Presentations from the
Community Meeting Held on
A Transportation System as an
Economic Development Tool
for Knowledge Park

Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, 5:30 pm

Overview of Knowledge Park
Four Possible Transportation Modes
Case Study:  Little Rock Streetcar

Transportation’s Potential Impact
on the Bleachery Site Development

Why Consider a Transportation System Investment?

What is the Knowledge Park Leadership Group (KPLG)?

The Knowledge Park Leadership Group (KPLG) is a groupknowledgepark of Rock Hill business leaders guiding the development of Knowledge Park with Rock Hill City Council. KPLG includes over twenty business leaders working together with public sector leaders on this important economic development endeavor. KPLG meets throughout the year and it has met for over three years.

What is Knowledge Park?

Knowledge Park is a transformative economic development initiative. It has multiple goals and various components which are all being pursued together. In terms of physical location, Knowledge Park measures approximately one square mile running from Fountain Park to Winthrop University. Knowledge Park includes the downtown core area, City Hall, kp boundariesthe former Bleachery property, and The Cotton Factory. The primary goal of Knowledge Park relates to the growth of knowledge economy businesses and jobs. The development of Knowledge Park can be thought of as the creation of an urban business park. The mission statement of Knowledge Park reads: “Knowledge Park will be the dynamic center of Rock Hill’s 21st century economy. Designed to be home to knowledge economy businesses and jobs, it is technologically advanced, yet rooted in the city’s rich history. Supported by a diverse community of learners, it offers an appealing urban lifestyle built upon a model of economic and environmental sustainability.” The main areas of focus to meet the desired goals include: • Talent development: Building a pool of talented workers who can work in knowledge economy jobs and also start and attract businesses. • Leadership: Utilizing the partnerships between private and public sectors to transform the center of Rock Hill. • Infrastructure: Investing over $31 million in new infrastructure (power, water, roads, wastewater, stormwater, broadband) to make Knowledge Park a highly desirable location. • Real estate: Redeveloping vacant and underutilized properties within Knowledge Park into an urban, mixed use setting where people can work, live, learn, and play.

Why is a transportation system needed in Knowledge Park?

Knowledge Park today has two prominent nodes of employment and educational services, downtown Rock Hill and Winthrop University. A third development node, the former Bleachery site, is in the planning stages. Knowledge Park also includes large blighted areas that have not attracted new investment for 50 years or more (West Main-West Black corridors, mill village, vacant sites on White Street). The idea that this entire area will become a strong, unified economic center is only an idea at this point – outside the three nodes mentioned above there is no interest today by private developers and no credible reasons to believe that the decline that these areas have experienced over the past 50 years will suddenly be reversed. Further, it is a fundamental premise of the Knowledge Park plan that what happens in downtown Rock Hill is vitally important to future of Winthrop University and vice-versa. The truth is, however, that today there is little or no economic or social interaction between downtown Rock Hill and Winthrop University. Downtown and Winthrop exist as islands of activity surrounded by stagnant pools of decline. If the Knowledge Park vision is to be realized, the area between downtown Rock Hill and Winthrop University must become a connected continent of vibrant activity – islands of prosperity are not sufficient. How can we realize the Knowledge ParkIMG_0884 vision for a vibrant urban center that spans from downtown Rock Hill to Winthrop University? How do we attract new investment to parts of our community that have been stagnant or in decline for decades? How do we refocus the largely suburban development patterns of Rock Hill and York County to attract a larger share of development activity into the city-center Knowledge Park location? There is no simple answer to these questions, but it is clear that bold steps will be required to achieve such transformative change. Eight years ago, the City of Rock Hill faced a similar challenge in choosing to support the redevelopment of the 1,000 acre former Celanese-Celriver Plant site. In that case, the City committed major public investments to support the development of Riverwalk as a high-quality mixed used development focused on outdoor recreation.  The City’s investments included infrastructure development, construction of the 2.5 mile Piedmont Medical Center Trail, investments to create Riverwalk Business Park, and construction of sports tourism facilities including the Giordana Velodrome, the Novant Healthcare BMX track and a soon to be constructed criterium course. All told, the City has committed tens of millions of dollars for investments in public facilities at Riverwalk. The result? Riverwalk today is one of the Charlotte region’s most successful developments, a major sports tourism destination, a thriving, nearly full business park and the most rapidly growing residential community in the City of Rock Hill. Without the City’s targeted investments, Riverwalk would not have achieved the same level of success. Can a similar strategy of targeted public investments bring about transformative change in Knowledge Park? If so, what would be those targeted public investments? One idea that has been discussed since 2010 is the development of a public transportation system linking downtown Rock Hill and Winthrop University that would serve as a catalyst to attract and focus development activity throughout Knowledge Park.

What goals are associated with developing a transportation system at Knowledge Park?

1. The selected transportation system creates a transformative economic catalyst for private investment in Knowledge Park 2. The selected transportation system has a significant impact on the growth and development of Winthrop University 3. There exists a feasible financial model (capital and operations) and a reasonable expectation that the financial capacity will exist within 3 to 5 years to implement the plan. Picture11

What transportation systems are being considered?

Four transportation modes are being considered: trolley bus, modern bus, streetcar, and esplanade. Briefly, each mode offers different characteristics:

  • Rubber-tired trolleys: Offer flexibility andtrolley-bus capital costs similar to traditional bus systems, but differ from standard buses because of their smaller vehicles that are built to look like vintage trolleys. They are often used as fare-free or reduced-fare urban circulators with the hope that their distinct look will attract choice-riders, particularly tourists. Their focus is on mobility featuring some routes covering longer distances and an overall route structure that can be easily changed according to ridership changes in the area’s development. Most rubber-tired trolleys are fixed route, but some allow riders to call ahead and request a pick up elsewhere and to be dropped off at a different location within a certain distance of the route. This route flexibility is another benefit of rubber-tired trolleys. However, some agency representatives operating these services suggest this flexibility may also limit the economic impact rubber-tired trolleys can have since the route flexibility does not offer reassurance to business owners that the transit will continue to be available at the current location(s).Many communities implement rubber-tired trolley to reduce congestion, relieve parking demand, and allow tourists to travel to and from the downtown. No substantial economic development data was available for any of the routes; many communities, when contacted, state that the rubber-tired trolley was not responsible for any economic development.
  • Bus: Bus systems provide many transitSANYO DIGITAL CAMERAbenefits, including flexibility, mobility, and low capital cost. Bus is an integral way for cities to ensure that transit-dependent residents have access to travel to work, health care, education, and other necessary services. It can be a vital mode of transportation for the elderly, disabled, and youth. Express buses usually use the same vehicles and amenities as local bus routes, except that they have fewer stops and can move people faster. The focus of local bus routes tends to be accessibility, while express bus routes focus most on mobility.Since buses offer few physical amenities and run on rubber tires instead of rails, it can be implemented at a low cost and service can easily be initiated, rerouted, extended, or terminated as needed. Buses can be a great option because the city can alter routes to serve new development and destinations. And unlike more permanent modes of transportation, buses can navigate around barriers, such as street closures or accidents. Moreover, if demand increases modestly, more buses can be added to a specific route, or new routes, up to a point. A downside to bus service is that, because of its flexibility, developers often do not take local bus routes into account when deciding where to invest because the route can change so easily.
  • Streetcar: Streetcars are electric vehiclesRiver_Rail_Little_Rock_Rivermarket_011_l that run on rails embedded within the street. Currently streetcars use overhead wires for power, but wireless technology is improving and many cities are looking for ways to run completely off wire. Streetcars, which can operate in mixed traffic or in a dedicated right-of-way, are often used as urban circulators in budding activity centers to give people easier access to local shops and restaurants. They are proven to attract choice riders more so than bus services because of a preference for rail’s smoother, quieter ride. Moreover, streetcars’ embedded rails serve as a visual reminder of the service and make it easier for people to navigate the route. The permanence also attracts developers, since they know the streetcar route will not change. This permanence, however, does have drawbacks. Because of the cost and time required for installing the rails, streetcars have higher capital costs and a longer construction period. They also cannot switch routes if the is a barrier in the road, which can cause delays in service.There are two types of streetcars found in the case studies: vintage trolleys and modern streetcars. Vintage trolleys are replicas of historic trolleys a century ago, but have modern amenities like air conditioning and wheelchair lifts. Modern streetcar vehicles, which are more similar to light rail vehicles, include all of the amenities of vintage trolleys, but tend to be larger with more capacity. Streetcar systems can offer level boarding, off-board fare payment, dedicated right-of-way, and signal prioritization.Discussions with city and agency officials from the streetcar case studies indicate two common reasons for developing streetcar systems: stimulating economic development and providing connectivity. Like other streetcar systems throughout the country, all of the systems listed above cited economic development as a primary goal in the development of their streetcar route.
  • Esplanade: Current-day esplanades, often esplanade-archwayreferred to as pedestrian malls, are streets that restrict vehicular travel. Most esplanades are limited to non-motorized travel only, but some allow transit and taxis. Cities and universities turn to esplanades when vehicular traffic is too congested and they believe the surrounding uses would fare better in a calmer, safer environment. As walkable, mixed-use development becomes more popular, esplanades can show a city or university’s commitment to supporting a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. Studies show that esplanades are most successful when they run through mixed-use development and connect popular destinations that are already attracting pedestrians. While esplanades have not often been used to attract development, they help reiterate the availability of alternative modes of transportation and can help promote a city or university to attract more visitors. However, many cities with pedestrian malls have reopened the streets to cars since the lack of traffic harmed businesses. Esplanades linking universities to downtowns have proven more feasible since many students do not own cars and already use walking as their primary mode of transportation.

What research and studies have been completed concerning the transportation system choices?

KPLG members and members of Rock Hill City Council participated in research field trips to various cities to learn about the different transportation modes, understand the economic development impacts, and ask questions about how the different transportation systems might meet the goals established in Rock Hill. Click on Summary of the Research Field Trips to access this information. HDR, Inc., a national consultant providing engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services, completed a Rock Hill Streetcar Feasibility Study (link provided to Executive Summary) in 2012.  HDR, Inc. is updating this study now and looking at other transportation modes as well.

Where would the transportation system operate?

A proposed route for the transportationstreetcar route8 JPG system sees the starting point at the Cherry Road side of the Winthrop University campus. The route then moves along the edge of the campus and connects with the former Bleachery site. The route moves through underutilized properties at West Main-West Black and crosses under railroad before it arrives in downtown. In downtown, a loop is proposed providing access to Main Street, City Hall, Fountain Park, and locations ready for redevelopment.

What decision-making criteria (goals) are being used to evaluate the transportation choices?

1. The selected transportation system creates a transformative economic catalyst for private investment in Knowledge Park 2. The selected transportation system has a significant impact on the growth and development of Winthrop University 3. There exists a feasible financial model (capital and operations) and a reasonable expectation that the financial capacity will exist within 3 to 5 years to implement the plan.

How can people participate?

Everyone is invited to participate in a community meeting on A Transportation System as an Economic Development Tool for Knowledge Park to be held Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 5:30 pm at the Family Trust Federal Credit Union Headquarters, 225 West White Street, Rock Hill, SC.