Thursday, January 30, 2014

Three questions Atlanta's 'Snowmageddon' raise for Charlotte

Several of my Facebook friends have posted this article from Politico, which takes a long hard look at the urban planning and development missteps that helped set the stage for the 'Snowmageddon' that hit Atlanta Tuesday. Basically, the writer, a longtime observer of Atlanta's history and development, concludes that the lack of a coherent regional mass transit system and fractured local government have left the Atlanta metro area vulnerable to gridlock in a fast-developing civic emergency. Judging from our story today, our local elected officials deserve a tip of the hat for correctly zigging where the Atlanta officials zagged.

Still, the whole thing left me with a couple of questions about Charlotte's growth and development:

Question No. 1: Will our mass transit and roads system keep up? The Charlotte-Mecklenburg region is growing. We're beginning to build the next leg of the LYNX light rail system. But it's just the beginning of our planned regional mass transit network, and at the moment, there's no money to pay for the rest of the Charlotte Area Transit System's 2030 plan.

Question No. 2: Is our regional cooperation strong enough? The region has a history of counties and cities coming together around broader civic goals like transportation and economic development. But the recent fight over Charlotte-Douglas International Airport exposed some serious cracks in our regional armor. And folks in fast-growing Ballantyne have been making noises for years about pulling out of the city of Charlotte and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Question No. 3: Is the changing nature of how people live, work and play reducing the chances that the next few stages of Charlotte's development will mirror Atlanta's descent toward the dark side of the suburban sprawl equation? I've attended a number of local and regional conferences recently in which major Charlotte developers (most recently SouthPark builder Johnny Harris) have stressed that many in the younger generation of workers/consumers simply aren't as attracted as their parents were to the idea of living in far-flung suburbs. They want to live near the urban core, with walkable neighborhoods, street-level retail and mass transit at the ready. The South End makes the obvious case in point.

Maybe what happened in Atlanta was just the product of bureaucratic bungling, and nothing more. But as Charlotte's population growth propels it inexorably toward the upper ranks of America's cities, these sure seem like questions we should all be asking.


Anonymous said...

Good thoughts!

Anonymous said...

I like the response to Question 3. As a young professional, I think of living in the country/suburbs as something I do when I retire...perhaps.

Anonymous said...

One thing that is not mentioned is that this same thing happened in Atlanta about 30 years ago. They called it Snow Jam back then. Obiously did not learn from their mistakes.

Anonymous said...

What happened in Atlanta can easily happen in Charlotte. Basic mathmatics, when the number of vehicles are greater than the roadway can handle everything stops. Ask anyone who has ever been to a sell out concert, our Southern Christmas Show, or north on I-77 can preach on this. When the majority if those attending arrive in close time proximity it becomes gridlock. Now, when urban spral or inter-city growth increases the major arteries Charlotte have will also become gridlock. It's simply a matter of numbers. The cost of increasing lanes or building new roads through land purchases have quickly become unaffordable for local governments. So, the motoring public are left to fend for themselves and seek alternate ways around gridlock or adjust departure and arriving times. This is what we see as privilaged neighborhoods complain about those not living there to dare drive on their streets. Our kids play in the streets to protect our manicured lawns. Lord forbit, you ask them maybe to take their children to the parks we've built.

Understand, the vast majority of citizens will never give up their vehicles for alternative transportation. We will always be a gasoline consuming country reguardless of how many buses, light rails, bicycle rental stations, trains, hybrid vehicles or anything else we try to invest in.

Anonymous said...

Are there no regional efforts/forums that can be accessed to work through these problems?

Anonymous said...

Or maybe what happened in Atlanta was that people did not listen to the weather forecast and take appropriate actions to take care of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Something similar to this did happen in Charlotte back in 2003 or 2004--I can't remember the exact year. It started snowing in the morning, businesses let people go around 11:00 and then it took people hours to get home. It took me 3 1/2 hours to go less than 10 miles. The snow was coming down hard, the streets had been treated but could not keep up with the snowfall. Traffic was at a standstill on I-77 and I-485 both ways.

Just a few years ago and gas tanker heading southbound on I-77 near Fort Mill, crashed and exploded one afternoon causing rush hour traffic to come to a complete stop. It took some people coming from the Lake Norman area 7 hours to get home.

Charlotte's roads can't handle the traffic, much less a weather related emergency.

Anonymous said...

You can't build a train to every person's house. And kids these days are waiting or not getting married. When their kid turns 5 and they start looking at schools in the inner-city you can wave buy buy if they have the resources. The future is the internet and will reduce commuting significantly in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

^ Well less than half of Americans have school aged kids -- why must all of our planning revolve around that minority group?

Inner city schools are getting much better thanks to good magnet options and charters. Suburban schools are generally getting worse.

The internet is great for passing simple bits of information. It is wholly inadequate for communicating information that is uncertain or requires interpretation.

Anonymous said...

I glad that at least some in the news media raising the questions about transportation in Charlotte. There are few technologies available to ease congestions on the roads. I believe the biggest problem we have in Charlotte unregulated and unplanned to detail growth. I was at ULI Charlotte 2050 and saw how city does research. In my opinion it's almost funny. I believe that city must be planned and build by engineers and architects and everyday people, who don't know what's good or bad for the city. I've met local mayor who is completely against new roads. According to research by 2050 Charlotte population will double. We need to plan and build for the future not catching up to present. I know many people hate to see Charlotte grow to the size of Atlanta, news flash it will become anyway. The problem we need to deal with, how to build the city so we will not have same problems as Atlanta. Suburbs are great but, further out we build, more resources we need. It's time to wake up and look to other cities and countries, learn what ever we can so we don't have to pay the price later on.

Shamash said...


When I was a "young professional" without kids I liked living near the city center, too.

But as soon as the kids came along (and were approaching school age), it was goodbye to our favorite urban hangouts.

Or else pay some big bucks for private school and home security.

Aubrey Moore said...

Charlotte still has time to put together the infrastructure that is needed in a large urban area to allow movement of people. That ability to get from one place to another is important to all people, and putting all of the money into one solution, as Atlanta has pretty much done, has made it the least upwardly mobile city in the country. Inability of people to access jobs, clients, shopping, and recreation in a reasonable time and with a reasonable cost means that there is less climbing the financial rungs on the ladder. I love my cars and I love to take to the road, but society has the responsibility to balance my desires and needs with the total of needs of the community, and building more roads alone is not how you maximize the satisfaction of those needs.

Shamash said...

Upward mobility is better in Houston than Atlanta or Charlotte.

Is that due to Houston's public transportation?

Atlanta and Charlotte are near the bottom.

Well below Detroit and Birmingham which are also near the bottom.

I don't think Birmingham even has rail, but it has better "upward" mobility than Atlanta or Charlotte.


We're behind Birmingham. And Detroit.

Anonymous said...

Our city was not a success because CMS decided to let the kids out 2 hours early. It was a success due to the excellent efforts of NCDOT's Division 10, Charmeck DOT, and the local town DOT's who planned, mobilized, and executed brining, salting and plowing operations correctly. Many places executing elastic capacity through contracts with construction firms. Was it coordinated through a regional command center, nope. Should it have been, ayup.

To #1: There are never enough roads and lanes( see LA ). Rail and park and ride outer hub suburb center to center will be required to provide better use of the capacity.

To #2: No. That cooperation is on paper alone.

To #3: They want to live in high denisty developments because the developers create compelling streetscapes for this. Will this last past a single generation? Perhaps, but only through support of the local governments. For example ways to encourage mid to small business to take root and not migrate down the block as soon as the next "new" thing is built.

Anonymous said...

Stop trying to blame the government for bad drivers and rubber-neckers. I hate to break it to you, but not even mass transit could handle all of those people trying to leave the city at the same time. As long as we have a little bit of freedom left, Americans will always buy/build a house as far out or close in as they want. Some people don't mind a long commute. Some want to as close to their job as possible. None of it is dictated by the government telling us where to live. Stop whining about urban sprawl and lack of public transportation. Neither has anything to do with mother nature and bad drivers.

Anonymous said...

Illustrating point #2, those who choose a long commute from another county. Regional cooperation will be required to ensure smooth flow of traffic. For example I77 from Mooresville to Charlotte. Why should Mecklenburg care if the causway gets expanded, so long as Exit 30 on down is a decent commute their job is done. Or if Mecklenburg builds a park and ride with its money at Exit 28 only to have it flooded with Iredell folks. It will take regional cooperation to ensure there are multiple options for everyone as the model of build more highways and lanes has been proven to be a failure.

Anonymous said...

1. It is ironic that Charlotte can find money to allow the Knights to move back here but cannot find any money to build an RTS = misplaced priorities.

2. The 'fight' over the airport was instigated by the state.

3. People will places to live according to affordability. I lived in Central West New Jersey. I traveled 60 miles to work one way, 500 miles a week and 1ki miles every 2 weeks because the community was affordable as compared to living closer to work.
Living here only 20 driving minutes away is paradise compared to living in New Jersey and 60 miles from work.

Finally, Urban Planning had absolutely nothing to do with the traffic jamagedon in Atlanta. The jam was created by the stupidity of government and business to flood the highways at the same time ahead of a few flakes of snow and throw in freezing temps. Not to mention Atlanta's lack of proper preparation for the storm by calling for outside help from communities much more prepared for Winter. It didn't learn from the March 1993 Superstorm/Blizzard that in the South it occasionally snows along with ice and freezing temperatures.


Anonymous said...

"Urban Planning had absolutely nothing to do with the traffic jamagedon"

and you opinion is based on what facts?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:55pm: Gridlock around special events has more to do with cars moving into parking lots than it does with the surrounding roads. The parking is the bottleneck there. I don't see what happened in Atlanta happening here anytime soon. While it has easily taken me twice as long to get anywhere due to clogged roads, it's NEVER taken 24 hours (a la Atlanta) to get anywhere in Charlotte! There are just too many ways to get from point A to point B.

Anonymous said...

One thing that has been overlooked is the timing of the storm. It hit Atlanta midday BEFORE the end of school and work. When it finally hit charlotte, it was much later in the day so was spared because everyone had already gotten home. Southern snow storms are notoriously unpredictable. how many times have schools, government and private offices closed early on the threat of snow but not a snowflake falls? For those that think charlotte is immune from weather related gridlock, you are just fooling yourself. No city is immune from weather. I have lived in both charlotte and Atlanta, and I must say Atlanta is the best. There is a reason it is called the capital and the flagship city of the south. As to the person that stated that charlotte will be as big if not bigger than Atlanta, I would have to say "don't you worry about that, that is never going to happen". from the comments it appears that charlotte's delusions of grandeur are still are just as outrageous as ever. Oh the envy of the huge cosmopolitan city down 85, the 9th largest metropolitan area in the nation. It is funny that the people of Atlanta don't even give charlotte a second thought while the people of charlotte are so fascinated with Atlanta (just look at all the articles in the observer and the reader comments. Is really quite amusing!

Anonymous said...

Charlotte's problem is and will continue to be the jealousy it receives from those in Raleigh and east of Raleigh. The NC State Government has held this city back by purposely not doing its share.

Each time I ride to or through the RDU area it makes me purely MAD that the highway infrastructure in that area looks 10 times better than that in the Charlotte area. We continue to put politicians in Raleigh representing this area who CAN NOT get the job done of helping this area get its fair share.

The people of Georgia understand that Atlanta is the economic hub for the entire state. But, in NC it's a fight between what the Charlotte region needs vs what Raleigh and the Greenville and New Bern areas need.

This area of NC pumps out A LOT of money for this state and just doesn't get its fair share of it back.

Anonymous said...

Braves moving 30 miles outside the city and everything will follow it as Atlanta becomes and already is another Detroit with poverty, crime and general 3rd world.
Charlotte headed that way at a quickening pace and the city will become a 3rd world skeleton too.

Raleigh Metro cares less about Charlotte and in the lead anyway in every category. Get real. Total myth.

Anonymous said...

I live in Atlanta.
A few thoughts... one to the above comment, the Braves aren't moving 30 miles outside the city, but just outside the city. I oppose the move for many reasons though.

Poor judgement had a lot to do with the mess this week, but still decades of poor planning in sprawl created conditions for this to be worse than it should be.

I seriously hope Charlotte learns. There is a still a chance to grow smarter and think smarter in transportation. It takes years and decades for these things to happen, so Charlotte really needs to get things moving.

Atlanta is a mess. Charlotte will easily be such a mess if nothing changes.


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