Navigating the Light Rail | Charlotte NC Travel & Tourism
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Navigating the Light Rail

The evolution of Charlotte’s LYNX Blue Line light rail.
 The Charlotte Area Transit System plans to begin operation of a 9.3-mile extension of the light rail.
The Charlotte Area Transit System plans to begin operation of a 9.3-mile extension of the light rail.

By Torie Robinette

When it comes to tracking Charlotte’s path to becoming one of the nation’s busiest metropolises, we’re reminded that transportation and a city’s ability to connect its people to other communities has always been a driving force. Charlotte’s history has certainly underscored that.

Although the Queen City was the site of nation’s first gold rush, which brought an influx of transplants in search of striking luck, the rise of Charlotte’s first rail line in 1852 actually had a greater impact on the local economy. It connected the city to Columbia, South Carolina, for the primary purpose of transporting goods. Because its success was instant, the North Carolina state legislature immediately authorized construction of a second line to link Charlotte with Raleigh, North Carolina. The result? The tiny Queen City became a huge hot spot during the Civil War.

A population boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries inspired the development of Charlotte’s first streetcar network, which was initially horse-drawn and then mule-drawn. Then came the revolutionary electric streetcar, which powered city transportation for decades before being replaced by the bus system in the late 1930s and, eventually, the automobile. In the mid-1990s, in an effort to reignite interest in Uptown, the once-critical trolley system made a return.

A revamped version of the streetcar ran from Center City to South End until the ultimate game-changer broke ground. The LYNX Blue Line light rail began operation in 2007 and became a major linchpin in South End’s rise as one of Charlotte’s hottest modern neighborhoods. At present, 15 stations run along a 9.6-mile route that links Uptown to South Charlotte.

In March 2018, the Charlotte Area Transit System plans to begin operation of a 9.3-mile extension of the light rail. Through 11 new stops—each filled with exciting offerings—the rail will connect Center City to UNC Charlotte in an exclusive right-of-way free of congestion. The result? A Charlotte that allows its residents to navigate the city rapidly and efficiently. CATS projects that the extension will yield 24,500 average weekday trips by 2035.

Here, we follow the Blue Line through the city, station by station—from current to upcoming—spotlighting what you can do at each stop. You’ll be amazed by how much culture you can unlock on a $2.20 ride.

Current Light Rail Stops

1. I-485 Station

Must-see Stops: Carolina Pavilion (Target, Old Navy, Nordstrom Rack, AMC Carolina Pavilion 22); Steak ‘n Shake

2. Sharon Road West Station

Must-see Stops: Snyder’s-Lance Factory

Did You Know? The Snyder’s-Lance business began in Charlotte after a local businessman converted a raw peanut deal that had gone awry into a prolific snack brand.

3. Arrowood Station

Must-see Stops: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits; Tamaleria Laurita; La Catracha Restaurant

Did You Know? The Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits franchise was founded in Charlotte in 1977.

4. Archdale Station

Must-see Stops: The Burrito Factory; 500 Degrees Pizzeria; Payal Indian Groceries & Spices

5. Tyvola Station

Must-see Stops: Bill Spoon’s Barbecue; Vietnam Grille; Fordham Park

Did You Know? Bill Spoon’s Barbecue opened in 1963, making it one of Charlotte’s oldest restaurants.

6. Woodlawn Station

Must-see Stops: Three Spirits Brewery; Rountree Plantation; Arepas Grill; Beef ‘N Bottle Steakhouse

7. Scaleybark Station

Must-see Stops: Queen Park Social; Great Wagon Road Distilling Company; The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery

8. New Bern Station

Must-see Stops: Triple C Brewing Co.; Lenny Boy Brewing Co.; Mac’s Speed Shop

Did You Know? At 31,000 square feet, Lenny Boy Brewing Co.’s new South Tryon Street location is 530 percent larger than its original 4,900-square-foot space on Hawkins Street.

9. East/West Station

Must-see Stops: Tupelo Honey Café; Price’s Chicken Coop; Clair De Lune boutique

Did You Know?

Comedian Jay Leno has been spotted eating fried chicken from Price’s Chicken Coop while sitting on the curb of Camden Street.

10. Bland Street Station

Must-see Stops: Elder Gallery; Futo Buta; Wooden Robot Brewery; The Brass Tap

11. Carson Station

Must-see Stops: Midnight Diner; The Unknown Brewing Co.; Charlotte Cigar Club

Did You Know? Midnight Diner is open 24/7.

12. Stonewall Station

Must-see Stops: Levine Center for the Arts; JP Charlotte/The Westin Charlotte; Bank of America Stadium

13. 3rd Street/Convention Center Station

Must-see Stops: Charlotte Convention Center; Hilton Charlotte Center City; NASCAR Hall of Fame; Amélie’s French Bakery

Did You Know? The NASCAR Hall of Fame is the world’s only sports hall of fame of its kind.

14. 7th Street Station

Must-see Stops: 7th Street Public Market; ImaginON: The Joe & Joan Martin Center; Levine Museum of the New South

15. Charlotte Transportation Center/Arena Station

Must-see Stops: The EpiCentre; Spectrum Center; The Punch Room/The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte

Upcoming Light Rail Stops

1.  9th Street Station

Must-see Stops: UNC Charlotte Center City Campus; First Ward Park

Did You Know? First Ward Park is one of more than 200 parks located in the Charlotte region.

2.  Parkwood Station

Must-see Stops: Abari Game Bar; Joe’s Doughs; MoNA Gallery

3.  25th Street Station

Must-see Stops: Free Range Brewing; Amélie’s French Bakery

4.  36th Street Station

Must-see Stops: Crêpe Cellar Kitchen & Pub; Cabo Fish Taco, The Evening Muse; Hart Witzen Gallery

Did You Know? Cabo Fish Taco has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

5.  Sugar Creek Station

Must-see Stops: Public art by Chandra Cox

6.  Old Concord Road Station

Must-see Stops: North Point Shopping Center; America Deli; La Zima Bar Mexicano;

7.  Tom Hunter Station

Must-see Stops: Public art by Tom Stanley; Around the World Market; Taqueria La Casita

Did You Know? Around the World Market is a huge purveyor of Indian food, but it also carries British, African and Thai provisions.

8.  University City Boulevard Station

Must-see Stops: Public art by Jackie Chang; IKEA; Belgate Shopping Center

9.  McCullough Station

Must-see Stops: McCullough Commons: Taco Mac; University Executive Park

 10. JW Clay Station

Must-see Stops: Jerry Richardson Football Stadium at UNC Charlotte; Cross Charlotte Trail; Lazeez Mediterranean Grill

Did You Know? The UNC Charlotte 49ers football program had its inaugural season in 2013 at Jerry Richardson Stadium.

 11. UNC Charlotte Main Campus Station

Must-see Stops: UNC Charlotte main campus; UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens; Dale F. Halton Arena

 Navigating the LYNX Blue Line Light Rail

Tips for Riding

  • Consult the station map to determine which station(s) you need
  • Check the official schedule for boarding times and arrival times
  • Purchase a ticket online or at the ticket vending machines located at each station (fare is $2.20 each way)

 Ride CATS Mobile App

The Ride CATS mobile app provides real-time information on all bus and rail services. The convenient app allows customers to:

  • Get real-time information on route stops closest to your location
  • Get real-time information on the next three times a bus/train will arrive at your stop
  • Save your most frequented stops and routes for quick access to get the next bus/rail trip
  • Set alerts to let you know when a bus/train is nearing your stop
  • Conduct trip planning through Google Trip Planner within the app

 Learn how to install the app by visiting ridetransit.org.

This article ran in the June 2017 issue of Charlotte Happenings.