Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Profiles in Planning Vision: Elizabeth Avenue Business Corridor Project

[This is another in our series of expert blogs on TOD highlighting work and research that experts are doing in the field. This is written by Jeffrey Wood, Reconnecting America's New Media Director/Chief Cartographer, and Tom Russell, Senior Project Manager in the Engineering and Property Management department at the City of Charlotte.]

A street is a complex animal that often hides many different systems that are used in daily life and Elizabeth Avenue directly east of downtown Charlotte is no exception. Home to the local community college and a major hospital complex, the initial program for the Elizabeth Avenue Business Corridor Project was meant to be a road diet plan alone focused on creating better pedestrian space and slowing traffic through the heavily traveled corridor.

However foresight dictated addressing related issues that would come up in the future as well.  Added to the project was the undergrounding of cable, phone, and power lines as well as replacing a 100 year old sewer and water system.  All of these infrastructure systems would also have to be kept away from the streetcar track slabs that were to be laid many years before streetcar operation. 

Charlotte Street Construction
Elizabeth Avenue Streetcar Construction

Instead of digging up the road several times for numerous utility fixes and a new streetcar line it was decided that everything would be done at once to coordinate with each entity.  This raised the price from $1 million for a road diet alone to $14.5 million for the total reconstruction project.  It was one of the first times in the US modern streetcar era that tracks were laid in the street many years before anticipated service, making this project a national benchmark for transportation and utility coordination.

The project also includes some special design features including bike lanes that circumnavigate the streetcar loading island.  Learning from the Portland experience, bike lanes were placed level with the road instead of elevated so that pedestrians knew of the throughway.

Portland Stop
A streetcar stop and bike passing lane in Portland

But as much pre-planning as was done for the project, there are still lessons to be learned from it. Construction of the line took longer than expected due to issues with the soil below, which needed to be firmer to support the streetcar track slab and burying of utility cables and pipes.

When the rest of the corridor is under construction, Elizabeth Avenue won’t have to worry about being torn up again. Currently studies are underway to do 30% design on the rest of the streetcar project that will include this pre planned corridor.

Elizabeth Ave Today
Photo Courtesy of John Smatlak – Railway Preservation Resources
Elizabeth Avenue Today