On Monday night, Charlotte City Council met for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting. On the agenda were three items we were paying especially close attention to: a tree canopy report; a vote on increasing fines for parking in bike lanes, streetcar right-of-ways and on sidewalks; and a discussion about a new bus operations management company contract. Here’s a brief recap of the meeting and our take.
Increased fines for blocking bike lanes, sidewalks, and streetcar tracks
Together we did it! More than 300 of you signed our letter calling for higher fines for blocking bike lanes and other critical transportation infrastructure.
City Council members held a discussion on Chapter 14 Ordinance Revisions before voting to approve a much needed change. The revisions will increase fines from $25 to $100 for cars parked on sidewalks, bike lanes, and streetcar right-of-ways. Prior to the meeting, Sustain Charlotte invited members of the community to sign a petition in support of the ordinance. On Sunday, we sent this letter with all 300+ petition responses to Mayor Lyles and all Charlotte City Council members.
Before the vote, the council heard public comment from James Lee, speaking during a public comment period, about how important not parking in bike lanes is for his safety and the safety of all people who ride bicycles for transportation. He spoke about how he overcame homelessness despite not having a car. His message was clear: "Keep me safe on the road!" Charlotte is trying to be multimodal, he said, but is still a car city.
City Council members then shared their comments and questions about the ordinance.
Councilmember Bokhari was supportive of the vote, agreeing with the parking ordinance fees but suggesting we need to keep cyclists safe and balance the need for people to park in our car-centric city. Our perspective is that the vast majority of street space is already dedicated to supporting driving and parking cars, and we need to support other modes, too.
Councilmember Graham cast a reluctant “yes” vote because he doesn’t believe it goes far enough. He thinks the fines aren’t high enough, especially for commercial vehicles and suggested that city staff consider how this will be enforced, especially on weekends.
Councilmember Mayfield asked how the city is distinguishing between commercial trucks and commercial vehicles and wondered about expanding “no parking” signage as a first step. She also suggested increasing the fine beyond $100. The city attorney explained that the state gives authority to set the amount, but we’re currently in line with what other cities have done. City Manager Jones said that a $100 fine will put us at the highest fine in the state. Mayor Lyles suggested that we try the $100 fine and get some metrics before increasing it.
Councilmember Ajmera asked whether this amendment would address commercial semi-trucks parked on large bypasses. Staff explained this specific amendment does not address that issue, but NCDOT works closely with highway patrol on the truck parking on arterials (i.e., not in bike lanes). Ajmera also asked about what's being done to keep scooters off sidewalks. Staff said they have worked with scooter companies to reduce speed, which is throttled to only 8 mph in areas where there are concerns about riding on sidewalks in Uptown. We recognize that there are very few places in Uptown where people of all ages and abilities feel safe riding bicycles or scooters, so this conflict is indicative of the need to support these modes with more dedicated street space. We also appreciate her mention of Sustain Charlotte’s letter to Council!
Councilmember Winston reluctantly supported ordinance changes, because he doesn't think punitive punishments are good ways to achieve community-wide changes in behavior, especially for misdemeanors. Winston was very supportive of efforts to make our streets safer for walking, biking, and riding public transit.
Councilmember Watlington asked for clarification of when Mayfield’s request can be accommodated by staff, Councilmember Johnson asked what can be done to ensure we have enough loading/drop-off zones to avoid conflicts of parking in bike lanes, and Councilmember Anderson supported the ordinance, but would like it also to expand to noise related to modified cars causing quality of life issues.
The ordinance was unanimously passed.
Our take: We are thrilled that Charlotte City Council voted unanimously to support safer streets for all people by raising the fine from $25 to $100 for parking in bike lanes, streetcar right-of-way, and sidewalks. We were glad to hear their further request for city staff to address the growing challenge of commercial vehicles parked in unsafe ways within the next 3 months.
THANK YOU to the more than 300 Charlotte area residents who signed our statement of support calling for this much-needed ordinance change. Together, we did it!
Tree canopy update
Tim Porter, from the City of Charlotte’s Planning, Design and Development department, provided an update on the state of the city’s tree canopy.
Charlotte’s tree canopy is down 0.5%, now at 47.3% coverage and still declining. This represents a total loss of 969 acres. While the decline is slower than previously thought, the current trajectory suggests that Charlotte is not on track to meet our goal of 50% tree canopy by 2050.. The highest canopy loss is in residential areas, though it is occurring city-wide. Fortunately, tree planting efforts are offsetting much of the detected canopy loss.
However, our tree canopy isn’t distributed equitably. Helping people take care of their trees on private property is necessary, especially in lower-income neighborhoods. The large-maturing trees that provide great habitat and shade are also expensive to maintain. When they do need to be removed, the cost can reach thousands of dollars.
The city is continuing to partner with TreesCharlotte to plant more trees. The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) spells out specific requirements for protecting our tree canopy, like planting on infill development, preserving trees in single-family subdivisions, preserving heritage trees on all property and development projects and increasing planting requirements to offset urban heat island effects.
Our take: Despite our initial fears, the rate of canopy loss was relatively low, with a net loss of only 0.5%. However, we cannot overlook the fact that 969 acres of trees were lost. Monday night's tree canopy update brought a piece of positive news that our tree canopy is resilient despite our growth, and our efforts at planting and saving trees in Charlotte can be successful. It is still possible to achieve the goal of 50% tree coverage by 2050, but only if we persistently continue our efforts and expand them throughout Charlotte.
Bus operations contract
Interim Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) CEO Brent Cagle gave an update to city council on the upcoming bus operations contract. CATS has contracted with RATP Dev since 2003 and the contract expires in February 2024. Two providers responded to CATS’ request for proposal, and National Express Transit was selected, a company headquartered outside of Chicago with more than 60 clients nationwide, including Greensboro, Durham and Charleston.
National Express Transit proposed an experienced transit management team be relocated to Charlotte to oversee Transit Management of Charlotte, the largest division of CATS. National Express Transit would also provide corporate resources for labor negotiations, service optimization, policies and procedures, and system performance audits as requested and/or needed. The first year of the contract is estimated at $1.65 million.
The transition plan is being finalized and is expected to be executed by February 2024, at the latest. The contract will come before the city council for a vote on November 27.
Our Take: We were pleased to hear Brent Cagle assure city council that National Express Transit has an excellent reputation and will be working directly with the CATS executive team to ensure frequent communication and collaboration. CATS is also including several new incentives to the contract so that National Express Transit will have ample motivation to go above and beyond the stated expectations.
We agree with Council Member Driggs' statement that this is a "significant step in the overall process of moving us out of the depths of the issues at CATS."
As the contract process moves forward, it’s important for bus drivers to be assured of safe, equitable, and attractive working conditions. Drivers are the front-line heroes of Charlotte’s public transportation network and they provide an invaluable service to tens of thousands of residents.
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