Charlotte’s Fight For Light Rail


In her recent blog post, Mary Newsom of Cities of the Future writes about Charlotte’s unlikely move to establish a light rail system. The story is interesting since it is well known that the Charlotte Metropolitan area is characterized by an auto-dependent nature. The only other factor that could trump the car-centric culture is Charlotte’s unyielding desire for more development, and it is indeed this reason that fueled the rise of the light rail in the area.

But how did it all begin? Newsom describes the early grassroots efforts:

Back in the 1980s, many of top leaders of both political parties knew regional transit was needed. But any suggestions for taxes to fund it were DOA at the rural-dominated state legislature, whose permission was needed. Two barriers had to fall: Convincing a conservative electorate that transit wasn’t a frill, and finding millions to build it.

Enter Charlotte Trolley, a volunteer group of rail buffs and enlightened developers who decided to restore an antique trolley car (found being used as a rental home outside Charlotte) and run it on an unused railbed near downtown. In 1996, after eight years of fundraisers, Charlotte Trolley launched a 1.8-mile ride, drawing throngs who loved the taste of old-fashioned streetcar travel. Keen-eyed developers built rail-oriented mixed-use projects, betting light rail service would follow.

It’s encouraging to see advocacy efforts like these in other regions. And I believe it’s important to note that such efforts take a long time, as long as the discussion is maintained in a community.

Visit RenewLV’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative page to learn about our work on transportation issues within the region. To keep up to date about local news on transportation, make sure to join our e-mail list.

As a quick reminder, make sure to come out to the Building One PA event this evening at 6pm at Allentown Symphony Hall. We’ll be discussing the different policies and issues (including transportation) that affect the growth of urban cores. For more information, visit our past blog post.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on June 28, 2010, in Public Infrastructure, Transportation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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