Belmont Apartments

At the Montcross Chamber candidates forum last week, there was a lot of talk about growth – which makes sense given the mess that our roads are in, an ever-rising cost of living, and schools that have more students than seats. So, it was quite concerning to hear the three candidates who have perhaps more than anyone given the green light to the development currently overwhelming the city (through their current positions on city council and the zoning board) indicate that not only do they not get it, they actually want to accelerate it.

In the course of a discussion on the light rail (which according to current plans would pass through the Wilkinson Blvd corridor), these three candidates said that we actually need to bring in even more apartment development along Wilkinson Blvd so that there’s more people around to ride the light rail. This is exactly wrong for three reasons:

  1. Clearly none of these three commute up and down the 74/85 corridor every day. If they did, they’d realize that traffic there is already a mess, so throwing in a bunch of high-density, multi-story apartment buildings is only going to make getting up and down Wilkinson that much worse. The light rail is not some magical solution that will make all of our traffic woes disappear. At best, it will take some traffic off the road – but if you don’t control growth along Wilkinson, then whatever car trips you’re saving will quickly be overwhelmed by all the new car trips generated by the brand-new apartment buildings.
  2. CATS (Charlotte’s transit system) always overestimates how many people will end up using the light rail. The Blue Line Extension has been open for about 18 months now – and ridership is still about 10,000 riders less than what Charlotte initially projected for the line. So, this idea that everyone who lives in these shiny new apartment buildings is just going to hop on the light rail and never drive anywhere is pure fantasy. Sure, some of those people may ride the light rail, but most won’t.
  3. We really need to get away from this build now and ask questions later approach to development. If there’s anything to be learned from the situation down on South Point Road, it’s that you can’t build a bunch of housing and then hope somebody else (the state, the county, Charlotte?) will swoop in and save us from ourselves. Currently, the Silver Line is nothing more than an unfunded line on a map, which even in a best-case scenario won’t be operational until at least 2030. Has anyone considered what we’re supposed to do if we build out Wilkinson and the light rail gets pushed out to a 2035 or 2040 opening? What if the project gets cancelled? It’s happened in NC before.

What we need is careful, thoughtful planning based on the actual facts on the ground. Planning for the light rail is important, but it’s imprudent to unleash an avalanche of apartment development on Wilkinson in anticipation of a project that may or may not ever happen.

sad puppy

For everyone who has to commute to work everyday, we find ourselves leaving ever earlier in the morning just to get to work on time while getting home ever later in the evening. The very real cost of this increasingly soul-crushing commute – lost family time, lost productivity, and lost sanity – often isn’t fully appreciated by those signing off on the development of massive new apartment complexes.

While Council could do more to avoid making this problem worse (such as by adhering to existing zoning regulations), how do you think we can make this situation better? Something I have noticed trudging up and down Wilkinson Blvd every day is the relatively quick cycle times of the traffic lights (as in traffic barely starts moving before the light flips back to red again) and a lack of real synchronization between the traffic lights strung throughout the corridor. I have heard some people talk about installing traffic circles at some intersections – There’s obviously a cost to build them as well as a learning curve for drivers learning how to use them (since they aren’t very common in our area). Mass transit is another option – The light rail is allegedly on its way, but there is only one bus that runs between Belmont and Charlotte (and on a very limited schedule at that).

What are the chokepoints in your commute? What are some solutions you’d like to see? Would you ride a bus? Are you excited for (or maybe dreading) the arrival of the light rail? Let me know in the comments below!