Friday, March 8, 2019

Don't let the Low Line Sideline our Transit Line while Residents Wait in Line

We cannot afford to spend our limited rapid transit fund on a "line to nowhere" while an irreplaceable transit corridor is turned into a dog walking park and playground for Charleston's pampered rich and tourists.

Update, June 19, 2020- Planning for the Bus Rapid Transit line has been accelerated during the Covid-19 epidemic when real public meetings can't be held. County Council has already been told by the Council of Governments that they've received 1500 online visitors to their "virtual meeting" with no negative comments. Please go to the "virtual meeting" make your comments and document them to us so we can challenge this false narrative. The deadline for comments on the LCRT plan is currently July 10 and a rush to approval can be expected shortly thereafter. There are major problems with the current plan which seem to be grounded in the understanding that a real, efficient and comfortable transit system might erode the stability of the areas political structure, which is already under serious strain.

Make Your Comments Here- You can copy your comments by cutting and pasting them into the comments section on this Blog Post. We're anxious to meet with other social justice groups locally on this issue. We'll deliver what is posted here to County Council and other local governments, as well as the CARTA board on paper, with video documentation in a way which will force them to make it part of the public record. You should also communicate your concerns to them directly by telephone call, in a civil manner but forcefully.

Since the first round of public participation meetings on planning the Bus Rapid Transit System in January offered no real opportunity for public input on critical issues like the line's location between Mt. Pleasant Street and the City Center and we anticipate the private closed door planning process to largely be presented sometime in the next six months as a completed product, Best Friends of Lowcountry Tranist will be opening public dialogue critical issues ourselves.
I26 Alt Proposed BRT Line

A Change in Plan

For over 20 years plans for Charleston's Transit System used the historic rail corridor running South along and beneath I26 to the City.

Current Plans for the alignment of the Bus Rapid Transit Line (BRT) (the actual plan fades in out out of reality depending on who you are talking to and what they believe you know or will believe) take the main line off it’s dedicated bus way at Mt. Pleasant Street (Near the Longshoreman’s Hall) and would put our new, state of the art vehicles in the middle of clogged Meeting Street traffic for 1.4 miles to the end of the line at Line Street (Just North of the Post and Courier).

There are also proposals to end the transit line at Mt. Pleasant street and rely on shuttle buses (again locked up in City Traffic) to reach downtown Charleston.

The exiting railroad corridor runs all the way to Line Street, just North of the post and Courier building. It runs adjacent to several new apartment buildings which would have back door access to nearby stations if the old railroad line were used. It is even possible the line could even get all the way to Spring Street, two blocks further South, closer to the College of Charleston and city center. Twenty years of studies and plans for the Charleston transit line to Summerville planned to used the railroad right of way for that purpose. Running the uninterrupted transit line all the way downtown puts over 10 thousand more people and workers withing walking distance of an uninterrupted BRT trip on a dedicated transit line. Instead others, most of whom don't ride transit now believe the rail line would be used for the proposed Low Line Park.

If you visit the actual location, you'll find plenty of space for both the park and the tranist line. We visited a few weeks ago. There's been a walking trail there for over 40 years and neglected, existing community spaces are found along the line. Basketball Courts under I26 once had lighting, but now only have security cameras. 
Lowline Plan Sidelines Transit. Note how the hub is no longer in downtown Charleston.

It's alleged that the decision to move the BRT line from the old railroad track running between Mt. Pleasant Street and Line into the congested traffic of meeting street was made in a phone call from Charleston City Hall. We'll be trying to find out who made that call and where, when and how it was allegedly approved. We expect the existence of this alleged phone call will be denied.

Note the many intersections the buses will be blocked at on Meeting Str.
Compatible Uses
Bus Rapid Transit line (which in our case would only have one vehicle passing every 5 min during peak commute) share linear parks with walkways and bike paths successfully all over the world.  The Cambridge Busway in England is one such example, See Cambridge Busway Video.

The Railroad line was purchased by the City with financial assistance from private donors. it was alleged that the rail line would still be available during the purchase process for transit. Planning for the "Low Line Park" has been proceeding under private control since. Negotiations between a private group and the city about how the park will be controlled and designed continue in private.

Why We Can't Do It in the Road

In the congested conditions of six or more years from now, it could take 15 minutes or more to cover that last 1.4 miles. Fortunately the abandoned railroad right of way beneath I26 offers the opportunity for a faster trip downtown and space for functional stations to connect with free DASH bus service, regular CARTA bus service to Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley & James Island, Bike Share and services like Uber. All of this can be combined with a pleasant, useful linear park and bikeway using the rail line and space in the existing, but little used "park" under I26..

There is no space in the Meeting Street right of way to put stations and locations for other transit services to transfer passengers. Most likely, they would propose ending the rapid transit line at Mt. Pleasant street and using in traffic shuttle bused to reach downtown as the DASH service does now. the #20 Upper King St. CARTA bus makes this trip now and takes 31 minutes during the Friday commute to go from Mt. Pleasant Street to Charleston City Hall, a distance of 3.3 miles. It runs on the slightly less congested upper King Street for most of that trip. Times on Meeting Street would be worse and adding transit operations to this street would slow traffic.

Why Shuttle Buses Won't Work

Shuttle buses seem like a simple alternative, but experience elsewhere shows there will be problems. the Current Buses being used on the DASH and HOP routes have a passenger capacity of about half of the large articulated buses used on the BRT line, meaning it will take at least two shuttle buses to pick up transfers from each arriving bus. It costs about $100 an hour to operate a transit bus, so these two additional buses will increase costs to operate the system while generating little or no revenue. At peak, the system is designed to bring six large vehicles an hour into the city, requiring as many as 12 shuttle services to connect a Mt. Pleasant Street station to the city.

A trip or to James Island, West Ashley or Mt. Pleasant, which could connect directly to the BRT line further South would likely require two transfers, one to a shuttle and a second to the bus going to James Island or West Ashley. Mt. Pleasant would either either have to send it's connecting buses a mile North to the BRT station through city traffic or connect to shuttle buses in the city, or both for trips South.  Even if the existing DASH, HOP and #20 Bus services are combined and integrated, it's likely shuttle bus operations will increase the total operating cost of the transit system by 600 an hour or more during the commute to create a system which relies on multiple transfers and connections with lots of waiting as buses struggle to keep a schedule in heavy congested traffic. All of these buses will need to stop to load and unload passengers on city streets.

It's likely that due to cost and the impact on city streets, shuttle services will be cut back over time. Waiting time at the remote Mt. Pleasant Street station will grow. Food, Beverage and Hospitality workers, who often work multiple jobs, won't be able to make their trips in time.

While business in the Transit served high Tech Neck areas North of Mt. Pleasant Street would grow, the established downtown business district along King, Market and Meeting would find itself choked off from local trade and regional transit enabled visits leaving it utterly dependent on tourists for survival. Downtown residents would have to rely on slow, traffic bound shuttle buses to reach the rapid transit line.
North end of right of Way at Mt. Pleasant St.

A Line Which Has to Work

With 30 thousand people moving into the neck area's new Tech Center and housing and NoMo between Line Street on the South and North Charleston,  our transit line needs to be as fast and efficient as possible. This many people try to drive and Uber their way around town, traffic will be as standstill.

Our BRT shouldn’t be fighting cars for space on Meeting Street while a few lucky people walk thier dogs where our transit line should have been.  Unless the BRT wins the race against the car, everyone loses. Only a faster system gets enough cars off the road for driving cars and riding transit to both get better. BRT lines, bike paths and linear parks share old railroad right of ways around the world. See video on the Cambridge Busway. With an existing city park under I26, the total amount of space available can successfully accommodate both uses.

Some powerful people apparently wanted the transit line moved, probably away from their homes so they could have a quiet place to walk their dogs? Is that reason enough to cripple the only rapid transit project likely to be completed in our lifetimes? Should we accept another failure resulting from Charleston's invisible "privilege politics" which always favors the interests of the rich and powerful over the needs of the city's working people and future?

Politics like that have already given the Lowcountry schools which don't work; planning which has failed to preserve or create affordable housing; and covered the countryside with sprawl development now choking on its own traffic congestion. It's produced a culture of failure in transit which we voted to spend 600 million dollars of half penny sales tax money in November 2016 to end.

Right of way near Romney St.
A transit line will actually make the park us better. The BRT vehicles bring people, human attention and a human presence to the Lowline park robust enough to discourage crime. No criminal wants to risk the appearance of 50 people and a bus driver with instant access to law enforcement over a radio to a place he or she would like to feel secure in planning criminal activity. Bus Rapid Transit is bad for drug sales and inconvenient for muggings.

What you can do

Tell members of Charleston City Council that you want the only Rapid Transit Line likely to be completed into the city in most of our lifetimes to run along the old railroad line, which has been in use to bring people into Charleston since the Best Friend of Charleston ran on it on Christmas Day, 1830. Tell the Members of the Board of private group involved in the Low Line Park project that you believe including the rapid transit line and incorporating an improved version of the existing under I26 City Park in the plan will produce the best space for all these compatible uses.

It's possible that interested parties plan to delay discussion of this issue until after the next election for Mayor and City Council in November 2019. It's essential that open, public discussion of this issue and clear stands by the candidates running for office be obtained before people vote.

Let’s be sure the proposed Low Line Park truly connects and accommodates all the community’s needs. Let’s Have Fun Making the Future work for everyone in Charleston.

No comments:

Post a Comment