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Local News

Streetcar Assessment Open To Public Scrutiny

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110408a.mp3

A streetcar in Charlotte would nearly double the population and number of jobs along the corridor. It would also jam up traffic in some spots and make cycling a bit tricky. An Environmental Assessment of the Streetcar was released today. The number of people living along the streetcar line would go from 45,000 up 80,000 after it's built. Jobs along the route would almost double to 114,000. City engineer John Mryzgod says the permanence of the streetcar makes it attractive to developers and retailers. Unlike bus lines, which can move easily, Mryzgod says developers see streetcar tracks in the street and "know they'll have pedestrians or transit riders riding by there everyday - and lots of them." Economic development is the primary reason Mayor Anthony Foxx and city staff are so eager for a streetcar in Charlotte. It would start on Beatties Ford Road near I-85 and run through Uptown on its way to Eastland Mall. Much of that route is in need of revitalization, says Mryzgod. But the just-released Environmental Assessment for the streetcar also says it could end up squeezing out the low-income and minority residents who live there. "We're not sure how that will affect those neighbors," admits Mryzgod. "We're acknowledging it could happen, but we're just not sure how it will affect them." Mryzgod says the city hopes to preserve the character of the neighborhoods along the streetcar, but property and tax values are likely to rise. The Environmental Assessment also predicts extra congestion near Johnson C. Smith University. In most places, the streetcar tracks will run down the same lanes as other vehicles travel, so Mryzgod says the effect will be similar to driving behind a bus. If you're traveling by two wheels, "it'll make it more challenging for cyclists," says Mryzgod. For one thing, the streetcar runs on grooved tracks in the road which can easily catch a bike's narrow tires. For most of its route, the streetcar will run in the lane closest to the curb. The Streetcar Environmental Assessment is open for public comment until May, with a public hearing at City Hall on April 28. So far, the city has only secured funding to build about one mile of the streetcar from Uptown to Presbyterian Hospital.