A raft of reasons explain why transit is the smart 21st-century idea.
It provides a transportation choice – a boon for youngsters, the elderly and others who don't drive. It insures us against spiralling gasoline costs. It means fewer highways gobbling the city and countryside. It consumes much less energy overall – a first step to deal with global warming.
Transit moves people more efficiently. A light rail line in a walkable neighborhood can easily move 20,000 people an hour – people who arrive without having to park 20,000 cars somewhere.
By contrast, one lane of highway moves, at best, some 1,800 to 2,000 cars an hour, with most cars carrying one driver. That means to move 20,000 people an hour, a highway would need to be 10 lanes wide each direction, and the 20,000 cars would need a 200-acre surface parking lot or a parking garage taller than the Empire State Building.
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Transit isn't just about trains.
It's good feeder bus lines that support the rail. It's streetcars uptown. It's making things more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly – supporting a range of transportation choices.
The American dynamic around transit has changed.
Ten years ago, suburban cities around the country were voting down light-rail proposals for fear they'd attract poor people or cost too much. That dynamic is fading, as dozens of cities – Houston to Phoenix, Dallas to Minneapolis-St. Paul – decide to add new lines.
Suburban counties are being drawn into the act. Yes, we heard that rurally oriented county commissioners in Iredell County don't see Mooresville's need to be linked to the commuter rail line coming north from Charlotte-Mecklenburg (a line that's a natural to serve the big Lowe's headquarters on N.C. 115).
But Cabarrus County is clamoring for light rail.
Its leaders see the potential in a line from Kannapolis, home to the new North Carolina Research Campus, to uptown Charlotte. It could be built as an extension of the planned light rail line to UNC Charlotte.
Rich opportunities are opening for commuter rail, plus inter-city rail. Commuter rail interest is mounting in several communities, including Rock Hill and Salisbury. We believe it's just a beginning.