Transportation, Planning & Development meeting recap: March 7, 2024

Transportation, Planning and Development Committee held their March meeting 2024

This week, the Transportation, Planning and Development Committee held their March meeting. They discussed CATS service and management, Community Area Planning, and the UDO. Couldn’t make the meeting? Here’s a recap!

Key takeaways

  • CATS will complete a run-time analysis for bus routes to fix late and missed buses.
  • National Express, the new transit management team, encouraged City Council to “build it [public transportation] and they will come.”
  • Several public comment periods are coming up for the Community Area Planning process. Stay tuned for more information!
  • A potential text amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance will make certain developments more dense but with more open space.

Read on for more information on each of these items and more!

Highlights from CATS

Light rail maintenance: Since last fall, about half of the light rail fleet has been removed from service for a maintenance issue. These vehicles are in the process of being repaired, and Interim CEO Brent Cagle confirmed that 5 or 6 sets of the roughly 20 vehicles have returned from receiving maintenance in California and Florida. He also clarified that light rail service has not been impacted while this process moves forward.

Bus route assessment: Cagle shared that CATS is engaging a third party to complete a run-time analysis of all bus routes. CATS acknowledges that many current bus routes are too long which leads to late or missed buses. Paired with this, Cagle agreed that signal prioritization and dedicated bus lanes need to be a focus, though this work will come with a higher price tag. This work is in line with the Envision My Ride study that CATS completed in 2018.

Our take: Sustain Charlotte is beyond pleased to see that CATS is prioritizing a run-time analysis. This is one of the best ways to catch inefficiencies and make changes that actually work for riders. We eagerly anticipate the report in the next few months and will continue advocating for fast, frequent, reliable bus service that works for everyone.

Ridership: Council Member Watlington asked National Express what approaches they have seen make the most positive impact on ridership, and the spokesperson responded with “build it and they will come.” He shared that countless cities have found success by providing a level of service that is appealing to customers while also putting policies in place that discourage people from driving. This combination, according to National Express, is a tried and true method to increase public transit ridership.

Our takeThis is a critical message for City Council to hear from a company that provides transit management services and understands the challenges.! Thank you, National Express, for being another voice for the customer and recognizing that we will only see reduced congestion and better bus service when we create a public transit system that people want to use.

National Express, the new transit management team: The livestream for this meeting started partway into the introduction of Charlotte’s new transit management team, National Express. From what we were able to see, National Express is committed to improving communication and empowering transit staff with incentives and recognition. The National Express spokesperson also told the committee that hybrid buses are the best option for Charlotte at this time since electric battery technology still needs to be improved.

What’s coming next for the Community Area Planning (CAP) 

Over the past year, city staff have been hard at work engaging the public in the community area planning process. This initiative aims to create 14 area plans for the City of Charlotte that highlight the unique needs of each area and identify customized improvements. Importantly, the CAP process will not dedicate funds to make these improvements, rezone properties, or stop development. The intention of the area plans is to guide development and provide a framework to support the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

So far, city staff have had 130,000 interactions with the public and stakeholders through workshops, library office hours, virtual platforms, and other meetings. This input has led to a 6% refinement of the Policy Map to make sure our growth is in line with our needs.

Three drafts of the related manual and Policy Map will be released over the next 12 months. The first one will be the draft of the Policy Map scheduled for March 12. Each draft will be accompanied by a 90-day public comment period and other engagement opportunities. The final map and area plans are anticipated to be completed in early 2025.

We will be sharing these 90-day public comment periods and engagement opportunities with our followers through our newsletter and social media. Keep an eye out for the first one later this spring!

Two potential text amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO)

Conservation development: This amendment aims to improve the current conservation development standards. Developers currently have this option when planning a subdivision under the UDO. This type of development is also known as cluster development, which allows for a 50% reduction in each lot size in exchange for more open space in the overall development. The proposed changes would increase the current percentage of open space, and tree save, with tree save expanding to 40%. Additionally, it would create adequate buffers between developments with the goal of improving walkability and livability.

Since the implementation of the UDO in June 2023, 90% of subdivisions submitted have been filed under the conservation development standards. However, some of these developments include private streets and alleys in their plans, which could cause potential problems for solid waste management and emergency services. In light of this, the planning staff has proposed that all lots should front or face public streets or open spaces, not private streets or alleys.

Committee members expressed concern that this amendment could lead to higher density than the UDO intended. They also want to ensure there are plenty of opportunities for the public to learn about this proposed amendment and provide input.

Our take: This conservation development option has become the most popular choice for subdivision submittals since UDO was put in place. However, it is also causing concern due to the possibility of inappropriate density in areas that have little to no infrastructure or services. This option was not intended to be used in this way, and it has, in effect, led to the upzoning of parcels without proper consideration for the appropriateness of those areas. Unfortunately, it has also facilitated the creation of poorly designed residential areas. Sustain Charlotte advocates smart growth as the best way to promote sustainable development in Charlotte. The fundamental principle of smart growth is to concentrate density along transit corridors and in our activity centers. This is also a vital aspect of the 10-minute neighborhoods initiative, a goal of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

We support the planning staff’s proposed changes to the design and functionality of the conservation development option by ensuring that residents have access to public streets and sidewalks to reach their homes. It is also important to focus on providing higher-quality open spaces and ensure that this type of development is implemented in the appropriate locations.

Clean-up amendment: This text amendment involves minor changes to the UDO that will improve functionality or comply with state law changes. For example, graphics will be updated, new definitions will be added, and some language will be clarified. This amendment was filed on March 4 and is intended to go before the City Council for a vote on June 17.

You can watch the meeting recording here and view the agenda here.

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