Transportation and Poverty: What's the link?

Mecklenburg County is the second worst large U.S. County for upward social mobility of children born into poverty. Yet, Charlotte has the second fastest population growth among large U.S. cities. This is very troubling. Even as our metro area attracts unprecedented growth, our own children are slipping further and further behind the rest of the nation. And it's not just children born into poverty. Even children from average and upper income Mecklenburg households lag the national average in annual earnings when they become adults.  Mecklenburg County is the 2nd worse large U.S. County for upward mobility of children born in poverty. (Source: NY Times)  Transportation certainly isn't the only factor that determines economic mobility, but it is incredibly impactful. An article in today's NY Times titled "Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty" reports that the impact of transportation on social mobility is stronger than several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community. The study emphasized the strong link between availability of public transit and income. The researchers compared neighborhoods by accessibility to mass transit and the number of jobs within an hour’s commute. Residents of the areas least well-served by mass transit relied on personal vehicles. Areas in the middle third — those with some, but insufficient, access to transportation — had the highest rates of unemployment and the lowest incomes, the study found. The problem is, it's not always an easy task to raise public awareness of the tightly interwoven links between transportation and quality of life.  In my outreach role for Sustain Charlotte, I'm often asked to identify the most critical sustainability challenge that Charlotte neighborhoods are facing. I often see puzzled looks when I answer, "Transportation." The well-intentioned asker of the question often follows up with a variant of: "But aren't they facing...you know, more urgent challenges like safety, or poor health, or poverty, or polluted streams?" Continue reading

Exciting news at our May Monthly Mixer!

Just when you thought our Monthly Mixer couldn't get any better, we're making it happen! Beginning in June, we'll combine our monthly networking event with Green Drinks Charlotte. We're all excited about this merger of the two events since we know it'll mean more chances for YOU to expand your network of new friends who care about sustainability! The format will remain similar and you'll still see all of the Sustain Charlotte staff and volunteers, but we'll also be joined by volunteers and current attendees of Green Drinks Charlotte. We can't imagine a better opportunity to invite your friends, family, and colleagues to our new event! Stay tuned to our social media (Facebook and Twitter) and your email for an announcement about the date and location of the next mixer. More than 45 people came to mingle and to hear what we're working on!   Continue reading

CityLYNX Gold Line facing City budget cuts! Show your support now!

The $75 million the Charlotte City Council approved in 2014 to fund half the cost of constructing Phase 2 of the City LYNX Gold Line is being threatened. Due to City budget shortfalls, some Members of City Council are suggesting the $75 million they already approved for the Gold Line be cut from the budget. However, these funds are required for us to obtain a matching federal grant of $75 million to cover the full cost of Phase 2. Without these funds, we will not be eligible for the $75 million grant that is included in President Obama's recommended budget for fiscal year 2016.    A public hearing on the City budget will be held this coming Monday, May 11th and Council will cast their vote on June 8 so we need you to act NOW!  This $75 million for Phase 2 of the Gold Line was approved by City Council due in large part to the 2,593 signatures we received for our petition to "Bring the Streetcar to Charlotte's struggling neighborhoods" back in late 2013. It is important that you show your support for this critical investment in our city. With your voice, we will ensure the City Council remains committed to this project and takes advantage of the opportunity to receive a dollar for dollar $75 million federal matching grant to complete Phase 2!  Streetcar test run on Trade St. Phase 2 will extend the Gold Line by an additional 2.5 miles, add 11 more stops, and purchase modern streetcar vehicles built by domestic manufacturers. Moreover, the Gold Line is just one piece of the Charlotte Area 2030 Transit Plan. City Council's commitment to the Gold Line is absolutely essential to showing their commitment to the transit vision that will make all parts of our city more connected.  Continue reading to learn how you can show your support NOW: Continue reading

West Boulevard youth envision a sustainable community

"People young and old all joined together and recycled, built green homes and started using less cars for the roads. I just see bikes and happy healthy smiling people walking and exercising at all the newly made playgrounds. That's one small step for a neighborhood and a big leap to an energy efficient country". This is the vision 17 year-old Imani created for her Arbor Glen neighborhood in the year 2040. It's a powerful vision, and it's achievable. In fact, we loved this vision so much that we read it aloud to Mecklenburg County state legislators the following morning! On April 23, middle and high school students in Charlotte's West Boulevard neighborhoods joined Sustain Charlotte's staff (Branyn Calegar and Meg Fencil) for a sustainability visioning workshop at the Arbor Glen Outreach Center.   Youth created and shared 2040 neighborhood visions with their neighbors. We began by asking a simple question: "How would you define sustainability?" All of the youth said they've heard this word before, but their answers showed that they didn't have a firm understanding of it: "I would define sustainability as in controlling something."  "Maintaining the same in the neighborhood." And my personal favorite: "By using a dictionary"  Continue reading

Mecklenburg state legislators, please support sustainable transportation!

State Representative Becky Carney recently organized and hosted the very first public listening session of Mecklenburg County state legislators. On Friday, April 24, County residents spoke directly to legislators about their needs and concerns. We took the opportunity to speak up for the future of Mecklenburg County's sustainable transportation network of light rail, commuter rail, buses, and infrastructure for safe, well-connected biking and walking. It was a fantastic opportunity to share our concerns with policymakers, so we hope to see many more listening and dialogue sessions in the future!  Here's what our Education and Outreach Program Director Meg Fencil said: Continue reading

Corrective Re-zonings for University City on Hold

At the April 23 meeting of Charlotte City Council's Transportation and Planning Committee, Council Members voted unanimously to recommend that the full Council adopt the University City Area Plan (UCAP). The corrective re-zonings within 1/4 mile of University City light rail stations that 230 of you asked for by signing our online petition will likely not be voted on when Council votes on UCAP approval. Instead, the appropriateness of corrective re-zonings will be evaluated by the Transportation and Planning Committee separately following a report from Planning Department staff in four to six months.  Planning Department staff presented a summary of comments received in the past several weeks and at the April 13 public comment session (click here to read what we told Council on behalf of more than 200 residents). Staff revealed resident and landowner concerns about building heights, transition areas between stations and neighborhoods, providing active uses for ground-level buildings, and other topics.  At the conclusion of the presentation, Council Member David Howard asked the same question we had: "Why weren't corrective re-zonings included (as a topic in the presentation)?"  A rendering of the University City transit station areas. Continue reading

200+ Residents Sign Petition for a Walkable University City Area

At Monday evening's public comment period to Charlotte City Council on the University City Area Plan (UCAP), Sustain Charlotte announced that over 200 residents had signed our petition. The petition asks Council to approve the UCAP, but also add corrective rezoning to transit-oriented development (TOD) within 1/4 mile of Blue Line Extension (BLE) stations in University City.  We hand delivered our petition with 194 signatures to City Council, Mayor Clodfelter and the City Manager during the 7:00 meeting, but we were thrilled to see that the number of signatures exceeded 200 just before we addressed Council! For more background on the UCAP and our involvement in it, check out our recent blog post. 15 residents registered to speak on this issue.     Wil Russell addressed City Council to ask for transit-oriented development. Wil Russell, a resident of University City and board member of Sustain Charlotte, urged City Council to adopt the University City Area Plan, but require transit-oriented development. He said, "Transit-oriented development will provide more opportunities to live and work near a mode of transit, which encourages ridership and sparks more economic development." Russell acknowledged that building a more walkable University City will not be easy, but needs to be done to improve quality of life and fully leverage our investment in the Blue Line Extension. He said, "The challenge that this Council should accept is to fight. Fight for the University City area and fight for transit-oriented development. Be willing to accept mixed use development, pedestrian-friendly infrastucture, more efficient land use and fewer surface parking lots, as we've seen in South End." Russell urged Council to "fire up the engines of creativity to propel us to a vision of a safe, efficient, and vibrant land use plan." Watch his full testimony (begins at 50 minutes 01 seconds). You'll need to first scroll down and then click on the word 'video' for the April 13 meeting under 'Archived Meetings'. When the video window opens, grab the gray circle with your mouse/point and move it horizontally to 50 minutes 01 seconds. Continue reading

Support the University City Area Plan!

University City Station Area Plan Rendering Do you want walkable, transit-oriented development in University City?Transit-oriented development (TOD) creates vibrant, people-oriented places that are safe and convenient to bike, walk and ride transit.A key opportunity to ensure we fully leverage our $1.1 billion light-rail investment to extend the Blue Line from uptown to University City exists next Monday evening, April 13, at the Charlotte City Council meeting – and you can have a part. We encourage you to show your support by attending the City Council meeting on April 13th, and by signing our petition! Click here to read more about our petition and to sign online. “This is everyone’s chance to have real input on the plan as we move toward finalization and approval,” said District 4 Councilman Greg Phipps, who represents University City. Petition signatures, as well as comments offered next Monday or submitted via email and letters will help City Council decide whether to approve the revised plan. The council will likely vote on adoption by June. Continue reading

Air quality standards likely to become stricter soon

Air quality in our region has improved, but coming changes will likely put Mecklenburg County out of compliance with more stringent standards. At the April 2 Technical Coordinating Committee of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, Megan Green of Mecklenburg County Air Quality presented information about a proposal by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lower the health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to a value between 65-70 parts per billion (ppb). The current standard, set in 2008, is 75 ppb. The new standard would be approved by October 1.  Yikes! Mecklenburg County has the highest ground-level ozone in the state. Source: http://daq.state.nc.us/planning/ozone/ Continue reading

Solar Power and Bike Commuting Featured at April Mixer

Where can you meet like-minded people who care about sustainability, hear from businesses that support sustainability, and enjoy some great beer? At our Sustain Charlotte monthly mixers! Our members and followers gathered Tuesday evening at Heist Brewing to network and hear from two speakers. Attendees enjoyed stimulating conversation and meeting new friends.  Continue reading