Make CLT like NYC…

Nothing you don’t already know, but what can I say Charlotte will never stop striving to be like New York City, and NYC will never stop striving to remake southern cities in its image. Interesting that a comment beneath this Charlotte Observer article says those who oppose massive public transportation projects and efforts to make the Queen City more “walkable” are still fighting the Civil War. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I’ll take a different angle—the Civil War is still being fought, but by Northerners still trying to conquer the South.

I digress, but here’s the case in point—former NYC transportation director Janette Sadik-Khan tells an Uptown crowd—“with the passion of a politician rallying supporters and the zeal of a preacher”—that the Charlotte needs more –not less—light rail, bike lanes and sidewalks:

Sadik-Khan served as New York City’s transportation commissioner from 2007 to 2013, overseeing a major push to reduce traffic deaths and make the city friendlier for pedestrians and bicyclists. On her watch, the city closed Times Square to cars, built dozens of pedestrian plazas, put in protected bike lanes and started a bike-sharing program.

“It is a fight we can win,” said Sadik-Khan, speaking in McGlohon Theater. “It is a fight we must win, because when you change the street you change the world.”

While Charlotte is a car-dependent city, the talk and two-day visit by Sadik-Khan was the latest evidence that something is brewing. The city is considering its first ever protected bike lanes (where physical barriers separate cars and bikes), which would run through uptown. Advocates are gaining traction with a push to reduce traffic lanes on Central Avenue and The Plaza to slow traffic and make the area safer for pedestrians. And the Charlotte Area Transit System is preparing to open the Blue Line light rail extension to University City next year and mulling a rapid push to build up to $6 billion worth of new rail lines.

Couple of other money quotes—Sadik-Khan says “you can’t wish people onto buses and guilt them into biking because it’s good for the environment.” There’s news for you—seems to me that guilt and fear are pretty much the foundation of the environmental movement. Here’s the other bit of news—Sadik-Khan suggests “starting small” —little late for that advice, considering that pretty much every alternative transportation project I read about carries involves— at minimum–tens of millions of dollars.

But here is Sadik-Khan’s best piece of advice:

“Instead of just endlessly debating theoretical ideas and engineering drawings, try something and see what works,” said Sadik-Khan. If projects drag on for too long, “people sort of lose hope that anything can actually change in your lifetime,” she added.

I’ll tell you what’s causing me to lose hope—Greensboro’s $26 million downtown greenway. Construction’s been clogging up Eugene Street near my house seemingly forever, and the misery is nowhere near over—they’re getting ready to make the right turn onto Fisher Avenue. Perhaps my hope will be restored when I see hordes–and I mean hordes— of people running, walking, biking and hauling their groceries from Deep Roots Market once it’s all done.

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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