Bull City Connector: straightening out the "knot," shutting down earlier
DCABP endorsements: reading the early tea-leaves on fall Council elections

The H-S and Durham-Orange light rail: if you're analyzing its challenges, look beyond a single back yard

Development of any sort -- private, public-sector, not-for-profit, you name it -- invariably attracts a disproportionate interest from those in its immediate back yard.

And developers of all ilks are quick to throw around the term "NIMBY" (or Not In My Back Yard) for those who would speak out against their best-laid plans.

All too often, I find it's best to be skeptical of both developers' dreamiest promises as well as the loudest NIMBYs. After all, if Nick Tennyson's age-old advice is the best descriptor of the Bull City's growth -- namely, that if there's one thing Durhamites hate more than sprawl, it's density -- then perhaps the second might be, "Folks move to the community they find perfect as-is, not as it might become."

Monday's Herald-Sun features a deep (three articles! first, second, third) look at the Durham-Orange Light Rail plan. And, as opposed to much of the natural inside-baseball coverage that we've seen on the project, the H-S here tries to pick up concerns that some project opponents have raised.

But I'm worried that in picking this lens of analysis, Durham's paper of record has picked up only a series of voices that surround one particular back yard: the southern Durham County link between Durham and Chapel Hill that one resident, bizarrely to my mind, calls the "last vestige of green" -- never mind that major hospital/campus just on yonder side!

The H-S misses a chance here to hear both from non-suburban voices with concerns over (or support for) the project, as well as from non-governmental stakeholders involved in the STAC committee and other planning groups.

And quite frankly, that's a big whiff, because when the opponents quoted in the H-S talk about their localized opposition -- what some might call the NIMBY argument -- I find their concerns more relevant (even if I disagree with their positions) than when they make transit arguments writ large.

Let's start with a high-level recap of the project in its current form, and go back in history a bit.

More than a decade ago, the Triangle Transit Authority (today's GoTriangle) had a proposed rail service plan connecting downtown Durham and downtown Raleigh. It was diesel powered! It largely used existing corridors! And, the argument went, it would cut down on traffic between Raleigh and Durham!

Only problem was, that last little bit of the plan didn't hold up to further scrutiny.

There is travel between the two downtowns and the points between, but not enough to adequately impact I-40 traffic -- and the worst-case scenarios the TTA painted of I-40 crawling along got a skeptical reception from the Federal Transit Administration under the George W. Bush administration.

We've long heard that the FTA heard Charlotte's application for its now-successful Lynx Blue Line a few weeks before the Raleigh-Durham plan was heard, and that the FTA's internal criteria for approval changed between the two projects.

Whether that's accurate or not (and I'm sure an informed commenter or two will chime in here), it spelled a death-knell to the city-to-city plan.

Instead, a regional super-committee known as STAC formed to take a fresh look at improving the transit plan for the region. Among their key findings, as I recall:

  • Triangle communities needed dedicated funding for transit -- another FTA weakness, and something Durham/Orange achieved by voter-approved local sales tax referenda.
  • While still advocating for Wake-Durham rail transit, STAC also recommended a light rail system connecting Durham-Orange communities, along with enhanced bus service within and between  between the two MSAs.
  • Improved bus service would augment local rail service.

In recommending the Durham-Orange line, the STAC report puts a big emphasis on the two universities/academic medical centers sitting, as ESPN is fond of reminding us, just eight miles apart along US 15/501.

Interested folks can read the full STAC report on the OurTransitFuture web site.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I'd actually highly recommend that folks concerned by the Herald-Sun articles carefully read the STAC report, in particular, since it directly answers some of the concerns raised in the story. To wit:

No Wake connection: The lack of a Wake County connection in this phase draws concerns from a number of the residents who spoke to the Herald-Sun:

There are thoughts that the project in and of itself is the wrong project for the area. Instead of bridging Orange and Durham counties, some believe it should have been built between Durham and Wake counties.

“Especially if it’s a direct line between one and the other,” said Trish Dean said.

But the Durham-Orange line called out in the STAC report was cited as a need above and beyond the Wake-Durham connection the opponents envision.

What's more, under Republican leadership, Wake County was not even willing to entertain the transit tax option that Durham and Orange voters approved. Starting on a local connection in our communities makes sense as the beginning point for connecting the western half of the Triangle, while being able to later connect to a future DMU-based or (as I suspect we're more likely to see) commuter rail spine extending from Alamance or Guilford through to Johnston or beyond.

No RTP connection: Not unexpectedly, opponents cited Research Triangle Park's absence from this phase as a problem. But, I'm not sure I buy into their seeming quoted belief that RTP is the sine qua non for a transit system:

Debbie McCarthy said the light rail line should in essence take people to their jobs.

“You take people to their jobs. Here that would be RTP,” she said.

Only problem is, you need both jobs and density. RTP is a jobs center, yes. But UNC and its hospital; Duke University and its medical center; the VA hospital; and downtown Durham are a much more significant job driver in our region.

Take the photo below, which came out of the Urban Land Institute's Reality Check project a number of years ago. The yellow blocks denote housing units; red denotes jobs:

Uli-realitycheck-triangle

The height of the stacks denotes the density of jobs in an area. You'll note that the densest job corridors in the Durham-Orange segment are absolutely, clearly, the UNC-Duke-downtown Durham segment. (Between these three job drivers, there are probably 20%+ more jobs than in all of RTP.)

RTP has plenty of jobs, but they're widely distributed and dispersed compared to Chapel Hill and Durham. 

What's more, there ain't no yellow blocks there. That means there's no residential demands upon which to grow a transit system.

The opponents' seeming vision of a system focused on RTP would require transit links all throughout the low-density yellow areas in Wake County especially in order to draw in users. With the historic interconnects between Duke/UNC/Durham/Chapel Hill, there's more local demand immediately.

As the STAC report notes, the light rail line path has the "highest projected trips per acre in the region with intense employment and economic activity at the ends of the corridor."

Once RTP is making progress on its own reinvention, including adding density and mixed-use, the Park will be ideal for transit. But that's far into the future.

No airport connection: This has long been a canard and concern for some about rail corridor planning, not just in the Triangle but elsewhere. It's also perhaps best seen as a red herring.

From the STAC report:

Although widely perceived to be the norm and necessary for generating overall transit system ridership, direct rail access to airports is relatively uncommon in US cities. [... D]ecisions about investments are based on the largest, consistent travel market: generally the volume of daily peak hour traffic, most of which is not destined for the airport. Volumes of trips to airports are much smaller and spread over the day so serving them with rail raises per passenger costs. [...] Unquestionably, high quality transit connections to the airport provide convenience for air travelers and a savings on parking costs. However, the benefits of these services must be balanced with the usually much higher trip demands elsewhere in a region.

Where the system meets, or adds, density: Density was a question on the mind of some of the opponents:

A planned rail operation and maintenance facility on Alston Avenue was sidelined, and then the plan for the rail alignment in that portion of East Durham was changed.

“... That’s a transit-dependent community that’s supposed to benefit (from the project),” Alex Cabanes of Downing Creek said. “They’ve shortened the route, it doesn’t get to serve (that area).”

“If you look at the entire 17 miles, the whole premise of light rail is that you need people to ride it,” Cabanes said. “If you don’t have the density, you don’t have the population density ... It makes no sense that you’re going to get a whole lot of ridership.”

I'm not sure what makes the Alston Ave. community "transit-dependent" -- that's a term that could be interpreted as loaded with lots of class assumptions, but it is probably fair that there's a higher bus (and bike/pedestrian) usage in this corridor. Let's take that as a given.

The opponents are absolutely right that GoTriangle needs to find a way to build out as far east as planned to meet the East Durham need. But opponents are ignoring -- or more likely, disagreeing with -- the goal the running the LRT system in the Farrington Rd. area should precisely be meant to generate denser housing around transit stops.

Look again at the density map above. Along the proposed segments of the LRT, you have some areas like Patterson Place that were designed/planned around being in a known, marked transit corridor and already intending to become more heavily mixed-use. In others, you have undeveloped land minutes from the major job centers of the Triangle.

We know more people are coming to our region. Population in the U.S. continues to rise; we have successful job centers creating opportunities; people are leaving slow-growth cities and moving to our region. That's unlikely to change.

And as the map above shows, we can't grow outward. Those two lakes in the map? They block significant growth in north Durham and in other areas adjacent to Wake's (and part of Durham's) future drinking supply.

Denser growth that allows fewer car trips is an excellent way to meet the demand for more housing, while at the same time growing in a more environmentally conscious way.

The STAC report is crystal-clear that this is one of the goals of the project:

Many developers and local officials are showing increasing interest in, and commitment to, the type of land use planning and development needed to ensure the success of a regional transit system. We are seeing signs of substantial revitalization in our major downtowns and in other locations that will be well coordinated with regional transit corridors. Examples include the Plaza Condominiums in Raleigh, Meadowmont and 54 East in Chapel Hill, and West Village II in Durham. Throughout the region we see pockets of density and developments with a mix of activities that can be expected to support transit.

Real estate market research indicates that about 20–30% of people would prefer to live in compact, walkable neighborhoods where people can get to jobs, shopping and recreation without using a car. Where such neighborhoods exist or are built, they typically command a premium over  comparable suburban housing, reflecting rising demand and a relatively limited supply of housing in a walkable, transit-oriented pattern. Here in the Triangle, our housing market shows healthy demand for housing in these developments; our residents are paying for the opportunity to live in these places. Our developers and local planning professionals are also demonstrating that these developments can include an affordable housing component that opens up these desirable locations to lower income households.

Opponents rejoin in the articles that they have a vision of their community, though, as a verdant suburban land that would presumably be exempt from this density:

“We’ve been here for 30 years, and have been fighting to preserve the character of Farrington Road as a green belt, as the last vestige of green between Durham and Chapel Hill for those 30 years,” McCarthy added. “Yes, we’re passionate about it, and whether it’s going to happen next week or five years from now, we can’t just sit idly by and do nothing.

Friends, that ship has long sailed.

Meadowmont residents have developed a convenient amnesia on the subject, but that project was designed nearly two decades ago knowing it was in a transit corridor, and justifying its density on same. So has the 54 East project.

I'm always mystified that folks think that when they choose to live juuuuust outside an urban area, that it won't be denser someday. You can go back to London, or Rome, or probably earlier, and see this has never been the case in recorded human history. Especially when you choose an area that's between cities.

And lest my Farrington friends think I'm picking on them, I've long felt the same about the Morrisville residents who pressed town staff years ago to add acreage restrictions and a municipal golf course to restrict housing supply -- and towards the denizens on the edge of Duke Forest, which is hyper-low density right next to major job centers.

(Some opponents also raise the idea of bus rail transit, or BRT, as an alternative choice. Yes, Wake is looking at BRT. Look, yet again, at the density map. Honestly, BRT makes a lot more sense to me in Wake, where you have low density residential over a much larger area. The downtown-Duke/VA-UNC axis strikes me as perfectly appropriate to use LRT. And, as the STAC report notes, you aren't likely to see the density/development benefits of transit with BRT.)

You care too much about the future residents: One of the more ironic arguments, from Durham's Tom Englund, is that in focusing on the economic development outcomes of transit, local leaders are ignoring current residents:

“Instead of representing the constituents that elected them ... they are choosing to represent people who are not even here yet,” Durham County resident Tom Englund said.

Well, the first question I would ask back is: why, in this lengthy, three-part series of stories, is the Herald-Sun representing only constituents who live in a single area of the Durham-Orange region?

When you map out where those citizens quoted in the story come from, all of the quoted sources seem to emanate from one part of the Orange/Durham area:

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.53.22 PM

Why weren't any of the supporters of the plan -- some of whom live in this area, others of whom are all over the Durham-Orange region -- quoted in the story?

Heck, for that matter: why weren't some of the East Durham stakeholders who've raised concerns over the plan quoted? Their concerns are raised by proxy from some of the Farrington Road contingent, as noted above, an oddity to say the least.

To the folks quoted in the articles: there are plenty of us in the other parts of Durham and Orange who are pleased as punch by the system. I'm perfectly happy for elected officials to listen to my voice, too, and they'll hear a strong note of support when they do.

And there are opponents in my areas and elsewhere along the route, too. We should hear their voices, too. While the H-S raises a number of interesting issues, it's too bad that an opportunity was missed to hear more voices, pro and con, from more than one special (hyper-)interest group.

Change is difficult, and it's hard watching a pastoral area you've grown to love inevitably change.

But mark my words, the change is inevitable.

It can be transit-supported, and thus greener and more appealing (and, probably, more affordable, too.)  Or it can be a car-based, traffic-clogged mess.

Folks in Farrington/54 may want to continue to assume that the status quo can just continue, and we can still have low-density suburban/rural areas on the very edge of Interstate highways, major job centers and the like.

History has long proved otherwise. And we need to look at the impact of this project on a wide, community-benefits basis.

A conversation localized to the Downing Creeks of the world is simply a non-starter.

Comments

Don Stanger

The most important point about the folly of light rail has been missed, i.e., in the time it will take for LR to be built and implemented, technological advances in personal transportation alternatives will render LR obsolete. For example, envision Uber or Lyft plus self-driving cars... there's an App for that... providing point to point transportation, avoiding the main issues associated with the (archaic) idea of LR. Just pull up your Uber App on your smart phone, select your destination, schedule your pick-up time and you will be taken from your front door directly to your destination. Too expensive for some? Use some of the mega-millions that will be wasted on the building and operation (and inevitable operational deficits!) to subsidize transportation for those in need.

Bull City Rising

@Don: I had in recent years wondered the very same thing (and alluded to the role self-driving cars will play in talking about parking decks.) In debating this with folks who've followed this very issue, they've made a compelling case that I've accepted, which is that self-driving vehicles will be great for many transit uses, but not high-density ones.

The density of jobs and students in the three centers targeted by the STAC plan, and the movement of people between them -- there's essentially a bus along the 15/501 corridor every few minutes -- are still better served, the argument goes, by a high-density, high-frequency, fixed route service. Add to that the increase of thousands of housing units along the spine that drives utilization.

Self-driving vehicles, including transit versions thereof, seem better suited to low-density, dispersed areas like RTP, or to replacing or augmenting bus services. But I'm comfortable with the argument that we still need a spine to build around.

Bonnie Hauser

Hey how about some clarity on the facts and context for LRT. First it connects UNC to Durham, not downtown Chapel. second, in the 90s when the planning began, UNC and Duke were the prominent employers. The universities are important- but there's tremendous growth in employment in Cary, Raleigh, and Mebane, and more planned for Chatham (much of which will be in place before LRT is complete). RTP's corporate campuses being replaced with urban style development. Most employment is no longer in the university centers.

The term transit- dependent community refers to low income communities that rely on public transportation to get to work. The LRT plan requires people to drive to a park n ride, and get on a bus to the LRT. SO families need a second car or car sharing arrangement which many people cannot afford. Good transit would serve low income communities by offering reliable, convenient transportation, including last mile service - none of which is provided by The D-O-LRT or the current plan.

IMO, the spine is the existing rail line that connects Raleigh with Durham, Hillsborough, Mebane and points west, Thats why Wake's interest in Rail Rapid Transit is so exciting, It opens the door to legitimate commuter rail service throughout the triangle, that connects with major employment and urban centers - at a fraction of the cost of LRT.

Sometimes I feel like the D-O-LRT plan is stuck in the 90's, before BRT, smart phones, and serious dense growth throughout the Triangle. Wake County took a fresh look and realized that LRT no longer works. Wake refuses to over invest in a single corridor, and instead are planning to serve all their growing communities using flexible, state of the art technology. And of course, since they have the bulk of the population and employment, their plan is likely to make a serious improvement in congestion

LRT is nearly a decade away and will be outdated before it's done. We desperately need a regional transportation plan that looks to the future to create a triangle-wide network that connects the changing population and employment centers. Unfortunately our politicians are fixated on LRT. Maybe they are the NIMBYs

Michael Bacon

tl;dr: As Kevin so rightly says, GO READ THE STAC REPORT. It will help people understand the LRT plan much better and knock off some of the nonsense going around.

-----
Longer version:

I really try to stay civil in these arguments, but this is hard. Maybe it's just work-related stress, but I'm done.

"The most important point about the folly of light rail has been missed, i.e., in the time it will take for LR to be built and implemented, technological advances in personal transportation alternatives will render LR obsolete. For example, envision Uber or Lyft plus self-driving cars... there's an App for that... providing point to point transportation, avoiding the main issues associated with the (archaic) idea of LR. "

Right, and monkeys will be flying out of my butt by then too. Technological change doesn't happen that way -- it never has and it never will. Technological "revolutions" that look sudden always have been brewing for years. Even smartphones, which operated in a space where devices go obsolete in a two-year period, took well over a decade from their first mass introduction to reach majority market share, and the first meaningful precursors in that market demoed 10 years before that. Compare that to cars, which now have a 10-15 year functional life span, and the notion that self-driving cars are going to obsolete mass transit in 10 years is utter and complete nonsense. Take any form of electric-drive cars -- they were first demoed at auto shows in the 1970s, showed up as widely available in the late 1990s, and have had a 10 year run where high gas prices and continuing model expansion have led to 15 years of incredibly strong market growth. After all of this, they account for a whopping 3% of *new cars* sold. Now, tell me again about how self-driving cars will be everywhere in 10 years?

As to Bonnie Hauser's comments, there's enough upside down facts here to make me think I'm through the looking glass. I can't cover everything, but let's take a whack.

" in the 90s when the planning began, UNC and Duke were the prominent employers. . . . Most employment is no longer in the university centers."

When planning in the 1990's began, as Kevin points out, the focus was on Durham-Raleigh connections. Because of runaway "triangleism" of the decade, the assumption that Raleigh and Durham were going to totally become one city any day now, the assumption was that connecting those centers was critical. As time went on, it became clear that the region was really two metro areas with their own commuting markets, only really joined by RTP. Yes, people commute between the two some, but at far lower rates than they commute within the Raleigh-Cary MSA and within the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA.

In the 1990s, the most prominent and rapidly growing employers during that period were Lucent, IBM, Nortel, Glaxo, and other RTP firms. Since then, in the *mid aughts* when the regional diesel rail plane was ditched and LRT was planned, this trend was towards more employment in the downtown centers, and that has accelerated, not declined. As to the hospitals, employment there has exploded in the past 15 years, making them *more* prominent employment centers than they were before, with residential growth *increasing rapidly* in the urban centers near the LRT nodes. The changes in geographic distribution of employment and residences has been *towards* the areas around the LRT stations, not away from them!

"The LRT plan requires people to drive to a park n ride, and get on a bus to the LRT. . . . Good transit would serve low income communities by offering reliable, convenient transportation, including last mile service - none of which is provided by The D-O-LRT or the current plan."

Boy would it ever be stupid to think that the LRT stations are going to solve all our transit problems. Good thing nobody involved in the LRT decision making process thought that.

Again, read the STAC report. The LRT is part one of a multi-part approach to transit in the region that includes substantial investment in buses and paratransit. Already the sales tax money is funding increased bus service in the region, which once the LRT is built, can be increasingly oriented towards linking non-station areas with the station, allowing people to be within one transfer of having access to the light rail system.

"IMO, the spine is the existing rail line that connects Raleigh with Durham, Hillsborough, Mebane and points west, "

Everything old is new again! I wonder -- do people bother to read Kevin's really well-put together posts before commenting? The original regional rail plan for the 1990s followed this spine. It failed because along that corridor, transit demand would simply never be enough to cover the considerable cost. (Side rant, standard edition: DURHAM AND RALEIGH ARE NOT RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER THERE'S STILL 10 MILES OF FOREST AND PARKS AND FARMLAND BETWEEN THEM STOP TREATING THEM AS A CONTINUOUS URBAN AREA!!!!) Ahem, yes, anyway, the issue was that the train would go for miles and miles through either rural areas or completely transit un-friendly development (including the big-lotted subdivisions in Morrisville and Cary but also, most importantly, RTP). There was simply no way to make commutes work without counting on essentially rebuilding all of RTP, when increasingly gigantic suburban industrial parks were going out of fashion in favor of downtowns.

Now, did the STAC simply throw that corridor out the window? No, not at all! They called it the "linchpin corridor," which meant that every transit system (PAY ATTENTION THIS IS IMPORTANT) including the LRT had to be designed with an eye towards a future rail connecting system between them, but that every sub-system, again including the LRT, had to stand on its own in terms of demand. So, hooray, the Raleigh-to-Durham rail line is still in the works! That's great, because it's a good idea! It's also not the most desperately needed transit link in the area! That would be (as is painstakingly detailed in heavily researched quantitative detail in, again, the STAC report) the Durham-to-Chapel Hill connection.

Good night in the morning, this gets old.

Ruby

Thank you for this excellent post, Kevin. I'm so tired of all these concern trolls who really just fundamentally oppose transit acting like they have more information and insight on these issues than anyone else, when the truth is they have been fighting transit in all its modes and locations for years.

orulz

I am reasonably certain that the light rail line will be pretty well used when it's built.

I am a little concerned that Durham/Orange may be over-committing resources to a single capital projec at the expense of transit service and frequency elsewhere, but if a fixed guideway between D/CH really is what's needed, I don't see any way to do it better than Light Rail. (*real* bus rapid transit actually is hardly any cheaper than Light Rail.) Hopefully the planners can keep cost escalations in check.

I last lived in Chapel Hill back in 2007 and even then I would never venture out 54 towards Raleigh or 15-501 towards Durham during the afternoon rush, since I knew I would get caught in miserable traffic. I'm sure it's even worse now.

Michael Bacon

I'm a fan of BRT. BRT makes a lot of sense if you already have a transit-friendly road corridor with capacity to spare. Richmond is building a BRT down Broad St., and it's the perfect solution there.

There is no corridor between Durham and Chapel Hill where BRT makes any sense at all.

An Alston Ave. BRT corridor could make a lot of sense, though.

David Schwartz

Here's the view of someone knowledgable who has no dog in the fight:

"In the 1990's I was retained as one of the lobbyists for the Triangle Transit Authority light rail project, mostly in D.C. At the risk of being accused of biting one of the hands that fed me, let me state for the record that I came to the firm belief that logistically such a project would not be workable in the Triangle for several reasons - not enough population density, no realistically reasonable and affordable people movers and the almost indisputable fact that most people in the area will not give up their cars. While the population density is obviously growing, it is no where close to being able to sustain this project. Moreover, I still believe that folks will not give up their cars.

"I cannot recall the estimated cost of this project but the first appropriation I secured from Congress was 5 million dollars and was only a fraction of the ultimate overall cost. And our first plans included the entire Triangle with the exception, over my objection, of RDU. Cost projections for these type of projects, which we studied closely in the 1990's, were and are notoriously unreliable - always on the low side.

"So, before committing considerable public funding to the proposed light rail project, I would insist upon a comprehensive, independent feasibility study with verifiable cost itemizations."

Thank you,
William Woodward Webb
Attorney at Law
The Edmisten & Webb Law Firm

David Schwartz

And here's a comment from someone we might call a "Not-in-my-back-9" opponent:

"I write a golf column for the Community Sports News and sometimes community civic issues have an impact on sporting options. Chapel Hill is no exception. Despite our well-earned and proud reputation for playing slow on development, serious discussion continues on a light rail line that would force alterations of the highly-rated UNC Finley Golf Course. GoTriangle has submitted its final recommendations for the route between Chapel Hill and Durham, yet its outcome is still in question. A number of neighborhoods are rising in opposition to the line for any number of reasons, most of them valid. Cornwallis Rd. residents object to the proposed maintenance shed. Downing Creek objects to grade-level crossing of their primary road. Durham InterNeighborhood Council wants the route through Meadowmont, a major reason that development was approved. NE Central Durham Leadership Council opposes the station location at Alston Avenue. Even the Army Corps of Engineers has trouble with some of the routing through wetlands. IF the light rail line is built then UNC Finley golf course will have to be altered. It will require a relocation of two tee boxes; one at the par-5 third hole and also at the par-5 seventeenth hole. There is ample room to relocate the 17th’s tees, but the 3rd hole may have to be made into a long par 4. Moving the tee boxes away from the rail might make the dogleg too severe and/or possibly encroach on the 6th green, so a different adjustment might require making it a par 4 hole instead of par 5. These adjustments would not be disastrous – but they would alter a course the Ed Foundation paid dearly for Tom Fazio to design and build. And all of this to build a BILLION dollar transit system that doesn’t go to Raleigh, RDU or the RTP. I’m beginning to wonder who will be riding it."

Ray Gronberg

>in the time it will take for LR to be built and implemented, technological advances in personal transportation alternatives will render LR obsolete. For example, envision Uber or Lyft plus self-driving cars

Lol. Major advances in transportation technology are historically rare. In point of fact, there hasn't been one since the Soviets orbited Sputnik. Before that, you had two at about the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (automobiles and airplanes) and one more early in the 1800s (railroads). What you're thinking of as "advances" are really are refinements, and they can't have the effect you anticipate because they rely on the same backbone infrastructure as the automobile (the local road network).

John

@Ray: Transformative technologies are rare, but when they come, they change the way we live VERY VERY quickly.

As you noted, they historically happen about once a century. And by coincidence we haven’t had one in about a century. Transformative technologies also coincide with massive increases in productivity (the reason they are implemented so quickly). Rail was revolutionary 200 years ago, and fueled the industrial revolution. Cars were revolutionary 100 years ago, fueling personal choice and empowering individuals to go where they wanted, whenever they wanted. Driverless vehicles are next. No question about it.

The people who deny the transformative effects of driverless cars appear to be the same people who are drunk on the Light Rail kool aid. From where I sit, it looks to be a 100% correlation. Since this technology is coming in the next 10 years, and any rational actor can see this, it would be irresponsible of our community leaders to deny the effect of driverless cars in making major infrastructure decisions.

Ask yourself: If these cars prove to move more people to more places for less cost (the goal of transit), AND do so more sustainably, AND do so with more social equity (the other points of triple bottom line accounting), would you STILL be determined to build light rail? If the answer is “Yes”, then you’re a Light Rail kool aid drinker. It’s OK, you’re in the majority.

Bull City Rising

@John: I talked about the impact driverless cars will have in this post just a few weeks ago (https://www.bullcityrising.com/2015/06/wexford-durhamid-seek-incentives-for-renovations-and-parking-decks-in-special-city-council-meeting-t.html):

"By and of itself, autonomous vehicles don't change the ownership ratios we have, where a significant proportion of the workforce (i.e., those who don't use transit, carpool, or bike/walk to work) owns a single-occupancy vehicle for their commute.

But autonomous, along with apps like Uber and Lyft and companies like Zipcar, are certainly barreling down a path that can change the equation.

Today, Zipcar is an alternative to vehicle ownership, but the car's still yours when you're using it, and there are "sticky" periods to the use -- the time when you're parked at stores and malls during your errands, for instance.

It's not hard to imagine -- and I am far, far, far from the first to suggest this -- a future in which the Zipcar equivalent is more like an automated Uber ride, where a self-driving car is summoned or scheduled to pick you up and drop you off at your destination... then heads off to pick up the next passenger or to recharge."

I've had a number of conversations with folks since this post, since the technology advancements had me wondering about the impact on transit, too.

The issue is really about the ability of transit to move large numbers of people between high-demand locations. If 30,000 employees at University X shift from single-occupancy vehicles to on-demand shared-car autonomous driving, you still have tens of thousands of cars shuttling/ferrying people in. And even if that means you're addressing parking problems, you still have relatively high traffic from cars constantly moving in/out.

LRT can move hundreds of people in a single vehicle. The purpose of LRT should be to connect the busiest destinations -- like UNC Hospital, Duke and downtown Durham -- then rely on other modes to get folks to local destinations. Today, that's a bus. Tomorrow, that may be autonomous cars or short-bus automated transit vehicles.

But I still think you need trunk and branches. It's hard to see the trunk moving away from fixed-guideway. Not to mention that you won't get denser, transit-oriented, urbanized development in zones like Leigh Farm without fixed-guideway.

By the way, to those talking about commuter rail: compare the ridership on a successful LRT system like Charlotte's against most commuter rail systems in the country. LRT designed like Charlotte -- as Durham/Orange are trying to do, where you invigorate low-density areas, drive redevelopment, and target major work centers -- can be a big success. I would also recommend you look at Salt Lake City for another example of a very successful light rail system that changed development patterns for the better.

David Schwartz

Because folks have pointed to Charlotte's light rail as a success story we in the Triangle should aspire to emulate, I looked it up on Wikipedia and came across this paragraph about future expansion of the system:

"Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2034, by 2013, the Charlotte Area Transit System stated it would likely be unable to fund future transit projects apart from the Blue Line Extension, scheduled to begin construction in early 2014.

"On May 6, 2013, a 30-member transit funding task force released a draft report in which they estimated it would cost $3.3 billion to build the remaining transit corridors, and $1.7 billion to operate and maintain the lines through 2024. To fund the build-out by sales taxes alone would require a 0.78 cent increase in the sales tax, which would need to be approved by the state General Assembly. The committee recommended any sales tax increase be limited to 0.5 cent and other methods used to raise funds; In July 2015, CATS reported it lacked the funds to support any future transit projects apart from the already budgeted 2.5-mile long Phase 2 segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line."

However meritorious the D-O LRT may be, we need to think seriously about where the money is going to come from to build and operate it, and we need to have a backup transit plan in the event the money for LRT doesn't materialize.

bonnie hauser

BRT is proving to be effective in spurring development. And Wake's interest in RRT is an interesting use of existing infrastructure.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2013/09/15/bus-rapid-transit-spurs-development-better-than-light-rail-and-streetcars/

Michael Bacon

Okay, one at at time here.

The Webb letter is an easy one to answer. In the 1990s the population of the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA was less than half of what it is today. Population and density numbers from then are as relevant to the discussion as living patterns in the 1930s were to the building of highways in the 1950s -- relevant for historical perspective, useless for projections of planning.

On anonymous comment 2 quoted by David S. What is the nonsense in the first half of that? NECD wants the station on the other side of the street than it's currently planned, so don't build it at all? One of the four proposed locations for the maintenance shed is problematic, so throw them all out? I can't speak to the golf course issues, but UNC has been well represented at the planning table throughout and are backing the project. I presume they know what they're doing with Finlay.

Now John: "Transformative technologies are rare, but when they come, they change the way we live VERY VERY quickly." NO THEY DON'T. The automobile was invented in the late 1880s but didn't have a major impact on urban space until the 1950s. The Wright Brothers flew in 1903, but widespread civil aviation didn't really get cranked up until on into the 1960s. I am not a betting man but I would put down any amount of money with any odds on it that self-driving cars will still be a rare novelty in 10 years. The notion that it's going to happen overnight is utter, complete ahistorical nonsense.

Back to David:

"However meritorious the D-O LRT may be, we need to think seriously about where the money is going to come from to build and operate it, and we need to have a backup transit plan in the event the money for LRT doesn't materialize."

READ. THE. STAC. PLAN.

This has been done. This has been thought out. An immense amount of work went into it. Your ignorance of it does not mean it hasn't been done.

Michael Bacon

One more point about David's first comment from Mr. Webb:

"In the 1990's I was retained as one of the lobbyists for the Triangle Transit Authority light rail project, mostly in D.C. "

So this shows his memory is bad. In the 1990s there was no TTA light rail project. It was a diesel MMU-based regional rail and it proposed a completely different set of stations.

I'm not sure why we should be listening to all of these critics of the plan when they can't even get the most basic, fundamental facts of the project straight.

bonnie hauser

The STAC report is dated 2008 and conflates the growth in Wake County (a million and counting) with the growth in Orange and Durham. It predates anticipated growth in Chatham and Mebane, and the strong positive outcomes from BRT projects in the last 10 years.

It suggests funding (the sales tax and registration fee) that has been implemented but is not nearly enough to make up for shortfalls from the state. Federal funding is still out - although they cant even get a basic budget passed for roads - and like it or not - Foxx is talking high speed rail for NC and driverless cars - its sexier than LRT.

I believe its good policy to support transit in the triangle - With Raleigh ranked number 3 nation-wide for new businesses, and incredible growth in that city, hopefully the feds will notice that the sleepy DOLRT is barely relevant to the future of growth in the Triangle.

Alex Cabanes

First and foremost, let me say that this is fantastic! We are finally beginning to have an open discussion about mass transit in the Triangle area, and beginning to question the assumption about the proposed DOLRT. I appreciate the efforts by the Hearld-Sun and Lauren Horsch on bringing up concerns of impacted communities along the 17 mile corridor. I also agree that many more communities like East Durham, NC Central, Durham Tech and many others need to be included in this discussion.

Lest the light rail advocate be concerned about their ‘voice’ being heard, rest assured. We hear the light rail bias very loud and clear during every discussion with GoTriangle. This multi-million dollar organization and their community outreach ‘informational’ sessions continue to espouse the conventional light rail bias. To date, these have not been so much dialogs, but rather more like a hard-sell. I certainly hope we can change this into an actual dialog where we all contribute to a better solution for Durham and the Triangle.

Our community has been working since 2011 to address our safety concerns with TTA (now GoTriangle) and elected officials to find a amenable compromise that will address our safety concerns. We are still waiting.

How many other communities are missing from this conversation?

Homeowners along Farrington Road learned about the DOLRT plans inadvertently as they noticed survey crews in their backyard. When asked, the survey crews told the startled homeowner that they were taking measurements for the proposed Farrington ROMF (Repair and Maintenance Facility).

Clearly, we need to improve the conversation and GoTriangle needs to greatly improve their community communications and actively engage in a conversation (rather than merely reiterating their scripted talking points).

I very much appreciate “…mailings have been done for residents within a mile of the project on each side. In all she said there have been more than 50,000 addressed mailings sent through the U.S. Postal Service.” according to Natalie Murdock from Go Triangle. I am looking forward to receiving my informational mailing from GoTriangle.

This is a step in the right direction. I would encourage more community outreach. In addition to the direct mailing (which many in our community had requested on repeated occasions), I would like to also suggest two other communications items:

1 - Clearly post rezoning signs along the17 mile route so that everyone (not just those with Internet Access) can see where the train will be crossing 150 times a day.

2- Clearly advertise for 3 weeks prior to the NEPA comment period with factual background information to allow residents to do their own research and prepare for comments. This should include all of the local papers (eg the Hearld-Sun, News&Observer, the Indy Weekly, etc.)

So let’s start, shall we?

Michael Bacon

Replying to Bonnie Hauser:

"The STAC report is dated 2008 and conflates the growth in Wake County (a million and counting) with the growth in Orange and Durham. It predates anticipated growth in Chatham and Mebane, and the strong positive outcomes from BRT projects in the last 10 years."

What corridor do you think BRT would be appropriate on? Which of the 6 bridges across New Hope Creek would you run the service on? How would you deal with the fact that all six corridors are already over capacity during rush hour?

"I believe its good policy to support transit in the triangle - With Raleigh ranked number 3 nation-wide for new businesses, and incredible growth in that city, hopefully the feds will notice that the sleepy DOLRT is barely relevant to the future of growth in the Triangle."

Out of 381 Metropolitan Statistical Areas defined by the US Census, the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area (not including Raleigh) was 32nd in growth and second in NC with a 7.6% growth rate between 2010 and 2014, ahead of even Charlotte. Calling that "sleepy" is insane. Further, Durham County grew even faster than that, at a rate of 8.7%, compared to Wake County's 10.1%. And finally, while it's still growing at explosive rates, Wake's growth has slowed considerably in the last 10 years, down from its ridiculous 4.75% annual rates to around a 2.5% annual rate, while Durham County's growth has accelerated considerably, driven in part by (you guessed it!) construction in the downtown core, near the planned transit stops. Wake County has its own transit issues to solve, but I hate to tell you, Hillsborough is a loooong way down their list of stops they're interested in connecting to.

I've read your middle paragraph eight times and I still have no idea what it's supposed to mean or what the pronouns are referring to.

Michael Bacon

Replying to Alex Cabanes:

I'm not in PR, and I thank the stars for that on a regular basis. I see solicitations for public comment from GoTriangle on a quarterly basis, and I don't even currently live in the Triangle! (I still own a house in Durham and visit at least once a month.) Figuring out how to get the word out about public meetings is hard -- they're advertised on radio PSAs, in newspaper ads, online, in Facebook and Twitter, and in the City's regular newsletters. GoTriangle released goofy videos trying to go viral advertising the proposed routes and asked for comments, and set up information kiosks at the malls and bus stations to advertise the plans. (I'm a land use geek, I notice these things.)

Of course that's still going to miss huge chunks of people. How do you get the word out? I have no idea. Your idea for putting up the zoning signs is a very good one and I hope it happens.

As to the rest of your post, "light rail bias" is a really stupid phrase and ruins a lot of the good you have going there. If you read the STAC report (I can't remember, did I say that already?) you pick up that planners spent over a decade trying to build a non-light rail system and spent quite a lot of effort looking at other modes of transportation and eventually settled on light rail.

And referring to GoTriangle as a "multi-million dollar organization" is silly -- they run three bus systems, I should hope they're a multi-million dollar organization! The office that's working on LRT issues is, last I checked, around 5 people. Nonetheless I get that this feels set in stone -- that's a function of where we are in the process. As you've noticed, it takes a long freakin' time to build a new transit system on a new corridor. Getting a federal funding application in takes a long time, so as a region we had to at some point pick a project and start working on it. The STAC was a multi-year process that involved trying to take a step back and gather as many voices as it could from as many expert and citizen inputs as it could, then making a recommendation on which way to go. There was then another year of debate refining the proposal, then a bill in the general assembly authorizing the sales tax vote, then two different votes, all of which advertised this plan. So now we're in the process of getting environmental review on the plans (which have to be largely set in order to do so), and people are wondering why things seem set in stone. Well, you can only redesign the house so many times -- at some point you have to buy the lot and dig the foundation, and after that it gets hard to change. And that's where we are now.

Alex Cabanes

Thank you Michael.

I wish I could say that the ideas to notify affected communities via postal mailing, posting rezoning signs and placing advertisements in the local papers are original (or mine) ... but I would think are merely common sense or commonly accepted practices. Regardless, a good step forward.

Regarding your PR statement, not sure if you are looking at an organization chart or basing your statement on some other facts (if you could please share). I can assure you that during the GoTriangle 'information' sessions (after the main presentation) there are 20+ GoTriangle 'experts' around the room with nice color charts ready to talk to the concerned citizens. This does not account for the senior managers in constant dialog with other officials trying to sell the LRT plan or the PR agencies or lobbyists (in Raleigh or DC) or legal firms at their disposal.

Regarding your reference to STAC (great read) and your 'building' analogy (foundation, digging, etc). If I may use your analogy. The STAC outlined the need for a 'dwelling'. Since then there have been additional studies and the GoTriangle staff have submitted their preferred plan to the federal government for federal funding (continuing with your analogy, the need for a 6 bedroom house or maybe a duplex). The public is now seeing these plans with more specifics on routing, placement of ROMF, etc (so we are looking at the house's blue prints and deciding do we want the window here or there, or place the kitchen there, etc). As engineers and GoTriangle have repeatedly stated publicly, they are at 15% design ... so still lot's more to go before breaking ground.

I am sorry to hear that you feel that there is no light rail bias (or that it is stupid). I would suggest that the fact that everything in our discussion is framed as light rail and that we are referring to the project as DO LRT) would be enough.

During the 2012 Scoping Report (and more current than the STAC you referenced), alternatives included BRT (which is planned for Wake and Chapel Hill) at a much lower cost ($16M to $60M per mile) vs LRT ($80M + per mile). Given that wide range, it sure seems like there is an anti-BRT bias.
SOURCE: https://ourtransitfuture.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/000681_REV_Scoping_Report_web.pdf#page=265

Ironically, DO LRT is now projected to take 42 minutes vs BRT 39 minutes. So LRT is SLOWER than BRT (which ironically was supposedly eliminated because it was too slow vs LRT) and LRT is more expensive.

"Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it" - Winston Churchill

In closing, I would suggest reading the Grand Jury findings from Orange County, CA. It lays out the light rail bias that the OCTA transit authority exhibited during their LRT project. There are a disturbing number of similarities between the Grand Jury findings against OCTA and GoTriangle's current behavior. The Orange County Grand Jury found that:

The OCTA has implicitly characterized the need for light rail is to lessen traffic congestion and pollution, and to promote economic development along the proposed line. The proposed light rail system is estimated by OCTA to carry, at best, a daily ridership of 60,000. Total Orange County daily ridership in 2020 is expected by OCTA to be 10 million people, up 2 million from today’s ridership. The light rail portion would be less than 1% (0.6%) of total county ridership in the year 2020.

The national experience with urban light rail systems’ ability to solve traffic congestion, air pollution and related urban problems has been poor. The Grand Jury examined the last 12 urban light rail systems developed in the U.S. The Grand Jury analysis strongly suggests that Orange County will experience that:

• Light rail will have negligible impact on traffic congestion because it attracts few automobile drivers from their cars.
• Demographic trends will make light rail much less effective than predicted by planners.
• Light rail is expensive. The most cost-effective, federally funded systems have required subsidies of $5,000 and more per new ride. New rides are those riders brought out of their cars and into the transit system.
• Light rail is inflexible once in place. The OCTA’s bus system routes are adjusted three times a year.
• Light rail cost and ridership forecasts will be erroneous and biased in favor of light rail.
• Light rail will not spur development. Development along light rail corridors is spurred by tax subsidies, not light rail.
• Light rail will not improve commuter travel times, energy conservation and safety.

There is a promotion of light rail by OCTA in its public Outreach/Center Line documents and briefings, rather than a process of study, analysis and evaluation as to light rail’s merits and cost benefit.

SOURCE: https://www.ocgrandjury.org/pdfs/GJLtRail.pdf


Bull City Rising

@Alex: The Orange Co. (Cal.) Grand Jury report you cite is from 1999. Bonnie asserted that a 2008 report is outdated, so I assume a deeper concern would reply to a report of this vintage.

Regardless, that report far pre-dates the very, very successful Charlotte light rail system. It also talks about Portland's MAX system as a failure. I've been to Portland, and it is astounding how well MAX works. If anything, that has become a national model for LRT. Of course, hindsight is 20/20.

There's a difference in talking about BRT, and bus routes; sometimes referred to as the difference between BRT and "BRT light" or just plain buses.

A true BRT system involves stations (just like light rail stations) built in the median of or alongside a roadway. You get up to a platform, wait for the bus to arrive, board the bus. Those routes don't "change three times a year" -- they take up the same amount of infrastructure as a rail line. And they can run as high frequency.

Honest question: Let's assume that BRT were actually cheaper (though studies are all over the map on this.) And let's assume GoTriangle said tomorrow, "Hey, we're going to follow the same route, propose the same Compact Neighborhood Districts, and run the line in the same place. There will be stations where we said, with elevated platforms and everything, just with buses and dedicated roadway."

I have a feeling that if that happened, the opponents of the current plan would be just as opposed to BRT. Because while there are tactical arguments to be made about cost, safety, and the like, any other system that addressed those concerns but still significantly changes the character of your part of Durham/Orange is, I suspect, not welcome.

(I tend to think there's an assumption that BRT = run it down 15/501 = don't change my neighborhood. Maybe I'm wrong. Would be glad to know if I am.)

You raise a good point that the devil is in the details, and that the public is now seeing the details, and they certainly look like devils (or are just bedeviling.) But the STAC report pre-dated the Durham and Orange transit votes. I certainly knew that D-O light rail was part of why I was voting for the tax. For instance, we covered this four years ago at BCR: https://www.bullcityrising.com/2011/03/back-to-the-future-regional-transit-planners-show-durhamites-the-future-of-travel.html

Note in the comments that GreenLantern -- hey, where'd GreenLantern go? -- one of our more conservative commenters here, making the argument that the Wake-Durham system wouldn't make sense and wouldn't change suburban patterns, while simultaneously noting that a Durham-Orange link can make sense.

Incidentally: I've ridden the system cited frequently as one of the most successful BRT systems in the US, the Cleveland Health Line running between Cleveland Clinic/Case Western and downtown. I certainly found it superior to plain old bus service, but stops were too frequent/bunched up. Google Maps calculates 22 minutes for a 7 mile trip, which matches my memory -- this, despite traffic signal prioritization. DOLRT is projected to be faster. It does, on the other hand, allow for future light rail conversion.

One big note, though -- it works in Cleveland because you had Euclid Ave. to run it down. Euclid is the equivalent of a 7 mile long Erwin Rd. with tons of development around it on all sides. And, the cost was cheap because you had a mega-boulevard that could have capacity taken away from it -- much of the HealthLine runs through very depressed parts of Cleveland -- and turned into a bus. The cost of building through greenfield along the DOLRT route would be exorbitant, I would think.

Still, it does show that -- much as with DOLRT -- running the system with hospitals and universities as anchor institutions is a valuable approach.

Alex Cabanes

@BullCity, thank you for sharing your recent experiences using mass transit.

I can certainly appreciate your experiences in other cities. Like yourself, many of us have lived and worked in major metropolitan cities (in the US and around the world) with mass transit and have used mass transit. The key defining word here is mass.

Do we have the sufficient population density to justify this massive investment? Could we use a more cost effective transit plan that would allow for future flexibility as technology evolves (eg automated vehicles, etc)?

The reference to OC grand jury finding is the behavior and similarities to what we are experiencing today with GoTriangle. You advocacy for LRT is duly noted, but please refer to the actual documented projections citing BRT.

BRT is less expensive than LRT, and more flexible as the dedicated roadways can also be shared with other buses. Apparently a fact that has not been lost on Wake (and to some degree Chapel Hill along the MLK corridor), as they are considering BRT.

Please reference the 2012 Scoping Report where the BRT is projected to be a much lower cost ($16M to $60M per mile) vs LRT ($80M + per mile).
SOURCE: https://ourtransitfuture.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/000681_REV_Scoping_Report_web.pdf#page=265

Regarding your question about LRT similar concerns extending to BRT alternative. Not sure, but that would certainly be an interesting conversation to have. Also, any reason why you wouldn't want to route BRT down 15-501? Afterall, it is a much more direct route to connect UNC and Duke / VA Hospital, and would reduce commute time and be 2 miles shorter.

Come to think of it, why is it that no bus route goes directly from UNC to Duke / VA or even along the proposed DOLRT alignment? Surely you might want to take a test drive of sorts and test traffic patterns with bus service before spending $1.82 BILLION and set this DOLRT route in perpetuity in cement.

What else could we do with these funds? Perhaps we could use some of these funds to improve our crumbling infrastructure, improve our schools, pay our teachers and other hard working taxpaying citizens a livable wage, improved healthcare, and a host of other critical investments?

Regarding linkages to universities and hospitals, why are we omitting NC Central and Durham Tech from the LRT route? Do they and their students not deserve the same benefit bestowed on these marquee institutions? Come to think of it, how much is UNC and Duke paying into this project? They are the beneficiaries of this taxpayer largess, surely they are covering some of the $1.82 BILLION construction costs.

Chris

@alex - Did you even bother to vote on the transit tax referendum? I checked the NC public voter information, and it looks like you were too busy to vote in that little municipal election. What's the deal? Were you just totally tuned-out to local politics until the last few months?

AL

Kevin - thank you for covering this issue.

Adding to Alex's critiques: If Charlotte's light rail has 15,800 daily boardings (so roughly 8,000 people, assuming most ride two way), out of a metro of 2,500,000, that's moving 0.32% of the population, at most.

Independent of costs, by what metric are we considering this 'very, very successful'?

Alex Cabanes

Thanks @chris.

Yes, like many others (based on the low voter turnout) I missed this off-cycle vote, as I was traveling on business. My bad.

So did you have something you wanted to contribute to the discussion / merits of LRT?

Or is this where the discussion denigrates to personal attacks?

Kathleen

Hi all,
Thanks for a place where anti-LRT can actually be discussed.

From the first light rail session given by GoTriangle that I attended (been to 3,) it was apparent that it wasn't an 'information session' where both sides were being presented; the LRT was being sold to the public at those sessions. From what I can tell, they tell us enough of the negative to follow rules set by the Feds to get federal money. Period.

One of the worst cases I saw was at my homeowner's association meeting where we invited GoTriangle because we wanted information on such issues as noise, vibration, how close the train would come to homes, etc.. After a nice introduction to GoTriangle (brief history, etc.) by one person we had a fact-based description by an engineer and then...
the main speaker started her presentation by telling us loudly that studies show homes close to a LR station increase in value by 3 to (get this) 25 percent!

I've read through a number of these studies and homes located in the right areas do tend to show a low to moderate increase in value. But some homes can have their value decreased, most home in the general area are unaffected (1/2 mile or more from a station and not too close to tracks or loud RR crossings = vast majority of homes,) and other homes can lose value (you don't want to be situated right at a railroad crossing, for example). The effect on a given set of homes really has to take into consideration a number of important relevant factors which I won't bore you with.

But homes do not go up in value by 25%. And I'd bet a month's pay (warning - I'm retired) that my neighborhood will not see a noticeable increase in home value.

And NEVER have I heard anything from GoTriangle about what the no-build option would include. That option is barely mentioned (probably wouldn't be mentioned at all if they could get away with it,) and I came away with the impression that it was build the light rail or do absolutely nothing different than what was currently being done.

There's no question that the public is given a one-sided sales pitch. You may think that's justified because you believe the rail is a good thing, but I don't.

And thanks again for having a place where maybe that can be said.


Alex Cabanes

Hi Kathleen.

The academic studies on LRT impact on property values seem to be all over the map. Areas that were abandon industrial properties and are converted to upscale / gentrified condos and lofts seem to have a positive impact on property values, but may be driven more by generous tax subsidies rather than LRT proximity. Just need to look at all of the new construction in downtown Durham, without LRT even being built. The impact on single family residences in low density areas seems to have a negative impact.

Regardless, if someone from GoTriangle is suggesting that your property value will increase, I would suggest that you quickly look up your property's value on Zillow.com or other sites, add the 25% uplift they are promising and ask them for an offer letter ... quickly.

Or you can send them my way.

Bull City Rising

Lots of good discussion here. I'm going to try to address a couple of them at a high level.

On AL's point about the number of people moved -- AL, you really need to look not at total traffic movements in the region, but in the impact it has on I-77, a highly congested corridor. A single lane of I-77 typically carries about 2,200 passengers per hour. I don't have peak-hour data on CATS' Blue Line, but given that it's now up to 16,200 pax/weekday and a goodly proportion of those riders are downtown/peak commuters, I'd wager that the commuting transit users displace a lane or so of I-77 traffic. And, that system not only passed a referendum but survived a repeal.

(I lived in CLT, at the corner of Arrowwood/Tryon near 77/485 back in 1999 and would have killed for a transit system then; even 15 years ago, getting to Tryon/Trade from there was a disaster in rush hour.)

On the BRT vs. LRT route -- GoTriangle's alternatives analysis report compares the costs of BRT and LRT. The true BRT route would cost approximately $55 million per mile; LRT, $80 million per mile. So yes, there are capital savings from bus rapid transit. However, there is a big difference in capacity. To move 1,500 passengers an hour requires headways of 10 minutes with LRT; 4 minutes with BRT.

There's a couple of problems with this. First, your annual operating costs in the AA report are about the same for BRT and LRT -- while CapEx of vehicles is cheaper, there are higher labor costs for operators. Secondly, as headways get tighter, I wonder about the impact on congestion and delays in the system.

Now, there are BRT systems in the world that purport to have very tight headways -- as low as multiple buses per minute. On the other hand, when you look at BRT in North America, there's only one or two that run at less than 5-10 minute headways. Ottawa's system runs into congestion downtown in their transitway and it sounds like a portion will move to BRT. Los Angeles' manages four minutes but they've also had their share of challenges with signaling and with bus/car accidents. Most other systems run in a 10 minute-plus headway. And especially if those systems have any at-grade crossings with cars -- like Boston's ridiculous Silver Line does -- then you're creating real conflict, delaying buses as well as delaying cars.

Where BRT is successful, you have dedicated roadways with limited or no at-grade crossings. But by the time you've built that, why not just do rail? And if you don't -- if the Downing Creek folks are concerned about the number of trains going by daily, how would folks feel about significantly more buses?

Even if we can save 30% on the CapEx of a system with BRT, I'd wager we have significantly more carrying capacity with LRT given what I would think to be realistic headways. That also means a system that can expand further with the region's growth.

Frankly, if there was money to be saved in building a BRT system that was fully grade-separated and able to be converted from BRT to LRT over time, I'd be fine with seeing a proposal like that. But I tend to think that's not a likely point of effort. Besides -- and the responses above don't disabuse me of this -- I think most people eyeing BRT in this debate are really talking about "better bus service," not true BRT that would have grade separation and spur infill development.

On buses and 15/501 -- "Also, any reason why you wouldn't want to route BRT down 15-501? After all, it is a much more direct route to connect UNC and Duke / VA Hospital, and would reduce commute time and be 2 miles shorter. Come to think of it, why is it that no bus route goes directly from UNC to Duke / VA or even along the proposed DOLRT alignment? Surely you might want to take a test drive of sorts and test traffic patterns with bus service before spending $1.82 BILLION and set this DOLRT route in perpetuity in cement."

There actually is plenty, plenty of that service already. DATA, CHT, Duke/UNC, GoTriangle all have service in this corridor. Heck, those are some of the major GoTriangle routes already. There's an infographic at the last DOLRT public meeting I was at that shows the frequency of buses down the corridor today -- I want to say it was every 6-8 minutes?

Running LRT (or durable, inflexible BRT) down this corridor actually frees up that bus capacity for other routes and allows more capacity-carrying.

In re going straight down 15/501: There's far more transit-oriented development potential along the planned route than straight down the highway. To the extent this system has economic development and housing/retail spin-outs -- see my arguments below -- they're far more effective if they can pick up Leigh Farm, Gateway and other sites. 15/501 is already a miserable, car-centered corridor; I think it would be hard pressed to drive the residential growth that the community needs to house those migrating to our area.

On why this area -- the AA document notes that there are 174,000 additional residents projected in Durham-Chapel Hill between now and 2035. One-third of those are projected to move to the area in the transit corridor, despite that representing only a tenth of the land area of the communities. I'd imagine there's several reasons for this: keep in mind that much of northern and eastern Durham is development-constrained, likely permanently, due to the Falls watershed. And, Chapel Hill's strategies on growth -- which I think have been utterly disastrous at driving job growth and economic development, and have mostly served to artificially buttress prices, making homeowners wealthier and pushing out the poor, minorities and younger residents, and which ironically I expect will cause CH's longtime progressive spirit to be extinguished within a generation -- mean the town likely won't absorb its share of new residents either.

Put simply, there will be new residents and new development coming into south/west Durham and the 54/Farrington area. It won't resemble in 20 years what it does today. Stop by the Durham reading room at the downtown library and look at old maps of Durham from 20, 30, 40 years ago, compared to today. The question is: do we want that development to be car-centric, or do we want to have transit alternatives?

My guess is that the opponents of transit would also oppose the development and growth and argue, as I've heard folks say in other contexts, that people should simply live elsewhere and we can't sustain or manage that growth. To which I will always rejoin: the job centers are here, and in a world where carbon and fossil fuels are strained, I really don't relish the idea of more Mebane and Pittsboro and Creedmoor and Fuquay-Varina commuters. And when we have dumb land use policies -- like having the largest private sector employment center in North Carolina immediately adjacent to low-density rural/suburban neighborhoods -- we are just making our region's sprawl worse.

Does this change impact our neighborhoods? Sure. Alex, while my home is in a neighborhood that is immediately adjacent to downtown, the neighborhood itself looks quite suburban. My own lot is 1/3 acre on a street with a couple of duplexes but mostly SFR. A new Residence Inn opened up a block away. (And, I'm about 2 1/2 blocks from a future transit station.) We've faced development opportunities as a neighborhoods, and have discouraged bad developments while encouraging good urban development on our edges. And we also have a number of lower-priced rental properties in our neighborhood, along with some group homes. Yet we continue to experience high appreciation outpacing much of Durham.

Most folks moving here for a suburban lifestyle want new suburban. Look at the decline and decay of the white-flight neighborhoods in north Durham to see what badly-developed aging suburban neighborhoods look like. Heck, some of the development from 15 years ago around Southpoint is looking pretty rough.

Ultimately, as I've said above, I don't think that this argument is all about transit. It's more about folks in the 54/Farrington area wanting to preserve their way of life. That said, I don't think it's realistic to live a heartbeat way from UNC Hospital, I-40, and 15-501 and think that major development isn't going to happen, in one way or another. The timescale for that development is years to a decade, but it is coming. And transit, to me, helps us absorb an appropriate share of growth more sustainably and dent the car-centric commuting patterns we are dangerously developing as a region.

John Martin

Michael, take your meds before reading this. ;)

Let’s take a step back, and look at why we are supposed to be doing this project. This is from the “Executive Summary” at the beginning of the STAC Report:

“Increasing congestion and unreliability of travel times threaten our attractiveness to businesses and workers. Without a well-functioning transportation system that is reliable, cost-effective and time-competitive for commuters and freight,
with a range of options for accessing shopping, medical service and entertainment venues, our overall competitiveness will decline. Fuel prices and the other costs of auto ownership and driving will continue to increase, draining individual households of financial resources. Increasing construction and roadway maintenance costs are draining communities of the financial resources needed to sustain basic services as well as the arts, cultural and natural resources.”

Ah, the same old justification that we always get for every transportation project: congestion. I’ve been in Durham a long time and I remember when the city fathers decided that downtown was too congested. They commissioned a report which recommended an expensive solution: the downtown loop. Well, it worked, sort of. Soon enough, downtown was not only not congested, it was nearly a ghost town. I suspect that light rail will have a far less noticeable effect. Does anyone seriously want to argue that it will reduce congestion on 15-501? Highway 54? I-40?

And notice the hazards of forecasting revealed in the paragraph from the Executive Summary. It suggests that residents will soon be pauperized by rising fuel prices, “draining individual households of financial resources.” Hardly was the ink dry on this report before the price of gasoline started declining, and continues to decline.

And, oddly, it suggests that building and maintaining roads is too expensive for local communities. So as an alternative, we are supposed to invest in an even more expensive form of transportation? If you are persuaded by this logic, I’d love to know why.

Michael and BCR cite the STAC Report almost as Holy Writ, a veritable Book of Revelation that contains the unalterable truth about the past, present and future. By contrast, I see the STAC Report as advertising, rather like the glossy folder that tries to sell you a Caribbean cruise. Both are full of descriptions, prices, routes, and photos of happy people enjoying themselves. Neither are necessarily lying, but just as a cruise folder is not going to mention bad weather, seasickness, accidents or surly crew members demanding tips, the STAC Report shows us what GoTransit hopes will happen, not everything that might go wrong.

Any plenty has already gone wrong, even before this cruise set sail. The STAC Report didn’t just propose an Orange-Durham Light Rail. It also proposed Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains between: a) NW Cary to Durant Road (North of I-540); b) Duke Med Center to Triangle Metro Center; c) Triangle Metro Center to RDU Airport; and d) Triangle Metro Center to NW Cary. Both BCR and Michael make it sound like these connections were to be built in the far, misty future. In fact, the STAC report suggested that the first rail link might be the one from NW Cary to Durant Road at a capital cost of $774.1 million. (Conveniently enough, it also says: don’t count on this.) Obviously, Wake County now has different ideas. I agree with Michael that each link should stand on its own merits, but since four of the five rail proposals are off the table for the time being, why shouldn’t we carefully reexamine the remaining one?

The STAC Report also said that the total capital cost of building the light rail, plus the DMU rail listed above would be $2.27 billion in 2007 dollars. The light rail component was supposed to be $739 million in 2007 dollars. Today, GoTransit says the light rail alone will cost $1.8 billion dollars. So when David asks where the money is coming from, it is not sufficient for Michael to say, read the STAC Report. The cost estimates are already escalating far beyond the rate of inflation.

Part of the money was supposed to be coming from the state government. When the STAC Report was written, the Democrats controlled the General Assembly and the Governorship. That’s changed, as some of you may have noticed. Does anyone think that the present General Assembly will eagerly fall into line and approve $450 million dollars in capital costs for building this line? Might it be prudent to talk about where else that money might come from?

So let’s see, four of the five routes are gone, the costs have greatly escalated, and the funding is far less certain, and yet I’m supposed to simply accept the report at face value. “We’ve hit an iceberg, and we’re taking on water, Captain.” “Nonsense, sail on! This is the Titanic. Nothing can happen to us!”

The STAC Report does have some interesting admissions, and one of them directly contradicts something Michael says. Michael tries to refute the Webb letter this way:

“The Webb letter is an easy one to answer. In the 1990s the population of the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA was less than half of what it is today. Population and density numbers from then are as relevant to the discussion as living patterns in the 1930s were to the building of highways in in the 1950s -- relevant for historical perspective, useless for projections of planning.”

Well, yes, population has grown, but density has not. Thus sayeth the STAC Report:

“We are a low density region. Despite our tremendous growth, our regional population density is still lower than it was in 1980. With few natural barriers to development like mountains or large rivers, development has consumed land at a far more rapid pace than the increase in our population.”

So Webb’s observation is as relevant now as when he wrote it. And that’s important: rail and low density don’t work well. BCR also tends to talk about population growth when he should be examining population density. But ultimately, there’s a kind of magical realism going on here: proponents of light rail may acknowledge low population density, but then argue that the project itself will create higher density, i.e. “transit-oriented development.” In other words, light rail will create the problem that it’s designed to solve.

And then there is Ruby’s comment, which needs a response. She writes:

“I'm so tired of all these concern trolls who really just fundamentally oppose transit acting like they have more information and insight on these issues than anyone else, when the truth is they have been fighting transit in all its modes and locations for years.”

She doesn’t offer any counter-arguments, just name-calling (“trolls”) and an assertion that evidently everyone who has concerns “just fundamentally oppose transit.” Well, Ruby, I don’t oppose transit. But there is my Rule #1 for public transit: The first goal of public transit ought to be to help those who have no other options but to use public transit.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what we don’t do. At a recent InterNeighborhood Council meeting, Jim Svara of the Northeast Central Durham Leadership Council, held up a Durham city map with the path of the light rail system highlighted. Almost all of it was in West Durham, and only a tiny stub going into East Durham. (And even that stub is now being further truncated.) Duke Hospital and the glittering new Erwin Road condos, Old West Durham, East Campus, Trinity Park, and downtown will all have stops. But when people complain that public transportation dollars ought to be used to better serve, say, North East Central Durham, Southside, N.C. Central, or Durham Tech, and that these ought to be the first areas of concern for public transportation, BCR suggests that maybe we’re being “classist.” We already have the example of the Bull City Connector that provides free and frequent bus service--to some of the most affluent parts of the City. Dukies can ride downtown for free, but N.C. Central and Durham Tech are only served by paying bus routes.

I taught for more than two decades at Durham Tech and I saw how many students depend on buses as their only means of getting an education. I’ve seen some careless remarks from GoTransit about how the Alston Ave. station (now being moved to the west) will “serve” Durham Tech. Sure, all the Durham Tech students who live in Trinity Park will take light rail to Alston and then hike a mile or so to Durham Tech. But then again, what about the Durham Tech students who live on Juniper St. or Miami Blvd.? What sort of “service” will they get from light rail? Right.

And, finally, who’s paying for this? That’s the cruelest irony of all. The majority of local funds are coming from a sales-tax increase, a tax that progressives used to denounce as regressive. So low- and moderate-income people are paying a disproportionate share for a system that will mainly serve the most affluent areas of Durham and Orange counties.

Next topic for discussion, ladies and gentlemen, income inequality. . .

Kathleen

Bull City,

I’ve lived in Pope's Crossing (near planned Gateway station) for 27+ years and I hate what this rail is going to do to this area /neighborhood. Because of that I started paying about 1000% more attention to this project than I otherwise would have: that's a NORMAL reaction. That's why you hear from people who are living in the areas that this train is going to hurt.

You have a belief system that says “cars bad, high density residential good” plus you live 2.5 blocks from a planned transit station. Should we tune you out because of your stated biases and because you expect an increase in your home’s value? Do those thing automatically make you wrong?

Most people in Durham and Orange counties are undoubtedly 'for' the train despite the fact that most of them know almost nothing about it. If I bring up the subject with someone the first question is "where does that train go?" They have busy lives and passionate interests that don't include this project and we're all short on time. And so the people who pay the most attention are the extremely small percentage of people for whom this kind of thing is their passion (you) plus what you refer to as (dismiss as) NIMBY's (me, even though I'm not from the 54 area.)

When you threaten the quality of life at people's homes you're going to hear a lot more from them. And their statements are never going to sound as "city planner correct" as yours because this is an area you are passionate about. That doesn't mean you're right, and it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. When you speak from your knowledge/research you make lots of sense; you really can get by just fine without the insinuation that the people who disagree with you aren’t worth listening to. You have clear biases that give you a warped vision too, you know.

For example, your take on Chapel Hill is, from my point of view, seriously distorted. People there protected the town’s ambiance and their desired lifestyle despite pressure to increase population growth and high-density living. Their resistance only served to make Chapel Hill an even more desirable place to live for many, driving home values up, pretty much across the board. That, in turn, allowed residents to not only maintain their desired quality of life, but also to generate taxes that helped create what is arguably the best public school system in the state. That makes the town even more desirable.

This is no bubble: the home prices have gone up in response to supply and demand, a demand generated by the well-defended quality of life in Chapel Hill. There’s nothing “artificial” about it.
The town doesn’t follow your theory, and it’s thriving.

I’m familiar with another town that followed a path similar to Chapel Hill. My high school was in Old Westbury, a town in the middle of Long Island. It still had very large estates owned by “old” money, along with expensive middle class homes built on land sold by the estates over time. That town zoned out ALL commercial activity, with the sole exception of a small country store that had been attached to the post office since forever. No commercial activity allowed! Disaster! Taxes there were very high. And the public schools in the area were rated the best in the state.

50 years later. The old estates are all gone now, from what I hear, and there are many more homes; much higher density. I believe they allow stores now. And the homes there are still high priced with large lots and considered very desirable. The school district is still a great one, but is nowhere near being the best in the entire state. The higher density and commercial zoning probably had a lot to do with the loss of that standing. But the state of NY bought land while it was still available and there is now a new State University of New York at Old Westbury that didn't exist when I went to high school.

Perhaps that will be Chapel Hill’s fate, though they have their state university already. But meanwhile the people who live there are enjoying living the way they want to. They’re successfully protecting their town, and they’ve got great schools. I see nothing wrong with any of that.

Actually, it sounds like the American Dream to me.

Bull City Rising

@Kathleen: I don't think I've ever given, or at least meant to give, the insinuation that those who disagree with me aren't worth listening to. In fact, the central thesis of this post is: if you're not happy with transit impacting your community, that's a reasonable, supportable argument; but, (a) it hurts and not helps one's cause to cite (as opponents did in the H-S) other, macro-level arguments that I don't think were always defensible with more background; (b) I think that when you live between two growing cities, the idea that your suburban or semi-rural area will remain pastoral is not historically accurate; and (c) if the Herald-Sun wanted to write about the macro-level pro's and con's of transit, only listening to opponents in one section of the city isn't a very useful approach. You'll note this argument in the opening and closing paragraphs of the post. And, 30 comments later, we're continuing the conversation.

John M., whose comment deserves a longer and later treatment, is someone I've known in town for years, and lives in central Durham. I think voices like John would have enriched the opponent side of the debate in the H-S's coverage. I also think the citizen voices "for" -- as noted above, the LRT general plan was pretty clear in public discourse when folks voted for the local-option tax -- deserved more of a placement.

I'm not sure we disagree on (positively) on what happened to Chapel Hill at all, we just disagree (normatively) if it's a good or bad thing. You wrote:

"For example, your take on Chapel Hill is, from my point of view, seriously distorted. People there protected the town’s ambiance and their desired lifestyle despite pressure to increase population growth and high-density living. Their resistance only served to make Chapel Hill an even more desirable place to live for many, driving home values up, pretty much across the board. That, in turn, allowed residents to not only maintain their desired quality of life, but also to generate taxes that helped create what is arguably the best public school system in the state. That makes the town even more desirable."

I wrote:

"I think [Chapel Hill policies] have been utterly disastrous at driving job growth and economic development, and have mostly served to artificially buttress prices, making homeowners wealthier and pushing out the poor, minorities and younger residents, and which ironically I expect will cause CH's longtime progressive spirit to be extinguished within a generation[.]"

We both agree that Chapel Hill has managed to take their town upscale, pushing up housing prices and restricting growth of new units. Your perspective is that this is CH citizens taking control of their town and setting the future they want.

I'd say to that, maybe. You live closer to it than I do, and have lived here longer. My sense is that there are voices in CH who've intentionally shaped the town in that way; and, others who've tried to shape its development in a progressive way -- much as college towns like Berkeley and Cambridge have -- and may now be frustrated at the gentrification and decline in economic diversity that have resulted -- much like Berkeley and Cambridge, again, have done. (As an ex-Cantab, it pains me to walk through Central Square.)

Do folks in CH have the right to set their growth destiny? Sure!

As a Durhamite, I can't change that. But I can, and have (for years here), and will continue to press for a future in Durham that is more inclusive, more affordable, more creative, more dynamic than Chapel Hill. Not a small part of the dynamism that has made Durham in the past 15-20 years such an amazing city has come from people including many youth who left Chapel Hill and Carrboro. On the other hand, the only people I've personally known to move to Chapel Hill were middle-aged with kids moving "for the schools," or retirees.

Chapel Hill is welcome to chart its own future. But I think it would be a horribly wrong future for Durham. Too bad, as Sonic Youth once sang, the Chapel Hill scene is dead -- though the Durham H.C. kids seem to still be doing okay.

As to my broader point on development: I wasn't familiar with Pope's Crossing, so I looked it up. Here's a statement from the HOA page:

"Extensive shopping and dining opportunities are available within a mile of the neighborhood, including Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, WalMart, Lowes, Home Depot, Kohls, Kroger, and others as well as numerous restaurants, boutiques, and medical centers. Despite its proximity to these urban centers, the community easily maintains its pleasant, small town residential character."

It sounds idyllic -- all the conveniences one can want a short drive away, but while retaining a "small town" character.

I would argue that in the long run -- decades, certainly -- that's not environmentally or economically sustainable. When commercial development and job centers don't have housing around them, people have to live out further with longer commutes, and then invariably more retail sprouts up closer to them.

While John is correct that we are seeing a dip in oil prices, that's been politically driven (as part of a multination push to hammer the US economically for driving down oil prices), and continued by the China economic turmoil, I'd guess. I tend to believe that the oil consumption levels we have to power our economy aren't sustainable, and 20 years from now we're going to need other ways to get around.

Eventually, growth pressures from Durham and even Chapel Hill will simply make living in low-density residential that close to an economic center unsustainable. There's plenty of land that is now and will always be available for more rural, bucolic living -- northern Durham Co., much of Orange Co., etc. I just question any assumption that an area between (not outside) the two cities can stay that way. If not transit pressure, it will be private sector economic pressure, much as is happening on 54/Farrington.

I'm not picking on the I-40/Old Chapel Hill Rd. corridor here. I've said the same about the Hillandale/Guess corridor when residents were concerned about an apartment complex opening up; I've said the same about apartments along 15/501.

Ray Gronberg

I suspect that when Kevin said the drop in oil prices is "part of a multination push to hammer the US economically," he actually meant it's a push to hammer Iran. No question it's of short-term benefit to the US, economically, but it illustrates the extent to which energy markets are subject to political manipulation by governments outside our control. No American alive in 1973 and 1974 can forget that such manipulation can work the other way.

As for why NCCU isn't on the rail plan, one needs to remember that Central is, comparatively speaking, a small fish. When Wendell Davis went from being its vice chancellor for finance to Durham County manager, he was moving to the larger organization. The NCCU folks are very proud of having raised $7M from private donors in FY15. UNC Chapel Hill the same year raised $447M and by the standards of its peers that's not even particularly good.

Dick Ford

I am sure that Ray has the right metric, apparently alumni wealth, but is that the right metric for transit planners??

Combined Duke/UNC-CH enrollment is 43K, compare to combined NCCU/DT enrollment of 33K. Yet Duke and UNC-CH have free busses ,and now light-rail??.

What is the GOP'er missing?

Damon Seils

Duke and UNC Chapel Hill—in addition to their student enrollments—have many, many employees (especially when you include their health systems). They are major employment centers in a way that other employers in the corridor are not.

Ray Gronberg

Dick, the alumni-wealth metric is an important measure of sustainability. Duke and UNC-CH are as certain as any institutions in the state to exist in 100 years' time. But in pondering NCCU's role in a transit plan one has to remember the loose talk there's already been about "right-sizing" the UNC system and the Pope Center's belief that said right-sizing involves possibly closing HBCUs..

And again, NCCU's enrollment is relatively small, THe campus administration in planning for a placement of the current student union is assuming the need to be able to serve about 10k students a year in a couple decades' time. UNC Charlotte passed in the 10k threshold in 1980 or so. It wasn't until 15 years later that futre Gov. McCrory and other civic leaders in Charlotte identified the UNCC campus as a second-phase prospect for that city's rail system. It now has an enrollment comparable to that of UNC-CH and NCSU and the city only now has gotten around to the construction of the Blue Line,.

Ray Gronberg

In the above, for "placement," read "replacement." Old eyes and small screens.

Michael Bacon

I have one more week of full time work to finish a major project before starting graduate school, so I write these things at high speed and without editing for tone. So, yes, I probably come across as off my meds (too much coffee is probably nearer the truth). I'll have to respond to John later, but briefly...

I have to say again, regarding Duke vs. NCCU -- when it comes to the actual university campuses where students live and faculty teach, Duke is only a smidge closer to a rail stop than NCCU (again, ~3,500 ft. vs ~4,000 ft.). If you don't believe me, Google Earth has a great measurement tool which demonstrates this. What is on the rail line is Duke Hospital, the region's largest private employer and far and away the most highly concentrated center of jobs in Durham or Orange county. Serving that stop is about the hospital and its jobs, not about Duke students and their alumni endowment.

Service to the rail system for students on both campuses will largely come through connecting buses.

Matt Bailey

Regarding Kathleen’s comments…

I also live near the planned Gateway station (in Chapel Hill’s Colony Lake neighborhood) and I LOVE what this rail will do for our area. Personally, I look forward to being within walking distance of a train line that will provide a fast, congestion-fee, and enjoyable way to get to downtown Durham or UNC. I look forward to walking or biking to the train station to go see a show at the DPAC, Durham Bulls games at the DBAP, or dinner on Ninth Street.

I look forward to seeing Patterson Place evolve from box boxes and parking lots into the mixed use downtown-style streetscape its planners designed it to become one day. I look forward to welcoming new neighbors, job-generating employers and tax-paying retailers to the future walkable mixed-use communities that will be designed around Gateway Station. (That will be a nice change of pace from seeing Chapel Hill’s largest private sector employer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, leave the area for Durham.)

Like Kathleen, I have taken special interest in learning the details of the light rail plan because it is so close to our home, (and Michael Bacon didn’t even have to tell me to read the STAC report). The more I learn about the Durham-Orange Light Rail line, the more I like it.

I guess you could call me a YIMBY… YES in my back yard.

I’m sure they’ll come a day when I’ll wax nostalgia with my grandchildren about what Old Durham Chapel Hill Road was like back in the day. However, I’ll remind myself that in 1986, someone was beside themselves about how their quality of life was going to be ruined by the neighborhood my family calls home. Then, I'll get on the train and be thankful I'm not stuck in traffic on 15-501.

Matt Bailey

A belated Welcome Back!

Kevin, I've been meaning to tell you how thrilled I was the day I discovered Bull City Rising was back!

It’s the best Durham resurrection since Kings Sandwich Shop came back to life!

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