Light Rail: What works for Raleigh


Based on the recent 2018 State of Downtown Report published by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, there are currently 47,000 jobs in Downtown Raleigh. There are approximately 645,930 jobs in the Raleigh-Cary MSA as of 2015, meaning that DTR captures a little over 7% of the total jobs in the area. Charlotte has almost double the jobs in its center city at 98k, but still only represents 8.6% of the metro area. Austin, TX has 131k jobs in its core, representing close to 14% of their total - possibly explaining the significantly worse traffic with almost 3 times the number of people trying to get to DT with only marginally better transit options.

For reference, Chicago has 561k jobs in the loop district of its downtown, representing almost half of the jobs in the city of Chicago and 12.5% of the total jobs in the metro. Atlanta has 111k jobs in its downtown, only 4% of the total jobs in the metro.

Efficient high-capacity transit makes it possible to move a lot of people in and out of a small area (i.e. Chicago), but an entirely different set of problems exist for a city like Raleigh. Traffic isn’t terrible in Raleigh, because everyone is going to different places. But it also makes efficient transit tricky.

So here is the problem - we don’t have high capacity fixed-route transit because we don’t need it but we (arguably) don’t have a high density employment center because we don’t have an efficient way to move people in and out of it.


Mass transit plans don’t have to be reactive. They can be proactive — bringing people to the downtown area, whether to work or to live or to play. They can also enable people who want to live in downtown to work elsewhere (like barren RTP), incentivizing them to invest in real estate where they might currently be more inclined to rent given that the lack of good mass transit (which makes you want to live closer to where you work).


I don’t disagree, just a thought exercise… How do we get the right people to see/believe that and make it happen?

Ultimately, this is where a economic development whale like Amazon or Apple could move the needle - immediately creating significant additional density in an area forcing our hand to some degree.


But that’s the thing — having those plans already in the works would make it more likely Apple/Amazon come here.

And of course if they do come here, people will use it as an excuse to say we don’t need it, since they made the decision without mass transit being here.

Light rail is the future, for a whole host of reasons. Some people can see it and some can’t. My guess is very few people who can’t actually make the commute to RTP from Raleigh every day. Young people who work in RTP are moving to Durham. And as that happens, the Raleigh holdouts will also choose Durham since it will rapidly catch up as a cultural center. The lifeblood of Raleigh’s growth will be sapped.


I think this is a little dramatic. Raleigh and Durham are both growing briskly and both have a lot going on, but they both have a lot of room for improvement.

Forgive me if you’ve already done this, but I’d like to understand why you feel strongly about this. What’s your argument for why we need light rail, why we need it now, and why you think it’s so obvious? Also, how would you respond to the transit experts who say we don’t have the density to support a light rail system, even accounting for future growth? You seem to have thought about it a lot, so I am genuinely interested in what you have to say.


Do you work West of Raleigh (where you have to take 40 to and from work)? The utter traffic nightmare fairly well speaks for itself (a 22 minute drive with no traffic takes 35-40 minutes in the morning and 40-50+ minutes in the evening, unless you leave at ~6:30), and there’s no room to expand. Which means it’s only going to get worse. The solution must be high volume and long term. Buses simply aren’t going to cut it. Remember that public transportation comes with its own drawbacks. They’re crowded, sometimes you have to stand, they can smell and be dirty. The upside is a quicker commute than you can get otherwise, as well as something reliable.

Why should I take a bus and live with a 25 minute commute in a crowded space with other people when I can move to Durham and have a 15 minute commute with no one else around me? That’s the question Raleigh’s city planners should have on their minds. Because the answer is that Raleigh is bigger and more of a cultural hub. But as 40 gets worse, more people will move to Durham, which will shift the cultural balance of power.

I realize plenty of people live and work in Raleigh, so this might not be a concern. But all you have to do is try the commute. There are plenty of people out there doing the same thing.


I think that we are forgetting other Bus Riders other than Commuters, Senior Citizens, College Students, and the Working class. they need to get around efficiently. This is how I ride the GoTriangle/GoRaleigh buses…At 5:30am I walk to DTR from Lake Wheeler road each day, to catch the 300/301 bus to Cary train station ( CTS ) Bus leaves Moore square at 5:55am…arrives at CTS at 6:30am…transfer to the 300 and wait 5 minutes and the 300 leaves at 6:35am. then…I arrive at my stop at 6:55am and I walk to my Job. Returning Home…leave work at 3:00pm wait 30 minutes at bus stop for 300 bus to arrive, bus arrive at 3:38pm and arrive at CTS around 3:55pm. Wait time 5 minutes and Bus 300 leaves CTS at 4:00pm. Arrive at DTR moore square at 4:35pm, Wait at Platform for my bus to arrive, ( 10 minutes ) transfer onto GoRaleigh bus and ride to my home. arrive at final stop at 5:25pm. Now…tell me why we do not need Light rail or why Light Rail is needed. tell me why you prefer driving your cars rather than taking mass transit. GoTriangle. I can move closer to my Job…Yeah…but then I quit or get laid off work then find another job…then I’m back to square one. These are Just examples that I’am trying to put out there Because there are folks that ride these Buses Everyday of the Week. Weekends too…this is Why Raleigh needs to Seriously put Transit on the Top of the List regardless of IF/When Amazon or Apple come to the Triangle or Not at all. So we Get no Light Rail…Fine…But the City needs to make Transit a serious priority and Invest in Raleigh’s Future…that is what’s Important.

Sorry for the glare,was a Sunny day.


Nah. Won’t happen (exodus to Durham). A lot of people like Raleigh for some reason.


Interestingly, Raleigh & Durham were similarly sized post WWII. With IBM’s arrival, that all changed. Before RTP, IBM had a foothold in Raleigh, and that was the catalyst that propelled Raleigh. It didn’t help Durham that they basically ignored RTP while they held onto their traditional tobacco industry.
At this point, Raleigh and Wake are at a completely different level in terms of growth. While nothing’s impossible, it would be daunting for Durham to usurp Raleigh’s position in the Triangle. With each successive year, the eastern side of the Triangle puts more distance on its western neighbors.
Frankly, the Triangle needs Durham to pick up their growth, but it won’t be at the expense of Raleigh’s growth. It will just be in addition to it.


The operation of the transit system would definitely be *more efficient if the nodes were spread out and of similar densities. But like Steve and I worked out earlier, politically its easier to get it going at first, when you have a high profile area, too many people need to get into. Much like the blue line in Chicago, when you get on at the airport, that’s a very empty train, but by the time you get down near Michigan Ave, is packed to the gills. So most of those train cars are used for only half the route, and by the time it reaches the densest terminus, they really need 50% more cars than they have. So they split it in the middle. The RTP area won’t have that packed to the gills situation, and that is precisely why it’s difficult to get going in the first place politically. I work in government and studied some traffic capacity stuff as part of my degree in college, and will say only that the experts opinion on feasibility, is faux objective…its tailored to fit the known political climate. The politically acceptable parameters for % fare support for operation, and % ridership of commuters determine ‘feasibility’.


I lived in NY when the exodus from Poughkeepsie began. It destroyed the place bit by bit. By some miracle I ended up where they all went (north Raleigh area) even not being an IBM family. I get the feeling IBM was very deliberate in avoiding the industrial cities of the south like Greensboro and Durham…that is the scene the white collar northerners were happy to get away from…blighted, industrial, polluted swaths. Raleigh, having only a tiny industrial history, was a fresh, new lush place to plant roots. I think Raleigh still commands that perception and people love the sh*& out of it. As an aside…It’s not really my 10/10 place to call home…I once (famously among my friends), posted a trolling comment on FB that said Greensboro>Raleigh. It’s true to me…I actually like it better there. But obviously, and I knew it’d be this way, nobody saw it my way :slight_smile:


I know people want the big transit now, but it is pretty powerful that good old BRT is sparking questions about how to zone/build/etc for density and transit oriented development. In a lot of ways that is what we really need. A combo of transit and TOD. Overlaying buses on a city doesn’t end up doing that but, BRT seems to get you over the edge.


IBM almost went to northern Virginia instead of RTP, save for a young IBM employee (intern?) who wrote a letter to the CEO convincing him to take a look at the fledgling RTP.
The enormous growth spurt in Raleigh completely happened in the auto era, and it’s this foundation that is going to make it difficult to change the gears and shift toward rail transit options. While Raleigh (and Durham) can purposely plan for future rail lines and associated sub-communities in the Triangle around its stations, it will only provide an option to sitting in traffic; it will NEVER eliminate it. To that end, we need to also be thinking about other ways to reduce traffic like more telecommuting, off-rush hour commuting, etc.


One of my fantasy dystopian futures involves obsolete office towers and interstates being reduced to two lanes because all traffic …personal car-pods, BRT, driverless cars and trucks, all lock onto a magnetic rail and must go the same speed…the common thread for these two components being the need to, and actual occurance of, reducing traffic. 50 years? 500? 5000? I think some version of that is where things are headed eventually.


To that end, we need to also be thinking about other ways to reduce traffic like more telecommuting, off-rush hour commuting, etc.

While I totally agree with the above statement, generally those decisions are made on a company by company basis and not on a larger scale. I also think that a lot of companies have already been doing this, especially the larger ones. So that could be step 1, so now what should we consider step 2?


Traffic, though often associated with morning and evening commutes, becomes a larger issue throughout each day as a city grows. The city needs to develop in a model that reduces the requirement for other typical car trips for more people. More mixed use and high density nodes for living is a good first step.
Offer more options to more residents by foot.
Reduce the distance one needs to travel by car when they do use them.
Expand a safe infrastructure for bikes. Don’t just put in sharrows.
Expand and improve walking infrastructure. Make walking pleasurable with nice sidewalks, lots of shade trees, benches to rest and recycling/trash cans.


Not so much big Transit, but Better Transit, if a BRT comes here to Raleigh, it will be a added welcome to a much needed and improved Transit not just in Raleigh but in the Triangle as a whole. Start off small and grow from there, with Two of your Busiest corridors, Capital and Western. Or even a Shuttle from RDU to DTR…DTD…DTCH.


Since I was in college at NCSU, I have always thought of the greenway system as the “biker’s superhighway”. Then I took up running several years ago, and have seen many, many, many miles of our incredible greenway system. IF I were able to bike to work, I would use the greenway system as much as possible, but alas not an option at this time. But I agree, most of the major roads in Raleigh just aren’t safe for bikes, and I won’t/don’t use them via bike. Keep expanding the greenway system and tie more and more bikers from residential areas into job centers. YES YES YES!!


@ Nickster,

I couldn’t agree more! I love our green-way trail…and I think it’s much safer than any road sharing could ever be…but of course it doesn’t go everywhere…Lol


Now here is an interesting option:

Courtesy of WRAL