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Appendix: Case Study Profiles

4. Charlotte, North Carolina - Integrated Land Use and Transit Planning

Funding Sources and Amounts: South Corridor received $463 million (47% Federal, 25% State, 28% local sales tax).

South Corridor Infrastructure Program (SCIP) provided $50 million, funded through government-issued bonds. The Smart Growth Fund (for South Corridor) provided $5 million revolving fund to purchase and assemble land around transit stations. General funds.

Years: Mid-1990s–present

Agencies/Organizations Involved: City of Charlotte (Planning, Department of Transportation, Economic Development, Charlotte Area Transit System); towns of Davidson, Huntersville, Cornelius, and Matthews.

Geographic Area: Mecklenburg County of North Carolina; southern Iredell County (for the North Corridor Transit Line).

Problem to Be Addressed

Between the 1970s and 1990s, Charlotte, NC, experienced tremendous population growth as it slowly rose to become a top banking and financial center. Charlotte knew it needed a strategy to ensure the growth was controlled in a way that enhanced the livability of the city and the metro region.

Objectives of Project

The Centers, Corridors, and Wedges visioning effort was undertaken to map out how Charlotte should grow over time and understand what infrastructure investments are needed to support this growth. The integrated land use and transit planning and implementation projects that followed were a direct response to this regional vision.

Summary of Project

Charlotte's successful transit planning and implementation are direct results of a forward-thinking regional growth strategy, coupled with targeted land use and infrastructure investments and a coordinated transit-supportive land use policy and regulatory framework. The multicorridor transit systems plan has begun to be implemented with the highly successful (both from ridership and transit-oriented development (TOD) standpoints) South Corridor LRT (Blue Line).

Type of Funding Used for Project / Plan

Population Served and Modes Served

Metro Charlotte region residents; all modes.

Project Details

Integrated Land Use and Transit Planning Key Events and Activities

Charlotte is recognized as a national model for integrating land use and transit planning. Its success story starts with a comprehensive regional vision for growth, a deliberate and aggressive policy and infrastructure response to this vision, and a city organizational structure that encourages a broad-based livability focus. The following are the key events and activities related to Charlotte's integrated land use and transit planning:

Centers, Corridors, Wedges Vision Plan. Originally developed in 1994, Charlotte's regional vision provided the development framework that called for focusing most future growth in centers and along five radial corridors. The plan's main goals were to establish long-term growth management strategies for the region and provide guidance to better link transportation and land use. Central to this strategy are proactive and aggressive investment of accompanying transportation and transit infrastructure that supports the targeted growth areas.

2025 Integrated Land Use and Transit Plan. In 1998 the city advanced the regional vision through a 25-year transportation plan. The goals of the plan were to support the "Centers and Corridors" land use vision, expand choices in mode of travel, develop a regional transit system, and support economic growth and sustainable development. Over an intensive 9-month period, a series of transit/land use alternatives was tested for each of the five corridors called out in the regional vision. An extensive public outreach effort fostered community understanding and consensus around the recommended plan, which called for phased implementation of various transit technologies along the five corridors. This and the prior visioning effort galvanized the community around a common vision of sustainable growth supported by thoughtful land use planning and transit investments. Consequently, a half-cent sales tax was passed through a referendum providing a dedicated revenue source projected at $1 billion over 20 years.

Multicorridor Transit Planning, Station Area Plans, and Regulatory Changes. Detailed planning for the transit corridors started immediately after the sales tax referendum passed. The Major Investment Studies (MIS) for all five corridors were conducted in 1999 and 2000, and these recommended a combination of light rail, bus rapid transit, streetcar, commuter rail, and extensive bus systems serving more than 200,000 riders by 2025.

South Corridor (now called the Blue Line) was the first to be advanced among the five corridors, and it received a "highly recommended" rating from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in 2002. It is important to note that even prior to receiving the full funding grant agreement from FTA and while necessary environmental and engineering studies were being conducted, the city was aggressively crafting land use policies and regulations that would support the land use vision set out in "Centers and Corridors" and were necessary to support the transit system's success. The city developed transit station area planning principles, detailed station area planning efforts, and adopted regulatory changes to enable and encourage TOD to occur.

Station Area Joint Development Principles and Policy. Together with the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC), the city of Charlotte and towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and Matthews adopted a set of Transit StationArea Joint Development Principles in 2003. The principles provided the framework for developing around station areas, in a manner that would maximize the benefits to a community. The principles address co-location of public facilities around stations, emphasize the necessity of public infrastructure to serve TOD, support development of affordable housing and public/private partnerships, provide private sector incentives for18 Livability in Transportation Guidebook - Appendix TOD, and encourage location and retention of a mix of transit-supportive businesses. Together with the Station Area Plans, the joint development principles provided the guidance for the city's TOD zoning and SCIP.

South Corridor Infrastructure Plan. The city set aside $25 million investments in streets, sidewalks, and intersection improvements to support the South Corridor LRT, before and during its construction. This targeted investment aimed at "building community," enabled the corridor to be transit-ready, and optimized the TOD potential around each transit station.

By 2008, SCIP had funded the following projects:

Other Related Initiatives

Smart Growth Funds. Charlotte set aside $5 million to purchase property around proposed Blue Line stations and prepare the properties for development. For the proposed Scaleybark station area, the city used part of the money to purchase 9 acres of underutilized properties. This property was combined with a parcel that the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) already owned (a former drive-in theater) to form a 17-acre property ready for TOD. Part of the money used to purchase this site was from the city's Housing Trust Fund, which required development to meet a minimum affordable housing threshold.

TOD Development Response Activities. Throughout the transit corridor and station area planning process, the city held several "development response" sessions. These sessions, developed on an on-call basis, were collaborative workshops held with property owners who wanted to develop around station areas. The intent of these sessions was to collaborate with the developers at the early stages of a project to arrive at solutions that were mutually agreeable and would support TOD. The city rallied key staff together to provide in-house and consultant technical expertise. Several successful development response sessions reshaped projects to become more supportive of community goals and transit ridership prior to implementation of transit projects. Examples of development response activities include modifying the design and site plan of a Wal-Mart and an Ikea, developing a lower impact and less costly solution to the "weave" at the US 29/NC 49 interchange, and refining 3030 South Development, a successful TOD built along the Blue Line.

Urban Street Design Guidelines (USDG). The city developed and adopted a set of planning and design standards that call for "complete" streets - streets that provide mobility for motorists while also providing safe and comfortable pedestrian and bicycle travel. With these guidelines, the city of Charlotte is using street design to shape its development patterns and provide residents and visitors with viable choices for how they move about the city. The guidelines include innovative policies, implementation processes, and a context-driven set of standards. Some of the policies include recommending block lengths for new development that create a well-connected street network, wide planting strips, and improved crossings and traffic signal timing to better accommodate pedestrians.

The USDG received the 2009 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Smart Growth Award and is a model for expanding conventional thinking to context-based street design that considers multimodal travel, infrastructure, green space, and neighborhood and business impacts. The city has since applied the guidelines to more than 20 streets and 10 intersections, including seven "road diets." The guidelines have facilitated the increase in the bike lane network from 1 mile in 2000 to more than 55 miles in 2009. The City Council adopted the USDG in October 2007, and city staff are working on adopting it as ordinance.

Interdepartmental Coordination. Charlotte has a strong tradition of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary coordination, from the City Council to the staff level. The partnership and coordination is a result of the organizational structure of the city as well as strong policies that encourage this to occur. Each year the City Council establishes five focus areas for targeting community resources, including housing and neighborhood development, community safety, transportation and planning, economic development, and environmental issues. The goals for these focus areas are the basis for budget decisions and operational programs, and directly translate to specific strategies that are overseen by interdepartmental subcommittees. In fact, these focus area goals are also incorporated in staff allocation and staff professional development and review.

Because of this strong institutionalized structure for interdepartmental cooperation, and because planning, economic development, transportation, and transit are all under the city's purview, the programs and resources of the various departments are more easily and closely aligned toward the same "community building" goals. The multicorridor transit effort was not just a transit project for CATS but a community-building project that must address economic development and land use goals for all of Charlotte.

Neighborhood Quality of Life Report. The city of Charlotte's Neighborhood Services Division, in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, conducts a bi-annual study that gauges the quality of life of various neighborhoods around the city. The study evaluates social, crime, physical, and economic conditions, and includes variables such as population characteristics, crime rate, homeownership and value, projected infrastructure improvement costs, access to transit, access to retail, and walkability. The city uses the results of the study to gauge the effectiveness of programs and evaluate changes needed to improve neighborhood conditions. Although not directly related to the transit initiative, this study is an excellent example of the city's holistic approach to performance measurement that includes land use, transportation, and socioeconomic indicators.

Livability Principles Promoted by Project

Promotion Livability Principles
F Increase transportation choices
P Promote affordable housing
F Enhance economic competitiveness
F Support existing communities
P Coordinate Federal policies and leverage investment
F Value communities and neighborhoods

P: Partly Supports
F: Fully Supports

Challenges

  • How to approach station area and TOD planning differently for urban and suburban areas? We push the envelope even more for urban locations to require higher standards related to livability.
  • How do we best coordinate station area planning and TOD efforts with the county Parks Department? The Parks Department is under county jurisdiction and the planning, implementation, and maintenance of parks and open spaces around station areas may not always be the department's priority.
  • Funding and maintenance of structured parking and shared parking (shared between the transit station and private development) can be quite challenging.

Successes

  • Successful implementation of the Blue Line from both ridership and economic development aspects. The Blue Line opened in November 2007 with 15 stations serving Uptown and neighborhoods on the south side of the city. In 2008, a year after its opening, ridership was already totaling 14,000. This far exceeded the 1999 projected average ridership of 9,100 and almost 80% of the projected ridership for 2025. The city estimates that more than $400 million in private sector development was realized prior to the line's groundbreaking, bringing a projected $1.8 billion in new tax revenue between 2005 and 2011.
  • The city proactively developed policies, guidance, and regulations that have helped shape land uses along the future transit routes.
  • The city successfully influenced a number of development projects that are occurring along future transit lines to become more transit-supportive, and more importantly, align with community goals through the station area planning development response process.
  • The city worked through the issues of development densities and scale, and implemented regulations that will protect residential neighborhoods from impacts of proposed new TOD.

Perspectives on Implementing the Project and Its Impacts

Project Status

As of early 2010, the status of the project is as follows:

Applicability of Lessons Learned to Other Projects or Challenges

Roles of MPOs / DOTs and Policy / Plan Outcomes

The city has a healthy partnership with the local MPO, the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization (MUMPO). The city holds the unique role of maintaining the region's travel demand model for the MPO. The city's understanding of the community's development pattern ensures that a better calibrated model that reflects the multimodal travel demand conditions of an urban setting is used to forecast future conditions. With the Blue Line now built, the Charlotte DOT and CATS are looking at even more accurate data for transit ridership forecasts to plan for the other four transit corridors.

The North Carolina DOT is looking at the city of Charlotte as a case study for how transportation solutions can better respond to the needs and intricacies of urban places. Through the USDG and projects such as the US 29/NC 49 conversion from a grade-separated interchange to a more community and transit-supportive network solution, the city is helping to re-shape thinking toward more context-sensitive transportation solutions at the State level. The city was closely involved in drafting the State's "Complete Streets" policy.

For More Information

Sources and Other Resources:
Updated: 01/03/2014
HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
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