U.S. Mayor Article

Charlotte Uses Transportation Systems as Key to Area Smart Growth
Integrated Transit/Land-Use Planning in Charlotte

April 14, 2003


Instead of watching idly as unlimited and wasteful sprawl takes over—eating up greenfields beyond the cities borders—Charlotte has decided to take strong proactive steps to ensure growth within their jurisdictional boundaries through in-fill, reurbanization and regeneration.

Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory said that his city's effort to develop a public transit system is supporting a fundamental change in how the community will grow in years ahead. Noting that Charlotte was the second fastest growing city in the country during the 1990's, McCrory stated that, "Investing in public transportation helps our cities and towns meet the mobility needs of all our citizens. This in turn helps us to improve the quality of life and sustain economic growth and development in our communities."

In 1994, the city of Charlotte endorsed a "centers and corridors" vision, a comprehensive guide for future land-use and development in the region. Future development and redevelopment in the city would now be focused along five major transportation corridors with strong potential for transit service and transit-oriented development.

By graphically dividing the city-county into three functional parts, the centers and corridors approach provides an easy to grasp visual of how the city wants to grow. The three functional parts are:

Centers: Centers are focal points of mixed-use development. The goal is to add and improve transit options so as to enhance long-term accessibility to centers.

Corridors: These are the five major radial transportation arterials. They provide the foundation for high-density commercial and residential activity.

Wedges: These are the large areas formed between corridors where residential neighborhoods and communities have developed and continue to grow.

The "Centers And Corridors" approach has some distinct characteristics, including:

  • Focuses new development into a "centers and corridors" framework to regenerate corridors.
  • Creates better use of existing infrastructure and transportation.
  • Makes transit possible through increased development within corridors.
  • Improves metro-wide accessibility to business, cultural and entertainment destinations.
  • Creates a wider range of housing choices within the centers and corridors, and enables lower-density residential housing to continue in the wedges.
  • Reduces cut-through traffic and other negative traffic impacts on neighborhoods by focusing destinations into corridors.
  • Provides the framework for mixed-use development projects to emerge within centers and corridors.
  • Links major centers and corridors so that mobility is enhanced radially as well as circumferentially.

The 2025 Integrated Transit/Land-Use Plan recommends rapid transit as a principal means of attaining the vision of the city's "centers and corridors" approach. At the same time, it recognizes that for rapid transit to work effectively key changes in existing land-use patterns must be made. These include:

  • Promoting more compact, pedestrian friendly developments
  • Encouraging a mix of multi-and single-family residential development
  • Developing areas that include a mix of residential shopping and employment opportunities in close proximity.

Rapid transit comes in several forms, and the city is now in the midst of evaluating which specific technology or combination of technologies best suits Charlotte's five major corridors and the areas surrounding them. The rapid transit technologies under consideration include commuter rail, light rail (already chosen as preferred alternative in South Corridor) and bus rapid transit.

Major Investment Studies completed in the remaining four corridors have recommended commuter rail in the North Corridor, light rail with some bus rapid transit in the Northeast Corridor, and bus rapid transit in the Southeast and West Corridors.

A Major Investment Study is divided into five key phases. In addition to extensive community outreach throughout the process, public meetings are held at the end of each phase to get citizen input. The five phases are:

Study Initiation: During this phase, the corridor study team gathers fundamental information about the corridor, defines initial alternatives and develops evaluation criteria by which the alternatives can be measured.

Initial Technical Analysis: More detailed information is developed about the alternatives that were identified in the Study Initiation phase, including conceptual engineering and preliminary station area plans. The team develops information on current development trends, projected growth by alignment and projected ridership.

Refined Technical Analysis: The corridor team further refines the alternatives and finalizes the alternative definitions, detailed land-use scenarios, and technical analysis to support the evaluation phase.

Detailed Evaluation: During this phase, the team uses the technical results and community input to evaluate the alternatives using the measures identified in the Study Initiation phase.

Selection of the Locally Preferred Alternative: Based on the technical analysis and public input, the Metropolitan Transit Commission selects a preferred alternative for the corridor, which is then put before the area's metropolitan planning organization for adoption as part of its long-term transportation plan.

Making rapid transit successful in Charlotte will require organizing land uses in a way that encourages residents, commuters, and visitors to use transit for one or more of their daily trips.

The city understands it has a large education project ahead of itself if it is to be successful in steering commercial businesses and multi-family housing to its centers and corridors. To this end, it is beginning to revise its zoning regulations and land use policies to encourage mixed-used development sitting around future transit stations—setting minimum densities for development in transit corridors and maximum densities for development in the wedge areas. The city has also prepared a "joint development" policy laying out principles as to how it will partner with the private sector around transit stations.

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