Monday, March 31, 2008

Atlanta envies Charlotte

CATS played host last week to a group of Atlanta officials who came to to see how Charlotte is integrating land-use and transit. Here is a take on their visit in the AJC.

Here are a couple of thoughts on comparing Atlanta to Charlotte:

1) When MARTA opened its first train in 1979, there was pretty much zero chance of integrating land-use with rail service. People were fleeing the city for the suburbs, so developers viewed the idea of building high-rises around train stations as foolish. Charlotte has done an excellent job at using the Lynx to remake South Boulevard, but it also benefited from perfect conditions: A booming population, a solid housing market, and, most important, a willingness of people to move back in the city.

2) MARTA has suffered from tight budgets and service cutbacks this decade, especially in its bus service. But the system is a workhorse. It has 48 miles of heavy rail, and its trains carry about 77 million passenger trips annually. The LYNX is 9.6 miles, and it will probably carry between 4 and 4.5 million passenger trips in its first year.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More people, more traffic.

The Census released new population estimates for counties today.

It looks like the Charlotte metro area is now at 1.65 million people, a big jump from the 2006 estimate of 1.583 million. Charlotte metro is now bigger than Providence, and will probably overtake Virginia Beach, Columbus and Indianapolis in a year or two.

The housing bust that dampened growth in many warm-weather areas hasn't yet hit Charlotte, though next year's estimates will probably show far fewer new residents. This data was through July 1, 2007, and the miserable data on housing starts from the fall isn't reflected in this estimate.

The crush of new people will continue to tax our highways - and revive the debate over resources for roads versus transit.

It's also worth noting that most new people in North Carolina are going to Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, then smaller areas like the Triad, Asheville and Wilmington. But the state's way of distributing new highway money - under the 1989 equity formula - doesn't account for the change as much as urban politicians would like.

Half of the money is based on population, but the other half isn't tied to growth. Twenty-five percent of the money is distributed evenly among funding regions, and another 25 percent is based on the number of important two-lane roads that are slated for improvement. That usually helps more rural areas.

Update: As some of you mentioned below, I had a typo in the above post. Charlotte's metro population is now about 1.65 million - not 1.6 million.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ridership up. CATS can thank the CIAA and high gas prices.

Here are the Charlotte Area Transit System's February ridership numbers:

The Lynx Blue Line averaged 14,246 trips on weekdays, and 13,160 on Saturdays. Sunday was a laggard at 8,805.

February numbers were up significantly from January, and a big factor was the nearly weeklong CIAA tournament uptown.

CATS said ridership during the CIAA Tournament, from Monday, February 25 to Saturday, March 1, was 80,000 trips.

Ridership during the ACC Tournament - which ran Thursday-Sunday - was 90,000, according to CATS.

For CATS, the best news is in the bus ridership, which is influenced by high gas prices but not special events. Regional express bus ridership was up nearly 22 percent, and local bus service was up just under 9 percent.

update: February had 29 days this year, which bumps up year-over-year bus comparisons. CATS said all bus service increased just under 9 percent compared with February 2007, and 4.5 percent when the Leap Day is removed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

This is surprising

The parking deck at the I-485/South Boulevard station was completely full last Thursday. I checked it out late that morning, and I couldn't find an open space - though there was room in the small surface lot adjacent to the garage.

When the Lynx Blue Line first opened, there were about 300 cars in the deck, which has 1,120 spaces. It was a pretty empty place, especially on the second floor, which is the least convenient place to park. There were some spaces deep in the corners that I thought might never see a car.

I checked out the lot again today. I'd say there were about 50 or 60 open spaces in the entire deck.

Some of the more northern stations are still tumbleweed park-and-rides - Archdale usually only as 30 cars - but the I-485 and Sharon Road West stations are pretty much at capacity. Will CATS shift money around to create more parking? CATS has room at I-485 for a second deck.

The head-scratching flashing yellow

Got a few e-mails about this story on the new flashing yellow arrow, which replaces the "green ball" for permitted - but not protected - left turns. All asked: What about people who are color blind?

The new flashing yellow signal heads have four different signals - one for green arrow, yellow arrow, red arrow and flashing yellow arrow - so I assume you could still figure out what's going on by watching the which signal head is in use. But I don't think it will be easy. The pattern on the new lights can give you whiplash - green arrow, yellow arrow, red arrow, flashing yellow arrow, yellow arrow, red arrow.

What confuses me about the new signal is the second yellow arrow, which comes after the flashing yellow arrow. The flashing yellow arrow means you can make a left turn but you must yield. The second yellow arrow means that signal is ending.

When a lot of people see a yellow, they think they have one or two seconds to get through the intersection, and are protected in going straight or turning. That's not the case with the second yellow in this sequence.

Maybe the flashing yellow arrow should flash much faster before it turns to red?