Municipography, Light Rail Through Downtown Raleigh

Recommendation from the Passenger Rail Task Force (PRTF)

From the agenda:

Triangle Transit Light Rail System

At their June 20, 2011 meeting, the Passenger Rail Task Force deliberated on alternatives for the proposed light rail system relative to downtown Raleigh. After discussing the item and reviewing data provided by City staff and by Triangle Transit, the Task Force voted 6-1 to recommend endorsing Alternate D6a, a hybrid alternative proposed by the Task Force during their deliberations. A complete explanation of the Task Force’s deliberations is included in the agenda packet.

The City Council may wish to schedule a workshop to discuss the recommendations of the Passenger Rail Task Force in detail.

At the meeting yesterday, Will Allen of the Raleigh PRTF went through a brief presentation on the transit mode and route through downtown that they recommend. They agree with Triangle Transit’s preferred vehicle, that being “rail cars electrically powered by overhead wires”. Their route recommendation for the downtown Raleigh portion of the light rail piece is what they refer to as plan D6A.

Before we dive in, let’s be clear. This is a recommendation on Light Rail Transit, not high speed rail, whose drama series seems to be on hold for now. For a refresher on the latest light rail plans and where we last left this discussion, go ahead and jump back to March 2011’s “Light Rail in or over downtown Raleigh?

The post back in March talks about a few plans that were on the table for light rail through downtown. The D6A plan, the one recommended by the PRTF, was only mentioned lightly at the transit meetings that took place earlier this year. If you watch the video, the presentation recommends this plan:

The PRTF belives the D6a route through downtown Raleigh will best serve Raleigh citizens for the present and future by providing the best oppurtunities for ridership and economic development while ensuring safe transportation and minimizing impacts to traffic, urban design, noise, contextual planning, historic resources, and long term options for roadway and to connectivity improvements, all at a reasonable cost compared to other alternatives.

View D6A in a larger map

I threw together this Google map to show the proposed D6A route. In addition to recommending D6A, the PRTF also recommended the already talked about D6 plan but only if D6A was seen as too impractical.

Triangle Transit likes D6. The City of Raleigh likes D6 as well.

I did some searching and found this little gem of a pdf. “Memorandum: Issues Regarding Proposed Light Rail Alternatives in Downtown Raleigh” dated June 30, 2011. Eric Lamb, Manager of the Office of Transportation Planning sent this to our city manager, Russell Allen, and other interested peoples.

You can read as much or as little as you like but here are some highlights which I’ll quote.

Overview & Alternatives
There are several alternatives that TTA has presented to the task force and to the public with multiple options for traversing downtown. As a result of their deliberations, the task force chose to develop a hybrid alternative called D6A that was not previously considered or studied by TTA.”

D6A is introduced and described in text and hard to read black and white maps.

Value Capture & Redevelopment
The majority of land along the Salisbury/Wilmington corridor north of Union Square is owned and controlled by the State of North Carolina. It is unknown as to whether or not consideration of Alternatives D5 or D6A would induce the State to divest itself of these properties for the purposes of re-development.

An issue seen with running light rail through the government district is that it won’t encourage redevelopment because it is state owned land. Development from light rail is needed, to an extent, to help pay for the system.

Dawson/McDowell Corridor Conflicts
Triangle Transit anticipates operating train sets composed of up to three 90-foot vehicles, making each train set a maximum of 270 feet in length. An Average city block in downtown Raleigh is approximately 400 feet long. It is also anticipated that operating this system streetcar-style will occur in mixed traffic, i.e. it will not be within a dedicated lane exclusively for transit use. If queues or more than four to five passenger cars already exist for eastbound or westbound traffic at either Dawson or McDowell Streets, an approaching train would queue across the previous intersection while waiting for the traffic signal.

Basically, NCDOT is worried that the back end of a train will stretch into it’s US 70/401 corridors and block traffic. At peak hours, almost every 10 minutes you’ll have a train cross a road that sees between 40,000 and 50,000 vehicles.

Impacts to On Street Parking
Please note that another major obstacle to removing on-street parking may occur adjacent to the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). In 1998 the NCGA took control of these streets for the purpose of establishing exclusive use of on street parking for legislators and their staffs (see NCGS 120-32.1). Operating a light rail system along Salisbury and Wilmington may require the removal of this reserved parking and will ultimately require the permission of the Legislature as an encroachment on the legislative grounds.

Pretty self explanatory here. I’d love to sit it on this meeting if the city goes this route.

Cost Estimates

A summary of the system costs for each alternative is included below. Please note that TTA has not conducted any analysis of Alternate D6A and the cost estimates for this alternate have been extrapolated from costs for D5 and D6.

Table 2

I’m unable to properly copy Table 2 so I’l put it in list form below. Costs are in M, for Millions, B for Billions:

  • D2, Downtown segment cost $270M, total system cost $1.425B
  • D5, Downtown segment cost $435M, total system cost $1.590B
  • D6, Downtown segment cost $265M, total system cost $1.420B
  • D6A, Downtown segment cost $330-350M, total system cost $1.485-1.505B

The staff’s perspective is that this position does not appear to be directly supported by the data. Our analysis of existing and extrapolated data concludes that the hybrid Alternate D6A will likely cost more, will operate less efficiently, has potentially greater historic property impacts, and may not generate sufficiently higher ridership to warrant further consideration.

Well there it is. Lamb does recognize that the D2 and D6 alternates also have their own problems but claims they “appear to have fewer hurdles than Alternate D6A.”

As stated in the summary, the PRTF looked more at the “what” during their analysis where the city focused on the “how”. Any readers that are focused on the “when” may have to cheer on our neighbors in Durham County this fall.

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  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Durham gets light-rail before Raleigh. Raleigh is moving slow these days (almost going backwards). Durham is moving forward with redevelopment projects and not going to wait for Raleigh to decide if it wants to be a city or a town.

  2. State owned land seems to plague this system wherever it runs.

    That we’re not even allowed to vote for the funding says everything we need to know about Raleigh.

  3. Though the D6a does get closer to Fayetteville street than D6, the closest station is still 3/4 mile from the Convention Center and Progress Energy Center (instead of 1 mile as in D6.)

    D5 has the highest projected ridership of all alternatives, yet was dismissed out of hand as being too difficult to implement (the issues that made it difficult were unnamed in the report). Why not try to come up with a D5a that addresses those issues?

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