Tag Archives: Growth

Sustainable Growth?

“Charlotte … perform(s) particularly bad. These systems do not have enough riders to produce the economies of scale that make transit provision by rail significantly less expensive than bus.” — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

While public transit is required to help accommodate the area’s population growth, the central question is what technology do we require to solve what problem? And when do you use one versus the other? So where rail transit might be economically sound by re-purposing along existing rail corridors surrounded by high-density populations, does it make sense to use rail transit all of the time? Is rail the only tool in the transit kit?

What really matters to transit-oriented development [TOD] outcomes?  According to the report, the #1 predictor is strong government support for redevelopment, while the #2 predictor is real estate market conditions.  The #3 predictor is the usefulness of the transit services — frequency, speed, and reliability as ensured by an exclusive right of way. Using rail vs bus technologies does not appear to matter much at all. — yes, great bus service can stimulate development!

There seems to be a continued LRT bias where advocates claim that LRT is the only way to support population growth using TOD (Transit Orient Developments) and that TOD has an inherent affinity for LRT over BRT. However, studies from the US GAO (BUS RAPID TRANSIT, Projects Improve Transit Service and Can Contribute to Economic Development) and a recent study of 21 North American transit corridors across 13 cities by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy suggests otherwise. The study concluded that strong government support for redevelopment and real estate market conditions were the primary drivers that drove successful TOD. The use of transit technologies (rail vs bus) did not matter at all.

Outside of the US, in cities like Curitiba, Brazil, and Guangzhou, China, there is copious evidence that BRT systems have successfully stimulated development. Curitiba’s early silver-standard BRT corridors, completed in the 1970s, were developed together with a master plan that concentrated development along them. The population growth along the corridor rate was 98% between 1980 and 1985, compared to an average citywide population growth rate of only 9.5%.

Many cities, therefore, consider investing in mass transit to stimulate the hoped-for development. Indeed, a good mass transit investment can be such a catalyst. Yet city planners and politicians, who do not always work closely with transportation professionals, commonly begin to view mass transit in and of itself as a silver-bullet solution for stimulating development. — ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar

The DOLRT study area projects 32% population growth. It is the lowest projection of the counties and regions in the study, suggesting that there are other population areas that are growing substantially FASTER than the DOLRT corridor.

Based on the Alternative Analysis, the corridor study area is projected by 2035 to have a population density of 4052 ppsm or people per square mile (231K / 57). Using 1/2 mile walk-up radius around each of the 17 proposed stations, approximately 68,000 people will be within walking distance of a station. The national average for public transportation utilization is 5% (Durham 3%). This suggests walk access will be approximately 6800 daily boardings (68K * 5% * 2) rather than the projected 12,180 by GoTriangle in 2040.

dolrt_population_study

“It is broadly accepted that fairly dense urban development is an essential feature for a successful public transit system. Our analysis suggests that light-rail systems need around 30 people per gross acre … (for) cost-effective investments in the US … urban densities are the most critical factor in determining whether investments in guideway transit systems are cost effective” — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

So how much population density do we need to make light rail cost-effective?

dolrt_population_density

Let’s do the math, there are 640 acres in one square mile. So that means we would require a density of 19,200 people per square mile. So with our current 3071 ppsm (175K / 57) along the DOLRT study corridor, that is 16% of the recommended population density. Or stated differently, we would have to reach a population of over 1 million people by 2040 (or today’s entire Wake county population) just within the 57 square mile study corridor.

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Charlotte success?

As Charlotte’s LYNX approaches a decade of service (started in Nov 2007), let’s look more closely at this heralded ‘success’. By reviewing the NTD federal filings(Charlotte LYNX ridership data is on tab UPT (Unlinked Passenger Trips), row 663, column CB).

  • 13,362 average daily ridership (workdays and weekend) during Oct 2016 (serving less than 6680 people daily, or less than 1% of Charlotte’s population of 827,000).
  • 13,332 average daily ridership over last 9 years with a flat trend line (despite 20% population growth between 2007 and 2015).

As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” …

PastedGraphic-2.png

During this same period Charlotte’s population grew 20% (691K in 2007 to 827K in 2015 per  US Census), with increasing traffic congestion (Study: Charlotte roads, traffic among worst in North Carolina).

It would appear that the only thing that hasn’t grown over the past decade is Charlotte’s LYNX daily ridership. In fact, relative to Charlotte’s ever growing population, LYNX relative riderships (as a percentage of population served) has declined over the past decade.

How did Charlotte get there?

Charlotte’s light-rail line was originally projected to cost an estimated $225 million in 2000. The final cost of the completed project in 2007 was $467 million. Even after adjusting for inflation (2000-2007), that’s a 75% cost overrun. FEIS / DEIS

Citizens attempted to repeal the sales transit tax, but were ultimately defeated after citizen’s campaign was outspent 50:1 by corporate vested interests (like Duke Energy, Wachovia now Wells Fargo, Bank of America, McDonald Transit Associates, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Siemens). An additional twenty major businesses contributed, all of whom profit from CATS operations according to former city council member Don Reid.

CLT_LYNX

The Charlotte Lynx daily ridership has stagnated 16,000 workday boardings over the last 7 years while the area’s population grew 17%, having no net effect on reducing traffic congestion. Even accounting for ‘choice riders’ those who would give up their cars in favor of Charlotte LYNX, the changes in gasoline prices has had no effect on daily ridership.

CLT_gas_prices

Despite the high costs and low ridership, CATS wants more rail — but doesn’t have any money to pay for it. So it has rolled out a campaign of declaring the light rail a great success, especially in the field of economic development. Of course, in most cases it was the subsidies, not the rail, that stimulated the development, and most likely the development would have taken place somewhere in the region anyway, though perhaps not in that corridor.


“Charlotte … perform(s) particularly bad. These systems do not have enough riders to produce the economies of scale that make transit provision by rail significantly less expensive than bus.”
SOURCE: UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective


“Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2034, by 2013, the Charlotte Area Transit System stated it would likely be unable to fund future transit projects apart from the Blue Line Extension, scheduled to begin construction in early 2014.

Charlotte ranked Worst Traffic In North Carolina according to recent 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard. Charlotte’s transit also ranked among nation’s worst. New survey puts it at 26th out of 32 big cities for transit quality according to Charlotte Observer (May 14, 2016)

Can some of the Charlotte Area’s Transit System’s ridership woes be blamed on the growing popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber? That’s a question posed in a report from The Charlotte Observer, which notes that in South End — where the nearby light-rail line has been seen as a selling point to attract new residents — many people are choosing the app-based services over public transit.


For much of the past year, ridership on Charlotte Area Transit System buses and the Lynx Blue Line has declined. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, ridership on all CATS services, including buses and the light rail, was down 4.3 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Ride-hailing likely isn’t as appealing for areas farther from uptown because of the higher rates. It costs $20 to $25 to take an Uber from uptown to the southern edge of the light-rail line. [emphasis ours: of course, if Uber was 80% subsidized like LYNX, the Uber fare would drop to $4 to $5 fare]

Over the past seven years, ridership at the four Lynx stations in the South End has increased from 1,595 average weekday boardings in March 2009 to 2,057 boardings in March 2016. That’s a 30% increase in seven years. But during the same period, the number of residents has increased at a much faster rate, from 3,400 to 8,000 people (+135%).

Chris Walker, who lives at the Silos South End apartment complex, is one of thousands of people drawn to living within a stone’s throw of the Lynx Blue Line. Walker likes being close to the light-rail line, but he doesn’t actually use it all that much. “I have lived here a year and a half, and I have taken the train twice,” said Walker, whose apartment is less than a quarter-mile from the New Bern light-rail station at the southern-most part of South End. “We Uber instead. For $5, you can get uptown. It’s easy.”

Kaitlin Flanagan, who works in SouthPark, says she sometimes takes the train uptown, but she almost always uses Uber to get home. “I prefer Uber, especially if there is a big event going on,” she said.

Deanna Bencic, who works in south Charlotte, doesn’t take the train to work. And if she’s going out with friends, she doesn’t take the train – even when it’s an option. “If it’s four or five people, then we always use Uber,” she said.

SOURCE: Some Charlotte residents jump on Uber over train in South End


Charlotte facing additional tax revenue shortfalls

CHT_LRT

The Charlotte plan to address the current $22 million budget shortfall includes: Tax-rate increase & service cuts including:

  • closing 311 information service on weekends & holidays
  • resurface about 16.5 fewer miles of streets a year
  • budget cuts for Police and Fire
  • eliminate more than 100 city jobs

In addition, Carlee and his staff, along with the mayor and City Council, have been grappling with unanticipated shortfalls in tax revenue as well as a proposed change in sales-tax sharing that, according to state and city projections, could cost Charlotte an estimated $3 million to $30 million annually.

“On May 6, 2013, a 30-member transit funding task force released a draft report in which they estimated it would cost $3.3 billion to build the remaining transit corridors, and $1.7 billion to operate and maintain the lines through 2024. To fund the build-out by sales taxes alone would require a 0.78 cent increase in the sales tax, which would need to be approved by the state General Assembly. The committee recommended any sales tax increase be limited to 0.5 cent and other methods used to raise funds; In July 2015, CATS reported it lacked the funds to support any future transit projects apart from the already budgeted 2.5-mile long Phase 2 segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line.”


CityLYNX Gold Line facing City budget cuts!
The $75 million the Charlotte City Council approved in 2014 to fund
half the cost of constructing Phase 2 of the City LYNX Gold Line is being threatened.
Due to City budget shortfalls, some Members of City Council are suggesting the $75 million
they already approved for the Gold Line be cut from the budget.


However meritorious the DOLRT may be, we need to think seriously about where the money is going to come from to build and operate it, and we need to have a backup transit plan in the event the money for DOLRT doesn’t materialize.