Charlotte ObserverCharlotte, N.C. Pop. 671,588
Charlotte’s light-rail line is certainly more of an up-and-comer than a well-rounded network, with its first 10-mile route opening in 2007. But what a story it’s been: Republican Mayor Pat McCrory put his career on the line for mass transit, asking this auto-loving Southern city (future home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame) to pony up nearly $500 million for the LYNX line. Sure as shootin’, voters responded. The rail line blew through 2020 ridership projects last summer, sparking new development downtown. Ridership has dropped along with the economy and gas prices since then, forcing service cuts. Still, other Southern cities have sent delegates to Charlotte to learn from this regional transit pioneer.