Jan 18, 2024 - News

Raleigh debates adding density around its new bus rapid transit line

What the bus rapid transit line on New Bern Avenue would look like. Rendering: Courtesy of the city of Raleigh

Construction has begun on Raleigh's first bus rapid transit line, which will create fast and frequent service, as well as dedicated bus lanes, on New Bern Avenue by the end of 2025.

  • But how the city grows around that new transit line will soon be determined by the Raleigh City Council.

Driving the news: The city council will debate this month adding a transit overlay district along bus rapid transit's eastern corridor, stretching 5.4 miles down New Bern Avenue.

  • The new TOD would rezone more than 700 properties along the corridor to allow more height and density as well as uniform streetscape rules. These are meant to make it easier for buses, bikes and pedestrians to navigate the street.
  • Already, the city has approved TODs for the southern and western legs of bus rapid transit, while it is still in the process of determining where the northern portion will go.

Why it matters: Bus rapid transit is one of Raleigh's biggest investments, totaling nearly $100 million for its eastern section alone.

Yes, but: Some advocacy groups within the city, including the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, believe the TOD would create too much development pressure on historic neighborhoods and potentially cause displacement.

  • The New Bern Avenue line is already one of Raleigh's most popular bus routes. It's also home to several of its historically Black neighborhoods to the east of downtown.

Details: The TOD doesn't treat every parcel within the corridor the same.

  • Some heavily residential areas are not subject to any change, while other areas are being upzoned to allow for heights up to five stories.
  • The TOD would bar certain uses within the corridor that would impede pedestrian traffic, like drive-thrus, distribution warehouses and car washes — though existing ones would be grandfathered in.
  • In general, the TOD seeks to promote mixed-use spaces all along the corridor so that residents, offices and commercial businesses cluster near future transit stops.
  • Single-family homes are still an allowable use, and changes are up to the discretion of the property owner.

Between the lines: The TOD also seeks to create more affordable housing along the corridor through a proposed height bonus. It remains unclear, however, how attractive developers will find the provision.

  • If a developer wants to build higher than the zoning allows, it can if it adds affordable housing to its project.
  • At least 20% of any additional units added through the new height provision would need to be affordable for families making 60% of the area's median income (which would equal $45,254, according to city data). They would have to remain affordable for at least 30 years.

What's next: The Raleigh City Council will take up the issue at its Jan. 30 meeting. It could vote on the TOD then or continue it to a future date.

Go deeper: Explore the proposed changes to each parcel on this map.

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