Urban Design

Charlotte Rail Trail

The Rail Trail is a 4.5 mile long hardscape pathway that runs parallel to Charlotte’s light rail system, the LYNX Blue Line. Its original purpose was simply to provide access from nearby streets to four rapid transit stations. However, since the Blue Line began operating in late 2007, the Rail Trail has been added onto, studied, enhanced, formalized, codified, de-formalized, imagined, envisioned, and transformed. The current Rail Trail little resembles the utilitarian path of 2007. It is now an important part of Charlotte’s urban fabric, a destination linear park bisecting South End, one of Charlotte’s hottest neighborhoods.

Thousands of new residents, living in gleaming new apartment buildings and townhomes within a stone’s throw of the Rail Trail, use it for jogging, cycling, commuting, dog walking, hanging out, dining, drinking, and shopping. For many of these South Enders, the Rail Trail is literally at their front door, since zoning laws often require direct connections from adjacent buildings to the trail for both commercial and residential buildings. Shops, restaurants, breweries, and nightclubs all connect to the trail, which serves more like a street in some sections than a trail. 

The Rail Trail is a place where urban design concepts are tried and tested, where lessons are learned and adjustments are made. It’s a platform that supports interesting and unusual public spaces and “interventions”, where formal regulatory requirements sometimes clash with free-form guerrilla placemaking, spontaneity, and grassroots (and often anonymous) art and sculpture.



Urban Designer Alan Goodwin made a presentation on the Rail Trail as part of a panel discussion on Creative Placemaking, Rail Trails and Station Activation at the 2017 Rail~Volution national conference in Denver on September 20, 2017. Here is a link to this presentation: 

2017 Rail~Volution Rail Trail Presentation

Visit the official web site for more information about the Charlotte Rail Trail: www.RailTrail.org.