Will transit in Raleigh spur more gentrification? City wants ‘equitable development.’

One measure of a successful transit system is whether developers build housing and businesses around the stations to tap into a pool of would-be riders.

But what if those new businesses push out existing ones and the cost of those new homes and apartments are beyond the reach of existing riders?

Those are the issues the City of Raleigh plans to take on by developing a plan for “equitable development around transit.” The effort begins Thursday evening with a public open house and meeting at the Raleigh Convention Center.

“The challenge in the broadest sense is making sure this investment in transit provides the maximum benefit for the community,” said Jason Hardin, a city planner who will manage the project. “So that involves thinking about to what extent in the future do you want to grow around transit and how important is housing affordability.”

Two new types of mass transit will take shape in Raleigh over the coming decade under the Wake Transit Plan, the 10-year blueprint that voters endorsed in 2016 when they approved a half-cent sales tax for transit.

The first is four bus rapid transit or BRT lines that will radiate from downtown, creating bus-only lanes and stations with raised, covered platforms where riders can buy tickets before boarding. The city, through GoRaleigh, hopes to open the first of those lines in late 2023 along New Bern Avenue.

Later in the decade, GoTriangle plans to begin running commuter trains between Garner, Raleigh, Cary, Research Triangle Park and Durham. The trains will stop at Raleigh Union Station downtown, but exact location of other stations south and west of downtown have not been set.

The equitable development plan will focus on BRT. Hardin says he doesn’t think the bus stations will spawn much development by themselves, but they’re likely to be located in areas that are already changing and gentrifying, as more people want to live inside the Beltline closer to downtown.

“I don’t think that BRT specifically has a huge impact on land values and affordability — certainly less than, say, a rail transit system would,” Hardin said. “But I really think that what this BRT investment allows us to do is address this issue that’s already out there.”

Jerome Brown, who lives a few blocks from New Bern Avenue and heads GoTriangle’s advisory council, said it’s not clear what effect BRT will have on businesses and residents along that corridor now.

“It very well could enhance it all,” said Brown, a retired hospital administrator. “Or it very well could end up pushing people out.”

By pricing out people who now live near busy bus routes like New Bern Avenue, the city risks not only alienating the community but also losing riders who depend on the system and use it most, Brown said.

“You have to maintain your base and make sure they have accommodations that keep them as your base,” he said.

The equitable development plan will not focus on individual stations, Hardin said; there will be time for that later when the city does what it calls station-area plans for each BRT line.

Instead, the plan will spell out some broad principles for development around transit, including goals for how much housing growth should be concentrated along transit lines and target levels of affordability. It will include an inventory of existing affordable housing along the BRT corridors, as well as list current housing prices and rents and how those are expected to change in the future.

A presentation on the plan and its goals will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Ballroom C of the Raleigh Convention Center. An open house, where people can learn about the planned BRT system, will begin at 4 p.m. and resume at 7:30 after the presentation.

Thursday’s kick off will be followed by two more meetings in the fall to get the public involved, Hardin said.

To learn more about bus rapid transit in Raleigh, go to www.raleighnc.gov/brt.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.