It's not often that I find reason to praise conservative Republicans, but I'm making an exception for Pat McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte, NC. Largely through his willingness to stick his neck out on an issue he, himself, thought might get him run out of town on a rail, he successfully championed the creation of Lynx, a state-of--the-art light rail system that should serve as a shining example of what US cities should aspire to.
As documented last week in an excellent segment of the PBS television program, NOW, entitled Stimulus Roadblock, McCrory seems to have gotten everything right about what mass transit can do for a city and how to make it work.
Charlotte's downtown, which prior to the opening of Lynx had largely been a 9 to 5 destination for office workers, has blossomed into a vibrant, walkable, mixed-use urban environment. Businesses are thriving and real estate values have surged. In some previously troubled areas that are now connected to the city center by Linx, home prices have doubled - in this economy.
One of the things that McCrory understood about making transit work is that not only do the trains have to be comfortable, attractive, and on time, they also have to be linked to residential areas by high quality pedestrian access. As a result, ridership of the new system is nearly double what was originally anticipated, and new transit-oriented residential development has been encouraged by the city and embraced by developers.
Charlotte's successful experiment with mass transit is a paradigm of how stimulus money could be spent to create sustainable, long-term economic development. The problem, though, as pointed out by the Now segment, is that it is much easier for cities and states to get Federal money to build roads than transit systems.
In fact, cities applying for transit funding in the stimulus plan are, in effect, penalized for their effforts. This must change. Let your representatives in Congress know that you support funding for mass transit.
I highly recommend watching this piece, which you can see here.