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Charlotte City Council approves transportation plan to reduce reliance on cars

David Boraks

Charlotte City Council has adopted an ambitious framework that reimagines how residents get from point A to point B. The Strategic Mobility Plan aims to reduce Charlotte’s dependence on cars and accommodate travel by foot, bicycle or public transit.

If successful, the plan would address a variety of Charlotte’s development goals, from increasing social equity to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Council members Tariq Bokhari and Ed Driggs were the only two who voted against the measure during Monday night’s city council meeting. Bokhari rejected the plan in large part for its reliance on the Charlotte Area Transit System.

“At this point in time, I will no longer support any strategic items that have that level of CATS dependency until we take care of the CATS leadership problem that exists,” Bokhari said.

Mayor Vi Lyles urged members to support the plan as a starting point to address long-term transportation needs.

“If we don't start doing something now, we won't get anything done for [years]. I mean, these plans take forever,” Lyles said. “They're 20-year plans and that's correct. It's 20 years, but we have to start somewhere. And I think our strategic mobility plan will require a good bus system. It will require a great rail system.”

The plan’s overarching aspiration for 2040 is that living and working in Charlotte will not require travel by car.

The city estimates that more than three-quarters of Charlotte commuters rely on single-occupancy vehicles to get to and from work. To reduce that value to just half of commuters, city planners want to get more people taking the bus, carpooling, biking or working from home.

Council member Dimple Ajmera said a shift in transportation methods would help the city in achieving its climate goals.

“This is a critical step for us in implementing sustainable neighborhoods, becoming a low-carbon city,” Ajmera said. “It also helps us eliminate traffic fatalities and crashes that we have seen that have taken so many lives.”

Getting residents to ditch their cars, however, will also take a culture shift, recognized council member Greg Phipps.

“It's going to take maybe 20 years to change a culture. And that's the car culture that we have, the vehicle culture. I mean, how do you convince people to get out of their cars and get on some bicycles?” Phipps said.

Despite reservations by council members, Mayor Lyles described the plan is an important component in managing growth and moving the city forward.

The strategic plan recognizes that access to transportation is a strong indicator of job accessibility and economic mobility. An improved transportation system would serve the roughly 13,000 Charlotte households that do not have access to a car, according to the city. Better transportation would also mean greater mobility for Black residents, who represent about a third of Charlotte’s population but 78% of bus ridership.

The next step for city planners will be to identify and prioritize individual projects across the city.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.