Last year, as the 2010 census ramped up to count all 300 million-plus U.S. citizens and residents, qnotes delved into old 2000 census information that showed East Charlotte’s 28205 ZIP code — including neighborhoods like Plaza-Midwood, NoDa, parts of Elizabeth and parts of the 7th St./Monroe and Central Ave. corridors — as the most LGBT-populous locale in the entire state (see “Large LGBT presence key to East Charlotte development” at goqnotes.com/6043/). Those demographics might very well change as information from the most recent census is slowly released starting this year, though I expect East Charlotte will still rank highly on the places most populated by LGBT residents in North Carolina.
As explored in our March 2010 story, the LGBT community’s presence has been key to East Charlotte development and history. Each of the city’s primarily-LGBT faith congregations make their home in East Charlotte, along with three of the city’s nine primarily-LGBT nightlife establishments. Two of the city’s three largest, local LGBT-oriented organizations or businesses, including this newspaper, are in East Charlotte (and another used to be until moving downtown, another locale with a high population of LGBT residents). Finally, East Charlotte is home to dozens of LGBT-owned businesses that range from coffeehouses and restaurants to art galleries and antique shops.
If you’re LGBT and live in Charlotte, odds are likely you make your home in the city’s Eastside. If not, at the very least you work, eat, shop or drink here or have friends who live here.
I mention all of this as an LGBT-inclusive primer to this column on Independence Blvd., East Charlotte and public transit. The city has been engrossed in civic debate over the need, value, cost and potential benefits of rapid or reliable public transit systems since local government took it over in the 1970s. The Charlotte Observer’s Mary Newsom hit upon that decades-old debate in her Jan. 14 column, “Can the hated boulevard be tamed?”, in which she discussed a recent panel by the out-of-town Urban Land Institute’s Rose Center and their slate of recommendations for a solution to the Eastside’s public transit and Independence Blvd. woes.
Newsom drilled down the Rose Center’s suggestions: “…scrap the idea of light rail transit down the middle of Independence and instead build a Monroe Road streetcar. Independence would get bus rapid transit along limited-access lanes already planned, part of the state’s decades-long Independence project.”
That original proposal for bus transit, Newsom related, caused an avalanche of frustration for East Charlotteans, who have, at least since the late 1990s, dreamt of an extension of light rail to their side of town, similar to the current southern LYNX leg and planned northern leg toward UNC-Charlotte.
Though I’d debate the placement of a streetcar line on Monroe Rd. (it should be on Central Ave.), I fervently believe there’s no reason for folks in East Charlotte not to want light rail or some other reliable public transit on their side of town; similarly, there’s little rational basis for why the city hasn’t prioritized and sped up such a streetcar line’s construction. The South End LYNX blue line has proven a success. Before the Great Recession, and even now though to a lesser extent, the blue line has spawned the development of new residential buildings and businesses. Such development is needed on the Eastside and public transit will be key to its success.
But the public transit naysayers will never quit. “We don’t have the money,” they say. “Light rail and streetcar systems will never pay for themselves, just as the current public transit system fails to pay for itself.”
Those naysayers, the majority of whom live comfortably outside the demographic which stands to benefit the most from public transit, neglect a few key facts when they jump on their “it’ll never pay for itself”ideological train rides of fancy.
In modern times no mode of mass transportation in this country or elsewhere around the globe has ever come close to fully paying for itself. Particularly in this country, mass transit as we know it today exists solely because of its subsidization by local, state and federal governments and, by extension, taxpayers.
Daniel Baldwin Hess of the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo and Rutgers University’s Peter A. Lombardi write: “At the start of the 1950s, many of the nation’s transit systems — the vast majority of which were privately owned and operated — were on the brink of fiscal and physical collapse. After a decade of neglect during the Great Depression and being overburdened by an upsurge in ridership during the gas rationing and full employment of the World War II years, many transit systems were in desperate need of a physical overhaul. Plummeting ridership at the start of the postwar era, however, as the nation became more suburbanized and auto oriented, meant that transit systems had barely enough money to cover operating costs and almost nothing left over for capital upgrades.”
After World War II, Hess and Lombardi point out, only five major cities across the country — Cleveland, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle — had truly publicly-owned transit systems. Come the 1970s, however, most large cities had made the switch from privately-held transit interests to publicly-financed and -owned systems. Charlotte itself made the switch from the unsustainable, privately-owned transit services once operated here by Duke Power and Charlotte City Coach, voting to take over the latter’s private fleet in November 1974.
I’ve written many a column lamenting the lack of civic involvement and engagement by Charlotte’s LGBT community. This issue of public transit and the potential positive impact it can have on the development of East Charlotte is one area in which this city’s LGBT community members and leaders can speak out and stand up not only for their interests but also in solidarity with a community that is yearning for economic recovery and revitalization. With so many LGBT people living, working and playing in East Charlotte, our civic engagement on this matter should be a no-brainer.
Armed with facts and history, which conservative naysayers will ignore entirely or conveniently gloss over, our community and our allies stand to have a real, meaningful and long-lasting impact on the development of some of our state’s most LGBT-populous neighborhoods — spaces we share with natural allies among other minority communities and those of a similar, usually-progressive bent.
Reliable public transit, like a East-West streetcar line, is a must for the future development of this city and for the benefit of those who depend on public transit the most. The Eastside, Westside and all of its constituents — black, white, gay, straight, immigrant and native-born — have power in this city, but only if we choose to use it wisely and with solidarity. : :