Charlotte is car-loving NASCAR country, a vast suburbia of cul-de-sacs and strip malls. Yet its new light rail line is a national model for success, outstripping ridership projections and inspiring millions of dollars in high-density development. How did sensible transportation planning come to sprawlburbia? Not by appealing for “sustainability,” that’s for sure. In the end, the winning pitch that sold voters on light rail was none other than Charlotte’s love of growth. The development it lured — several thousand condos and apartments, dozens of new restaurants and stores, and roughly half a billion dollars in private investment — showed skeptics that light rail is more than just transportation. The city created transit-oriented zoning districts and station area plans, allowing for increased density along the rail line.
Other players in this success story included a mayor who took leadership, a restored vintage streetcar, and plain old lucky timing: A decade-long real estate bubble fed the transit-related development, not bursting u... Read more