Having spent the past four years roaming UNC Charlotte and University City on a daily basis, I can say with no degree of uncertainty that the campus and surrounding area feel criminally separated from Uptown and its better connected proximate neighborhoods.
It wouldn’t be such a transgression if University City at least had a college town feel, but with vehicle congestion, poor walkability, and Anytown, USA shopping centers, it’s a far cry from that.
Luckily, the completion of the LYNX Blue Line Extension should alleviate these issues in the short and long term.
I hate that I’ve graduated so soon before this radical shift to campus kicks off. With service estimated to begin in August 2017, the next few years of incoming freshmen have something to look forward to: a connection to the city unparalleled by every graduating class that has come before. UNC Charlotte has seen some sweeping changes over the years, but this might take the cake.
Yeah, yeah, this is going to be great for people under 21 years old, too, but reaching the legal drinking age is a milestone for college students. Although one of my favorite drinking spots is conveniently located in University City, most prefer the nightlife in NoDa or Uptown. Getting there — and more importantly, getting back — is not always so easy.
Depending on how late of a night we’re talking about (the light rail currently stops running at 1:26 a.m. on weekdays and 1:56 a.m. on weekends), 20-minute Uber rides will be a thing of the past. The occasional obnoxiously high 3 a.m. surge charge might still be unavoidable.
A mid-afternoon brewery trip through NoDa and South End also sounds much more doable. There’s no hassle to find a designated driver and no risk of endangering lives and getting a DWI.
But the impact of the light rail extension goes beyond just convenience when it comes to enjoying adult beverages.
Students without cars or who don’t feel like hunting/paying for parking in Uptown or driving through traffic on I-85 and I-277 will feel like real Charlotteans more than ever. The light rail extension will be a direct line to the heart of the city. Sure, many college students are on a tighter budget than most, so frivolous expenditures are rare, but visiting the Mint Museum or taking in a show at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center or watching a Hornets game or enjoying a fancier-than-usual dinner will be easier than ever.
What I haven’t touched on yet could be the one thing that cements current UNC Charlotte students as future Charlotte citizens: internships. At my recent commencement ceremony, Chancellor Philip Dubois first joked about students being able to more easily attend their Thursday night internships in Uptown (because Friday classes are rare, many students choose to go out on Thursday nights), but then he stressed the importance of the light rail making awesome internship opportunities more accessible. Compared to University City’s options, Uptown really is the land of opportunity, especially for those studying finance, marketing, public relations, etc.
As I mentioned earlier, UNC Charlotte’s campus feels pretty self-contained and cut off from its direct surroundings. However, the addition of light rail stations on and near campus could be the spark that changes that … over several more years.
If there’s one thing that North Tryon Street needs, it’s more construction, of course. Ten or 15 years from now, will pedestrians and cyclists be more comfortably navigating the strip of North Tryon that runs adjacent to campus? A transition like that definitely won’t come easy with the current traffic patterns and some multi-year leases in local shopping centers preventing potential redevelopment. But, hey, a guy can dream.
The first positive sign of things to come will be when University City finally has a brewery of its own.