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The Voice of the Black Community


West End riding on transportation links
City sees investment as key to economic development
Published Thursday, August 1, 2013 1:14 pm
by Herbert L. White

Beatties Ford Road has undergone fundamental changes in transportation infrastructure with new medians and pedestrian-friendly pediscapes. The CityLynx Gold Line streetcar project, supporters contend, will make Historic West End an attractive location for housing and business investment.

Beatties Ford Road doesn’t look the same.

Streetscapes include medians with bright flowers and bus shelters reflect the history and culture of Historic West End. Buses dominate public transportation today, but city leaders are betting the CityLynx Gold Line will fundamentally change the area by sparking new development.

Charlotte has primed the pump with $20 million in West End improvements from pediscapes to bus shelters in an effort to make transit an economic engine. The keystone is the streetcar, which would run from Beatties Ford Road to the Elizabeth neighborhood in the east.

Critics suggest the Gold Line is a boondoggle, the city’s payback to Westside leaders for their support of the half-cent sales tax that supports the Lynx Blue Line. But City Manager Ron Carlee, who orchestrated a plan that provides streetcar funding without property taxes, said rail signals commitment to neighborhood development buses can’t replicate.

“The reality is when you actually lay down rail, you send the message that this transit system is going to be here, it’s permanent and you know where it goes,” he said. “It’s been proven in city after city that the psychological and economic impact of rail is much different than what you can ever get with a bus. 

“The streetcar is just like the Blue Line. The difference is the rail is in the street as opposed to a dedicated track.”

Beatties Ford Road’s No. 7 bus line has the third highest ridership in Charlotte Area Transit System with 1.2 million riders in fiscal year 2013. Route 11, which rolls along North Tryon Street, led with 1.7 million, followed by No. 9 along Central Avenue at 1.5 million riders.

Gold Line supporters contend the streetcar will be able to replicate the development prowess of the Blue Line, a train that sparked development along South Boulevard. When completed, the Blue Line will extend to UNC Charlotte and along with it, transform neighborhoods along the north corridor.

“Transit and land use have been integrated here in Charlotte,” CATS director Carolyn Flowers said. “We see that if you plan and you basically look at the future, it’s an opportunity to spur economic development with transit. Transit has provided opportunities for economic development along the corridors. You saw that with the south corridor and there’s potential for economic development along the new corridors we’re planning.”

Real estate developer Bobby Drakeford isn’t so quick to compare Historic West End to South End. The Blue Line, with its dedicated track, is uninpeded by traffic. The Gold Line, when finished, will operate at the whims of traffic lights.

“I think it’ll be less attractive than other areas because of the modes of transportation going to those other areas are a little more modern or swift. Light rail compared to a street car is more indicative of a modern transportation trend. I don’t think the areas are going to be as attractive or appealing, but it helps bridge some of the gap.”

South Boulevard is a far cry from its condition a decade ago. Mom-and-pop stores have given way to tony boutiques and restaurants in the South End district. Major retailers have set up shop and new upscale apartments have sprung up along the tracks. That, Carlee says, is possible in Historic West End as well.

 “What we should be getting is quality midrise development around the actual streetcar stops, with it tapering out and enabling us to preserve the existing single-family communities that are adjacent to the line,” he said. “Your best rate of development is going to occur within a quarter-mile of the stops and that’s where you need to be thoughtful and capture the value of and the return on your investment in building any rail project.”

Aaron McKeithan, president of the Historic West End Homeowners Association, sees the investment as long overdue to bringing economic vitality to the corridor.

“When I look at this and look at the change, you think about what transportation has done for South Boulevard,” he said. “Transportation brings economic development, so why shouldn’t we have economic development? That’s the question I ask of people who say ‘you don’t need it.’ Why shouldn’t we have what everyone else in this city has?”

“The bigger picture is to revitalize Historic West End as we get prepared for the Gold Line,” said Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell, who represents District 2, which includes Historic West End. “We’re going to spend $3.6 million (on a business corridor project that finished in May) and the next phase from Capps Hill Mine Road to Hornets Nest (Park) is another $9 million, so we’re preparing our way so when we put the tracks down, hopefully around 2016, people feel comfortable getting on the Gold Line and they’ll see a new Historic West End.”

Some changes are being met with resistance. Paul Holmes, who has lived in the area 32 years and runs a consulting business from his home near Capps Hill Mine Road, is one of several property owners who’ve petitioned City Council to amend its physical median, which they contend makes it difficult for traffic to access their businesses. They want a painted median from Capps Hill Mine to Slater Road, which would allow left-hand turns to King Funeral Home toward Interstate 85.  

“That means a funeral procession heading up I-85 has to go up about 400 feet and make a U-turn,” Holmes said in March. “A funeral procession having to make a U-turn is just not right.”

The holdouts have yet to change city officials’ minds, however. Mitchell argues that regulations dictate the use of physical medians.

“I respect people’s opinion when we agree to disagree, but I have to yield on safety,” said Mitchell, a candidate for mayor. “All the new standards now require for four lanes you need a decorative concrete median. It’s a positive thing, and I do know not everybody is happy, but I have to be consistent. We’ve had 97 percent of the property owners sign off on the decorative median, so I’m supportive of that.”

Improving transportation options is central to Charlotte’s growth, Flowers maintains, As people pick between buses, rail or dedicated bike lanes, those choices benefit the region.

“Charlotte has invested because all of us, through the sales taxes, are looking for an improvement in transit, “ she said. “What we’re looking at is transit be integrated into the community. …It improves the overall amenities in the program attract riders to the system and recognize the value of this community to the overall city.”

In the overall scheme, Drakeford believes transportation can be the spark that improves West End’s bottom line. He’s not convinced it’ll become South End, however.

“If you don’t have the attention of the city or public sector, it’s harder to get the interest of the private sector,” he said. “What they’re doing is going to appeal to investors, real estate developers. I think it’ll be a boost.”

Said Carlee: “I believe (the Gold Line) will have a transformational impact on the east and west of this city in a way a bus never will. You’ve got bus transportation now. Why hasn’t it transformed those areas? Buses don’t transform areas.”


Advantageous Urban Amenities

These new transit links will not only add to the urban appeal of the West End, it will also enable all Charlotteans to come enjoy partaking of the business, educational and entertainment amenities of the West End area.
Posted on August 2, 2013

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