Charlotte, NC students imagine new TOD on site of existing rail yard


Concept for redeveloping an old rail yard in Charlotte NC. Seen is Park Ave, a main street for walking and biking lined with green space and rain gardensThe Railyard’s Park Ave is imagined as a major road for people walking and biking, lined with green space and rain gardens. (Photo credit: Rashi Sonsakia, UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture)

Just north of Charlotte’s downtown, locally called Uptown, is a 210-acre active rail yard along which two new light rail stations will open on March 16th, 2018. Given the redevelopment of a number of downtown-proximate rail yards, it’s entirely possible this swath of land will be a future target for redevelopment, though there are no current plans for such. But one urban design professor at the University of North Carolina charged her students with imagining what could become of the North Tryon rail yard in Charlotte this past fall.

The students named their neighborhood “The Railyard” and set about designing streets and buildings for approximately 20,000 people in the area. As part of the project, they presented their neighborhood design before numerous local planning professionals and public officials in the hopes of sparking new ideas for other projects.

Rail yards have been a popular redevelopment opportunity in the last 30 years. Portland’s trendy Pearl District is partially the result of redeveloping a rail yard and Sacramento’s rail yards are currently in the process of development as well. Hudson Yards is a $20B redevelopment project tied to transit expansion in New York City and San Francisco has eyes on potentially redeveloping its Caltrain rail yard in the Mission Bay neighborhood outside downtown.

The best part about design exercices like these is the ability to dream big but also think about urban design and street plans for brand new development. Often without street networks or infrastructure, rail yard redevelopment beams with potential. In the library, several documents give examples of ways to develop good urban design from the block up.

The World Resources Institute’s document Cities Safer by Design lays out urban design elements and traffic safety design for new streets while an article in the Journal of Land Use and Transportation discusses seven examples of TOD design in the United States and lists 12 “good practices” to follow.

Recent TOD news

Here are a few things that have been happening this week with TOD projects across the country.

  • Downtown LA Residents Not Giving Up on Light Rail Station (Curbed Los Angeles)
  • Minneapolis’ Metro Council Releases Density and Activity Near Transit Handbook (Metropolitan Council)
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Looks to Transit Villages Near BRT Stops (CBC)
  • Houston’s Light Rail Did Bring Some Benefits (Government Technology)
  • State Senator Wiener Explains His CA TOD Bill in More Detail (Curbed San Francisco)