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Breathing Deeply

by Michael Carson

December 2,2003

According to the American Lung Association, in terms of air quality, Charlotte is the 10th most polluted metropolis in the country. There are a number of factors why, but a major cause is traffic. Each morning and evening, swarms of automobiles make their way into and out of the city, and without reliable mass transit and the lack of incentives to car pool, we cannot expect it to change.

Recently, I experienced our poor air quality first hand. On a long afternoon run through each of the uptown wards, I twice ran alongside I-277, and each time I struggled to “get my air.” Fortunately, the buzzing of the cars kept me mesmerized and I didn’t focus on my shortness of breath.

Despite the negative effects on our environment and health, a remarkable number of politicians and citizens favor expanding highways to accommodate higher volumes of cars and fail to focus on longer-term solutions.

Now, our city doesn’t entirely lack foresight on this issue. In 1998, in conjunction with a number of local municipalities and citizen committees, Charlotte created a visionary transit plan (2025 Transit Land Use Plan) that called for the development of a light rail system, bus rapid transit, and a streetcar system that would stretch to many of the smaller surrounding cities and existing Charlotte developments. In addition, the city is looking to develop a number of uptown parks that will help to diffuse the smog that often plagues our city.

Change—mainly because of cost—is slow in coming. Over a 25-year period, the transit plan is projected to cost over one billion dollars, and although a significant amount will be met by state and federal funding, a great deal of the costs will be shouldered by the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Twenty-five years seems like a long time to me. I am personally in favor of declaring a moratorium on highway expansion (but not maintenance) in and around our city and instead using those proceeds to accelerate mass transit. It may not be realistic, but I can always hope.

Until Charlotte’s mass transit system becomes a reality, we can all help to improve the quality of air and life in Charlotte. More of us should consider finding alternative modes of transportation. Reasonable options include moving into or closer to uptown, using CATS or driving in a carpool. Your lungs and mine will thank you.

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