Mecklenburg state legislators, please support sustainable transportation!

State Representative Becky Carney recently organized and hosted the very first public listening session of Mecklenburg County state legislators. On Friday, April 24, County residents spoke directly to legislators about their needs and concerns. We took the opportunity to speak up for the future of Mecklenburg County’s sustainable transportation network of light rail, commuter rail, buses, and infrastructure for safe, well-connected biking and walking. It was a fantastic opportunity to share our concerns with policymakers, so we hope to see many more listening and dialogue sessions in the future!

Here’s what our Education and Outreach Program Director Meg Fencil said:

Good morning, my name is Meg Fencil and I’m the Education and Outreach Director at Sustain Charlotte, a local nonprofit organization where our mission is to inspire choices that lead to a healthier and more vibrant community for generations to come.

At Sustain Charlotte, we use a simple definition of sustainability. It’s the ability to meet our needs today without compromising the ability to meet our needs in the future. Every day, we talk to citizens who envision a brighter future for their community. In 2014, we launched our Transportation Choices Alliance, an initiative of citizens and organizations working together to increase transportation choices and their use throughout the Charlotte region to improve traffic, air quality, public health, mobility and the economy. I’m speaking on behalf of Sustain Charlotte, which is the founder and a member organization of this alliance.

“More Transportation Choices” was identified as a top regional priority by the Centralina Council of Government’s Connect Our Future project, which engaged more than 2,400 residents in discussions and surveys about how our region should grow in the coming decades.

An estimated 30% of Meck Co residents do not drive either because they are too young, cannot afford to purchase or maintain a vehicle, are unable to safely drive due to age or disability, or they have chosen to not own a car. Yet, only 1% of State Transportation Improvement Program funds are slated for non-highway projects under the SPOT 3.0 prioritization process within the NCDOT’s district that includes Mecklenburg County.

That’s 1% of funding within our transportation district, to meet the needs of 30% of our population who rely on buses, light rail, walking, and bicycling to travel to school, work, shopping, medical appointments, and other destinations.

This dramatic mismatch between the clear needs of our citizens and allocation of funding is not only bad math. It’s bad news for our neighborhoods, bad news for the city of Charlotte and towns in Mecklenburg County, and bad for the state of North Carolina.

Our citizens need more opportunities to walk, bike, and ride transit. Safe and adequate infrastructure to support that need simply doesn’t exist in many parts of our County.

Sustainable non-highway transportation choices are good for the environment and for human health. Only last year did Mecklenburg County finally meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for ground-level ozone. The standards will likely become even more stringent this fall, which will leave our County in non-attainment status. 4 out of 5 streams in Mecklenburg County are impaired, largely due to runoff of polluted stormwater from roads & parking lots. Mecklenburg County has lost 1/3 of its tree canopy since 1985, largely due to sprawl fueled by road-building into previously undeveloped areas.

Funding for our region’s 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan remains very tenuous. Due to a major shortfall in the City of Charlotte’s budget, there have been discussions about whether or not to provide funding for the next phase of the CityLYNX GoldLine streetcar, a critical component of our transit system.

The actual needs of our County’s current and potential residents should inform the way we spend our transportation dollars. We must take a long-term investment approach, and we must begin today.

Young adults are increasingly delaying the age at which they begin driving, or choosing to forego driving altogether. The under 35 generation is more mobile than any previous generation. They’re choosing where to live based on quality of life rather than just job opportunities, and they don’t hesitate to pick up and move to another city if it offers the amenities they prefer. To continue to attract a talented workforce that will have more and more choices of cities to move to as the economy improves, Mecklenburg County must make the right investments NOW.

We can’t continue to build a transportation network the way we did in the past. We’ve already learned that it doesn’t work, as our metro area was ranked the 5th most sprawling large US metro, and the 10th most dangerous for pedestrians in 2014.

Even in the shadows of Uptown Charlotte’s gleaming office towers, our most vulnerable residents are suffering from lack of transportation choices. Elderly residents who don’t drive are isolated and may be unable to remain in their homes without adequate transportation choices.

In the recent Equality of Opportunity study, Charlotte ranked dead last among the 50 largest U.S. cities for upward economic mobility of children born into poverty. Sustain Charlotte works with residents in many urban neighborhoods where poverty is a part of daily life, families don’t own cars and rely on transit/biking/walking to meet their daily needs, and communities are physically and socially fragmented by high traffic arterial roads without adequate crosswalks or sidewalks.

Just last evening during a visioning workshop with youth in a very low income West Charlotte neighborhood, 17 year old Imani shared her vision with us and her peers for her neighborhood 25 years from now. She wrote, “In 2040, people young and old are using less cars for the roads. I just see bikes and happy healthy smiling people walking and exercising…”

Building more roads is not the answer to our traffic problems, air pollution, polluted streams, loss of tree canopy, fragmented neighborhoods, rising costs of driving, or lack of accessibility to jobs and schools. Our rapidly growing population needs bold action from you.

Change the STI and upcoming NCDOT Strategic Prioritization Process (SPOT 4.0 process) to allow and encourage MPOs and RPOs to submit non-highway projects (transit, bike/ped) at the state, regional, and divisional tiers. Boldly pursue additional funding for Mecklenburg County’s planned transit system and bike/ped projects.

I invite you to spend time exploring your beautiful County –outside of the car– by bike, foot, and transit. Come and enjoy Bike Charlotte’s Bike to Work Breakfast on May 1, or for the Free Wheelin’ Fridays bicycle commute program connecting Uptown workers to bike mentors. Ride the LYNX Blue Line light rail and walk around South End to see the walkable mixed use development it’s spurred. Take an CATS Express bus to Huntersville or Matthews and talk to commuters who are able to travel into Uptown daily without a car. Watch our videos to see how transit benefits Mecklenburg residents and workers from all walks of life including MargaritaWalterLindaScottChristine, and Natalia.

Throughout Mecklenburg County, citizens and government staff are working towards a vision of a community where everyone will have safe, affordable, healthy, and accessible transportation choices.

Please represent them well in the legislature. Thank you.

Thanks for reading!

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