Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Riding on the 'Mane' Line

As reported earlier, America added one more rail transit system in November of 2007. Charlotte, North Carolina is home to the newest rail line in the United States, and in my opinion, they've done an excellent job.

A friend and I went to visit Charlotte last week, and we were impressed not only with the Lynx Light Rail, but with Charlotte itself. Until August, I had lived near Atlanta for over 22 years, and even though Charlotte is only four hours away, I never did more than pass through. Of course, a transit system changed all that.

My colleagues were amused but unsurprised to hear that I drove four hours one-way "just to ride a light rail line." Of course, the mini-road trip that my friend and I took was a scaled-down version of what I'd hoped would include Nashville as well. Nashville is home to the only remaining major rail system in the Southeast that I haven't ridden, the Music City Star. The Star, as a regional rail service, is quite different from Lynx and would have been a wonderful part of my trip. It didn't work out though, so I'll just have to hold off until my next visit to Georgia. At any rate, there was just no way that I could pass up an opportunity to visit America's newest transit system while it was fresh out of the box. Since I was in Atlanta for three weeks, a visit to Charlotte was high on my agenda.

Aside from Lynx, Charlotte struck me as an undiscovered must-see. Both my friend and myself wondered aloud why no one had bothered to tell us how nice the Queen City really is. Honestly, even without the fog, I think the place would have reminded me of Seattle (which is, incidentally, constructing its own light rail system, the Link Light Rail, set to open in 2009).

Even though the metropolitan region is just over half the size of Atlanta's, Uptown Charlotte's streets were full of pedestrians and street life. Apparently the city fathers have poured many resources into streetscapes and public art, but even without, I am convinced that Charlotte's streets would have been more vibrant than I was used to in the hub of the South.

Since I was only in Charlotte for five hours, I didn't get the opportunity to visit neighborhoods outside of the central business district, but some of the new transit oriented developments along the Lynx Blue Line suggest that they are also in good shape.

All in all, I like Charlotte. I have put it down for further visitation. Perhaps I can stop over for a night or two while I'm on my way between Atlanta and Washington. Charlotte is definitely on the right track when it comes to growing in a more responsible way. The Lynx is an excellent aspect of Charlotte's plan to reduce dependence on the automobile. And if plans are to be believed, it is only the first step.

The Lynx Light Rail line is currently 9.6 miles long, traveling from Uptown Charlotte at 7th Street to the Beltway south of the city. The trains serve 15 stations along the way. Lynx parallels South Boulevard using a railroad corridor to penetrate the urban core. The line runs in a dedicated right-of-way for its entire length, though it does have many grade crossings, all of which are signalized. Several major streets were bridged by the Blue Line to avoid traffic congestion.

More experimenting with the video function on my camera. Here, Lynx crosses Carson Boulevard just south of Uptown Charlotte.

Eventually, the Blue Line will be extended toward the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on the north side of the city. The line will reach the Beltway 11 miles to the north between 2013 and 2018. Additionally, plans call for a streetcar circulator connecting to radial lines and at least one commuter rail line to the northwest. A bus rapid transit line will be constructed to the Airport and other points west.

And no, the Lynx (or Bobcat) does not actually have a mane, but this post's title does fit alongside the feline theme running through the QC. The operator of the Blue Line is, of course, CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System), and Charlotte is home to the Panthers (football) and Bobcats (Basketball) as well.


laura moore said...

Great post!

cherryblossommj said...


Rail Life said...

Nice post.. Maybe you can come out to AZ in December to try out the new light rail line here. :-)