue Line, representing a total of $1.8 billion in private development.  That kind of economic development, which hasn't been seen in the Northside of Jacksonville in over 60 years is something we believe would be good for our community.

Uptown Charlotte

Uptown Charlotte currently serves as the Blue Line's northern terminus.  Twenty years ago, this central business district's environment was eerily similar to present day Jacksonville's.  After two decades of coordinated planning, the center city now employs more than 70,000 people and attracts over 25 million visitors annually to its 120 restaurants and 50 nightspots.  In addition, more than 13,000 residents live in Uptown Charlotte.

Paralleling Tyron Street, two blocks to the south, the Blue Line LRT provides direct service to several Uptown attractions including the Charlotte Convention Center, Nascar Hall of Fame, Charlotte Transportation Center, Times Warner Cable Arena and the 7th Street Public Market.

7th Street Station serves as the northern terminus of the Blue Line.  Located at the base of a nearby 7th Street Parking Garage is the 7th Street Public Market.  Five years ago, this space housed a local grocer, Reid's Fine Foods.  Citing the impact of the recession, Reid's closed June 2010.  In March 2012, the 7th Street Public Market opened in its place with funding from the private sector.

A weekend-long grand opening is underway for uptown Charlotte's new 7th Street Public Market. The market is unique because it is a non-profit--a very different kind of non-profit where you can buy locally grown and locally made food. Shopper Danielle Miller was buying some fresh fish Thursday evening. "It is very convenient because you can just come right here, then go home and cook it up." If you live on the Lynx light rail line it is easy too, because there is a stop right outside the market. Charlotte Center City Partners was turned down when it asked for $1 million in public money to fund the market after Reid's moved out. So, the organization found sponsors like Carolinas Healthcare System to come up with the money. "A public market in an urban center, it should have everything going for it and we are on the right track," said Robert Krumbine, of Center City Partners.

Charlotte's Future

Streetcar tracks were added as a part of Elizabeth Avenue's streetscape in anticipation of the Center City streetcar corridor.

At present, the only completed portion of the LYNX network is the five year old 9.6 mile Blue Line.  However, CATS' long-term master plan includes 76 miles of light rail, commuter rail, streetcar and bus rapid transit by 2030.

"The shape of Charlotte over 100 years is dependant on transit. Development will go where transportation infrastructure will allow it."

Elizabeth Avenue.  These tracks will become a part of Charlotte's 1.5 mile starter modern streetcar line by 2015.

Blue Line

With construction set to begin in 2013, the Blue Line will be extended 9.4-miles to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  This 11 station corridor is estimated to carry 24,500 weekday boardings by 2035.  With a capital cost of $977 million, this light rail line is anticipated to be completed in 2017.

Red Line

The Red Line is a proposed 25-mile commuter rail line that will be constructed along existing Norfolk Southern tracks, providing service from Uptown Charlotte to northern Mecklenburg County.  Estimated to cost $456 million to construct, there is currently no clear funding source to move this project forward.

Silver Line

The Silver Line is a proposed 13.5 mile rapid transit corridor that will be operated as either bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail (LRT) between Uptown Charlotte and Matthews, North Carolina.  Plans call for the 16 station, $582 million corridor to be operational by 2026.

Center City Corridor

This project is a proposed 9.9 mile streetcar line that will connect the University Park area of west Charlotte with Eastland Mall in east Charlotte by way of Uptown Charlotte, in a primarily east-west direction.  In July 2010, a $25 million Federal Urban Circulator Grand was awarded to the city, allowing construction on the initial 1.5 mile starter segment to begin.  Current plans call for the starter segment to be operational by 2015.

West Corridor

The West Corridor is a proposed 6.4 mile streetcar line that will connect Charlotte/Douglas International Airport with Uptown Charlotte by 2034.  With a completion date over two decades away, in 2008 CATS announced enhanced bus service (JTA's version of BRT for Jacksonville) to serve this corridor as a placeholder.  Called Sprinter, the service began a year later in September 2009, featuring fewer stops and timing similar to that of the future streetcar route.  The Sprinter serves as a great example for JTA and Jacksonville how to implement cost effective BRT in a relatively short time period.

Determining Jacksonville's Transportation Future

It is now 2012.  After five years of operation and economic development in Charlotte, locally we still have no Bus Rapid Transit and the concept of commuter rail and streetcars in Jacksonville has not moved past the study phase. Tied of Jacksonville being in a continued state of malaise when it comes to the implementation of a respectable mass transit system?  Well this week, you'll have an opportunity to see what the Jacksonville Transportation Authority has planned for our community.  On Thursday, July 26 at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority will unveil its new Consolidated Plan "A Strategic Vision for the Future" to the general public.  There will be two sessions (11a.m.-1p.m. and 4-7p.m.) with a live presentation by JTA Executive Director/CEO Michael Blaylock at 11:30a.m. and 5:30p.m. respectively.

Here, the public will be able to "tour" what JTA plans to bring Jacksonville over the next 30 years and speak with JTA planners, engineers and financial experts.  More importantly, you'll be able to tell JTA your thoughts on what Jacksonville needs for our community that should be reflected in the future plan.

For a sneak peak of JTA's Consolidated Plan: Multimodal Transportation Solutions 2012, click HERE

Article by Ennis Davis

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Metro Jacksonville