As somebody embracing life without a car, I’ve been commuting by light rail and bus from Uptown and South End to Ballantyne for work over the last four years. Relaxing with a book or podcast for 40 minutes while not paying attention to traffic on South Blvd., I-77, and I-485 makes for a simple stress-free commute on most days.
The lack of flexibility in the route and schedule makes that commute not as advantageous as a car trip can be, but the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) has implemented the first steps to address those issues.
Though lacking the sexiness and celebration of the opening of the Blue Line Extension, CATS has updated or created 16 bus routes to leverage the new light rail stations, reduce the time-consuming hub-and-spoke system, cut down on the redundancy of routes, and address citizen feedback in the Envision My Ride project. These bus changes will improve the reliability and viability of using the bus for daily transportation, particularly for commuting to work outside of Uptown.
Instead of waiting for an infrequent express bus or sitting idly in traffic, work commuters can now take the Blue Line to the University City Blvd. Station (the one in front of IKEA) and hop on a frequently-running bus that’s a short ride to the Well Fargo CIC and other office complexes from University Research Park through Concord Mills.
Geographic coverage has also improved by moving routes such as the 3, 13, and 39 away from the Charlotte Transit Center in Uptown and into neighborhoods that need quick, reliable connections to the Blue Line. The same concept applies to the 211 route in the Hidden Valley neighborhood, which now runs reliably between the newly christened Sugar Creek and Tom Hunter stations.
These changes along the Blue Line Extension are just the start for CATS. More route improvement proposals are being made in the Envision My Ride project.
For instance, under a proposed change, the 43 bus I take to Ballantyne every day will no longer serve neighborhoods — because why do three separate routes have to serve a relatively short cut-through street like Sharon Road West? The proposed route will go directly from the Blue Line to the different office buildings in and around the Ballantyne Corporate Park.
With the infill growth proposed and already occurring at a rapid rate, this is exactly what Charlotte needs to embrace. Our city is at a tipping point with road capacity and road expansion is not a viable option in dense population areas within the city. Building upon the pros of light rail and bus commuting and making forward-thinking changes will lead to Charlotteans adjusting the way they think about transportation and improve the community as a whole.
The Blue Line is not a novelty; it’s a very valuable transportation tool. Leveraging its fixed schedule and direct route for comprehensive bus coverage will strengthen the system and give credibility to non-automobile transportation options. The changes that have been made and the future with Envision My Ride will make the bus system sleeker, smarter, and sustainable.
Photo: Courtesy of CATS