Volunteers install a protected bike lane pilot, a Sustain Charlotte and Charlotte DOT partnership.
Projects don’t happen overnight, but in Charlotte, North Carolina, with determined leadership from a local advocacy organization, a local DOT open to redesigning streets for all, and strong support from the community, real change is in progress.
After gathering more than 4,000 signatures of support from people all across the city, Sustain Charlotte asked CDOT to conduct a traffic study, in the interest of a better connected network. The Uptown Connects Study was formed, and with help from our community grants program, Charlotte is working to make ongoing improvements to their network.
Sustain Charlotte partnered twice with CDOT to put temporary demonstrations on the ground in order to connect the city’s greenways through Uptown. Both demonstrations used plants, cones, hay bales, and murals by local artists to show the community what was possible in terms of slowing traffic and offering safety for people on bikes. The demonstrations also made the street a more attractive and inviting public space.
Like New Orleans’ successful Connect the Crescent demonstration project, Sustain Charlotte’s effort depended on volunteers. According to Kate Cavazza, Bicycle Program Manager at Sustain Charlotte, “One of the most exciting aspects of these demonstration projects was the number of volunteers. We had close to 150 people who were happy to come out and place plants, create art, and roll green paint onto the street. It reflects how much people want safer streets for accessing the city by bike.”
Biketoberfest. Source: Sustain Charlotte.
Despite the clear public support and two successful tests, progress seemed to slow after the temporary demonstrations were complete. So in early February, Sustain Charlotte issued a friendly challenge to the city, asking for something permanent on the ground before BIKE! Charlotte, a 17-day festival of bike-related events from April 26 through May 12, 2019.
It was good timing, because state and local government had just come to an agreement over a key piece of the network. Scott Curry, Active Transportation Coordinator for Charlotte says, “We got very clear support from City Council, which was necessary to move forward, and prompted by the friendly challenge.” But the other crucial piece to the puzzle was that the local DOT had recently reconciled with the state DOT over a facility that would connect the greenway to the rail-trail. With the support of city leaders, the local DOT agreed to take ownership and maintenance responsibilities of the roadway. Curry says, “Our non-profit advocates like Sustain Charlotte are extremely helpful in demonstrating public support, and putting political pressure on folks for more sustainable transportation projects. And at the same time, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on between city and state departments that needed to happen before the cycle track could officially be installed.”
Ribbon-cutting event for Charlotte’s Uptown Cycle Track. Source: Scott Curry.
Construction on the first phase of the Uptown Cycle Track began on March 25. One general-purpose lane used largely for on-street parking is being converted to a protected 2-way bike lane, and the entire project will be completed by the end of 2020.
Sustain Charlotte Executive Director Shannon Binns says they’re working with CDOT to help ensure that safer streets for biking are built across the city in addition to Uptown. “We have helped a number of neighborhoods petition the city directly for investments that will make local streets safer for all users by adding protected bike lanes and re-designing streets for safety instead of speed. We have asked CDOT to map out a safe, citywide, connected network for people on bikes, and they have promised to complete this by June of this year.”
Charlotte has made the pieces come together. Leadership from a local advocacy organization, dedicated volunteer efforts, and city officials who are open to re-designing streets, are all key in making change a reality.