Friday, September 16, 2016


A very potent combination of forces has emerged in the growth center of North Carolina where managers of a public-interest commercial district pride themselves in state-of-the-art development and land management.

Research Triangle Park (RTP) is in the center of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel metroplex not far from the area’s major airport (RDU). This triangular region grew impressively in the second half of the 20th century and gained a reputation as an island of progress and enlightenment in a sea of rural poverty and backwardness.

= courtesy of the Durham Visitor & Convention Bureau
Raleigh is the state capital and home to North Carolina State University, so it historically has been an important center. However, in terms of urban agglomeration, Raleigh was not that large. In 1950 the whole region’s population was under 400,000. RTP was established in the 1950s to  inspire big ideas. It called out to dreamers, believers, planners and creators. In fact, it has given its name to the area, now widely known as the Research Triangle. By 1970 the population was 541,000. In 1990 it had swollen to 863,000.

Growth continued as it hit a million around the beginning of the 21st century. Recently hit Two Million! Few fear that growth prospects will turn sour. Except for national reactions to North Carolina’s objections to mandates for gender-free bathrooms, the outlook for continued growth is widespread. Of course, development brings traffic.

Congestion is a growing challenge to the Triangle’s future. There is no substantial transit infrastructure. Big decisions need to be made soon as highways and arterials become overloaded.

 A Breath of Fresh Mobility Thinking

There are those at RTP and NCSU and in the halls of power of Raleigh willing to take a new look at these needs. This is largely the result of  the thoughtful designs and arguments espoused by NCSU-based EcoPRT -- a local start-up getting lots of attention. RTP wants to become a center of modern transit automation, a place where PRT is not a scary word. 

RTP has an opportunity to consider
transit through buildings (above)
as opposed to on-street tradition.

This is coming into being as RTP offers room for a large on-site NCSU facility that will include and maybe showcase an EcoPRT presence. Will they get interest and support from other progressive voices for modern urban mobility from across the whole country and around the world?

Today RTP is home to many large companies and about 25,000 employees. Its slogan is inspiring bold ideas. It encourages and supports dreamers, believers, planners and creators. It is run by a “Foundation” with an endowment -- income-producing properties that provide a significant level of independence. A 2011 master plan includes a LRT line connecting to three stations of a proposed but stalled regional rail line.

This seems to be a major alignment of forces for a mobility breakthrough in 2017. Look out Silicon Valley!

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