While community development is a typical goal for new transit lines, the urban context of a proposed alignment is integral to determining its potential for future real estate and economic development. A January study visit to Charlotte’s Independence Boulevard/US 74 corridor by the ULI Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use offers a prime example of this lesson.

The main artery of Charlotte’s east side, Independence Boulevard has been proposed for conversion to a freeway for decades, with segments being reconstructed a mile or two at a time.  But uncertainty about the transportation project’s timeframe as well as its final design has harmed the local real estate market, resulting in a trend of disinvestment on the east side.

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s south corridor light rail has had a transformative effect on some neighborhoods, attracting new transit-oriented development, and the city is planning for a new commuter rail and streetcar lines on other corridors. So when an environmental study recommended bus rapid transit for the Independence corridor instead of rail, east side residents were understandably upset, feeling that they were once again getting the short end of public resources. But the context of the proposed transit line within the freeway right-of-way—regardless of whether its train or bus—is unlikely to yield the same development benefits as the south corridor.

After being invited at the ULI Fall Meeting to participate in the yearlong Daniel Rose Fellowship program (along with the cities of Detroit, Houston and Sacramento), Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx chose to address the Independence Boulevard/US 74 corridor as the city’s land use challenge. Mayor Foxx selected Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department Director Debra Campbell, Charlotte Transportation Department Director Danny Pleasant, and North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti as Rose Fellows. Charlotte Assistant City Manager Jim Schumacher serves as a consulting fellow, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department Principal Planner Alysia Osborne serves as the fellowship team coordinator.

Among other events to promote the fellows’ leadership and professional development, the Rose Center assembles an expert panel for a study visit to each city modeled after ULI’s three-day Advisory Services Program. During their January visit, the panel observed that the city has demonstrated strong public leadership in drafting a new land use plan for the Independence Boulevard area that captures consensus about east Charlotte’s needs, but that lack of agreement on key details of the transportation project will impede implementation of the plan’s goals.

The panel suggested the city consider working with the state of North Carolina on refinements to the transit program underlying the plan, and offered some ideas to help make implementation of the plan’s community and economic development goals both more likely and less costly. These included keeping express bus service in the median of the completed US 74 freeway shared with high-occupancy vehicle/toll lanes (HOV/HOT lanes) to provide for regional and interstate transportation needs and another revenue stream, while planning for streetcar service on adjacent commercial corridors such as Monroe Road and Central Avenue to provide opportunities for neighborhood economic development.

The panel was co-chaired by Rose Center Faculty members Hilary Bertsch of EE&K/Eastman Perkins and Carlton Brown of Full Spectrum of New York. The rest of the panel were comprised of Rose Fellows Karla Henderson of the City of Detroit, Mike McKeever of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, and alternate fellow John Sedlak of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston, TX), as well as Cathy Crenshaw of Birmingham-based Sloss Real Estate, former Orlando Mayor and Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, Jeremy Klop of the Denver office of Fehr & Peers, and Thomas Kronemeyer of Oakland-based Community Design + Architecture.

See the ULI Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use and the Daniel Rose Fellowship program for more information on its mission and its fellows.