Navigating the Charlotte Light Rail
The evolution of Charlotte’s LYNX Blue Line light rail.
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
Must-see Stops: Carolina Pavilion (Target, Old Navy, Nordstrom Rack, AMC Carolina Pavilion 22); Steak ‘n Shake
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.
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.
Must-see Stops: The Burrito Factory; 500 Degrees Pizzeria; Payal Indian Groceries & Spices
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.
Must-see Stops: Three Spirits Brewery; Rountree Plantation; Arepas Grill; Beef ‘N Bottle Steakhouse
Must-see Stops: Queen Park Social; Great Wagon Road Distilling Company; The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery
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.
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.
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.
Must-see Stops: Levine Center for the Arts; JP Charlotte/The Westin Charlotte; Bank of America Stadium
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.
Must-see Stops: 7th Street Public Market; ImaginON: The Joe & Joan Martin Center; Levine Museum of the New South
Must-see Stops: The EpiCentre; Spectrum Center; The Punch Room/The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte
New Light Rail Stops
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.
Must-see Stops: Abari Game Bar; Joe’s Doughs; MoNA Gallery
Must-see Stops: Free Range Brewing; Amélie’s French Bakery
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.”
Must-see Stops: Public art by Chandra Cox
Must-see Stops: North Point Shopping Center; America Deli; La Zima Bar Mexicano;
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.
Must-see Stops: Public art by Jackie Chang; IKEA; Belgate Shopping Center
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.
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.