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March 16, 2009

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LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE COVERAGE

McCrory: Transit Planning an Ongoing Process
By SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

The planning process for public transportation is not a line with a finite beginning and end; it’s a circle that “constantly goes around,” according to Patrick McCrory, seven-term mayor of Charlotte, NC, who spoke March 9 at the seventh annual breakfast session sponsored by APTA’s business members. “You can never stop this process; you must continue to go forward,” he added.

Sharon Greene, APTA vice chair-business members, introduced the mayor.

McCrory, in his 14th year as mayor, spoke from his experience with the Charlotte Area Transit System’s (CATS) LYNX Blue Line light rail, which entered service late in 2007. The project was controversial enough during construction that area residents placed a measure on the November 2007 ballot to eliminate the dedicated sales tax that supports CATS, but voters affirmed the tax by a margin greater than the earlier vote to enact the tax originally.

The mayor said he was concerned that LYNX ridership would fall short of expectations, but in fact the light rail line is reporting numbers at twice the projected amount: “Now there are critics who say we didn’t build it big enough.”

McCrory laid out the planning process for a public transit project in 10 steps:

Consensus. The transit agency must present its objective in a 25-second sound bite or, better, with photographs. (He showed a photo of a highway overrun by sprawl and a mockup of how the same corridor would look in 50 years with wise land investment.) Now that jobs are by far the greatest concern of the American public, he said, transit agencies should emphasize the economic, environmental, and transportation-related jobs that transit programs will create.

Urbanism. McCrory used this term to refer to the integration of transportation with housing, roads and economic development as components of a metropolitan plan.

Mobility. This general term includes all the ways that residents in an area can get around. As described by McCrory, a mobility plan should include sidewalks and bike paths as well as transit and roads.

Economic development. “I wanted the developers in my area to make money from the LYNX Blue Line,” McCrory explained, noting that economic development is as important a consideration in good economic times as in a slowdown. “Investment along a transit route leads to higher property taxes and rising land prices. It’s important to get the business community to buy into the project at the beginning.”

Governance. The planning process must take into account who’s making the decisions in a regional effort. McCrory formed a Metropolitan Transit Commission to accommodate the seven jurisdictions in the county that oversee transit, along with the Charlotte City Council’s control of the bus system,

A decision-making model. The basis of this model is the criteria set at the beginning of the project.

Finance. The way to ensure available funding for a major public transit project, McCrory said, is to create bipartisan coalitions at all levels of government.

Communication. The project is an ongoing campaign, McCrory noted, so the partners must keep their message before the public.

Making it work: design, construction, and operations. Every transit has its “major potholes and bumps,” the mayor said, and ensuring safety must be a priority.

Commitment. The stakeholders must demonstrate passion and leadership and prove how everyone is in this project together.

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