Light Rail is Dead. So what does that mean for Raleigh?

Recently the transportation sector (cars and trucks) became the single largest source of climate-altering greenhouse gases in the US and in North Carolina - demonstrating that taking the threat of climate change seriously means taking action locally to reduce our over-reliance on cars. Improving and expanding public transportation is going to be a critical part of this strategy.

But the Triangle was dealt a serious blow recently when the Durham-Orange light rail project was discontinued after key partners failed to continue their support. Folks have been asking me what that means for Raleigh. In the long-term, it’s a bit unclear. In the short term, it doesn’t affect us at all; and here’s why.

In November 2016, Wake County voters approved a sales tax referendum to fund public transit investments that had been years in the making. While our plan was coordinated with Orange and Durham Counties’ transit plans, and included a regional commuter rail system to connect our communities, our plan focuses first on improving our bus system. While buses aren’t as shiny as light rail, it now seems like it was a smart strategy, as our Wake County plan will continue to move forward while our regional partners are forced to figure out what’s next.

To ensure a successful future for our transit system, the Wake County Transit Plan focuses on four objectives (listed below in order of implementation):

1) Expanding bus service. Earlier this year, GoRaleigh announced new bus routes in southeast and northwest Raleigh expanding access to many who didn’t have it before. This builds on increased bus service that was added in 2017 and 2018 to GoTriangle Routes 100 to RDU, Route 300 to Cary, and to GoRaleigh Route 7 that operates on S. Saunders and Wilmington St., making it the third route in the city with 15 minute service frequencies. GoRaleigh also made riding the bus free for teens and children under 18 promoting more access and equity while also encouraging lifelong riders.

2) Improving bus stops, shelters, and other transit infrastructure. This is a must to ensure everyone’s riding experience is safe, inviting, and enjoyable. We are currently in the process of nearly doubling the number of bus shelters in Raleigh.

3) Implementing Bus Rapid Transit. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is more than a new bus route or more frequent buses; it’s a totally different type of system. BRT systems take on many different design features, but the two most critical features are dedicated bus lanes (so buses won’t be held up by other traffic), and high frequency services (meaning a bus arrives every 15 minutes or less so you don’t have to plan your day around the bus schedule). Other common features include elevated bus stops so it operates more like a light rail station, and more efficient ticketing purchased in advance, which speeds up the boarding process. While our BRT lines are still being mapped and planned, we are focusing on BRT lines coming into/out of downtown along four corridors: Capital Boulevard, New Bern Ave, Wilmington Street, and Western Boulevard. To read more, click here.

4) Building a commuter rail system. The line would run 37 miles from Garner to downtown Raleigh, N.C. State University, Cary, Morrisville, and the Research Triangle Park before continuing to downtown Durham. This will be a critical investment in our region to connect our cities while reducing our region’s carbon pollution.

The Wake County Transit Plan is a 10+ year plan and will rely on public input along the entire journey to be successful. While we build out our low-carbon transportation system for the future, I’ll also be focusing my efforts on ensuring that access and equity are at the top of the agenda. And that means (to name a few issues) advocating for more and better bus shelters, fair fares for low income residents, and prioritizing safer streets and sidewalks.

I’m excited for these changes and I look forward to hearing from you and working with the community to make sure Raleigh’s transit vision is a success.