In Charlotte, 93% of residents own cars. For the remaining 7%, they either live close enough to their respective areas of work and social life, or they must struggle with the inadequate transportation systems we have in place now. For those struggling residents, the inequalities that plague the city manifest themselves in subpar bus stations. The recent additions to public transport like the Lynx Blue Line have attempted to create more variety in getting around. However, there is a long path to heal the deeper issues under the surface of this problem. Transportation in the Queen city reveals the long history that many neighborhoods have with racism, economic injustices and subpar environmental welfare. By breaking these issues down, we can build a better city back up.
Problem one: Segregation
According to a 2010 Mecklenburg demographic map created by UNC Charlotte, it is plain to see that Charlotte is still an incredibly segregated city. More than 75% of Charlotte's Black and Latinx population is found within an 8-mile radius from the city's center, whereas the inverse (less than 25%) is true for Charlotte's white population. The combination of systemic measures like redlining and gentrification leads to this separation.
Charlotte's Black residents have long pointed out this division. Before the summer of 2020's plethora of public "support" for organizations like Black Lives Matter, Charlotte did the work of protesting against racial injustice in 2016. The shooting of Keith Lamont Scott brought many to uptown to march. This wasn't the city's first and only time reckoning with its dark past and viewing the injustice on display. It was, however, indicative of the mistreatment of Charlotteans of color.
Problem Two: Transport Access
Referring back to the census map mentioned previously, 51-79% of the families that live close to the city's center are facing poverty. NoDa is just outside this range, with 18% of its residents facing poverty. The current bus lines have stops located in more areas of wealth. People in high-poverty areas need to travel close to over two miles to reach a stop. Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) has oriented its bus lines in a "hub-and-spoke" structure, commonly found in city planning. The system sets up a single hub, (where opportunity in Charlotte originates) and spokes are the outlying points that get connected to the hub through transportation. The downside is that anywhere outside of a seven to ten-mile ring around uptown is difficult to access. Rider's demand controls the routes. If not many people ride, the rates can go up, or lines can get dropped. Since the majority of Charlotteans as a whole do not drive, the demand is low. The residents of Charlotte can make a change by simply riding the bus where they can. If we all increase ridership, we can leverage the power that we do have and create better options for our neighbors.
Problem Three: Air Quality
In the historically Black neighborhoods of Charlotte, the air quality tends to be poorer. Air Keepers Charlotte, an organization that tracks bad air quality and strategizing ways to clean it, has documented this disparity. Their 2018 report highlighted how this community has a disproportionate amount of pollutant sources like freeways and interstates that go straight through parts of the neighborhood. It is also worth noting the Myers Park/Dilworth area has a largely white population. This area has not sustained air quality problems and has the best progress raising the area tree canopy coverage. The effects of prolonged negative air quality include asthma and cancer. In a study by the NC Medical Journal, researchers found that asthma rates were higher among more impoverished minority communities. Still, we are potentially dooming generations to illness without solving this problem.
The city is currently experiencing a resurgence of new residents and has begun to create a plan for change. The new 2040 plan proposes key changes. However, it needs to center equity in transportation, or else it will only further the disparities that currently exist. It is important to have these discussions early to make changes that can benefit our city and the people who live in it.