Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane pushes transit, design in State of the City speech

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 24, 2014 

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President Barack Obama is greeted by Gov. Pat McCrory and Raleigh mayor Nancy McFarlane after arriving on Air Force One Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at RDU International Airport. U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— To keep growth and top-10 rankings coming to Raleigh, the city needs increased transit options and careful planning, Mayor Nancy McFarlane said in her annual State of the City address Monday.

McFarlane’s 15-minute speech at a meeting of the Raleigh Rotary Club was titled “Designing the Future.” She touted 12 “best cities” rankings Raleigh received over the past year – from Forbes’ “New Tech Hot Spots” to a “best run cities” list from a website called 24/7 Wall Street.

Maintaining that momentum, she said, will require “setting a vision for the city.” She pointed to the City Council’s recent two-day retreat that set the framework for a new strategic plan.

“In order for us to remain competitive, we must address the fact that we need a robust public transportation system,” McFarlane said. “This is key for our economic development. Without it, we will be overcome with our success and choke ourselves off with congestion.”

McFarlane’s last State of the City speech made the same argument. During that time, Wake County commissioners declined to put a half-cent sales tax proposal before voters that would pay for expanded transit, though they did recently hire a new county manager with transit experience.

The mayor said she’s talked to several technology companies that have transit and pedestrian improvements on their wish list.

“Employers like Citrix and Red Hat tell me that their employees want to be able to experience the city and area without having to be in a car,” she said. “They want walkable, accessible communities that offer that lifestyle that allows for increased interactions and productivity without lost time driving a car.”

McFarlane also touted the public health benefits of transit.

“As we see asthma admissions at area hospitals rise, public transportation will play a role in our air quality,” she said.

Open space and design

She said parks are also key to that goal, noting the ongoing negotiations with state officials to secure a city park on the 325-acre Dorothea Dix campus south of downtown.

“This is an amenity that will last for lifetimes,” the mayor said. “Open space such as Dix Park is also on every recruiter’s list. The governor and I are working on this. I’m very hopeful we will have a resolution soon.”

McFarlane also spoke about the importance of design, saying Raleigh should think carefully about how it designs the community, from parks to transportation to buildings.

“Let’s call for great design in everything we do and what we become,” she said. “Whether it is the ‘Southern Capital of Arts and Culture’ or ‘North Carolina’s Axis of Cool,’ Raleigh is designing the future.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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