Months in, planner says Leland Park and Ride a success, worth expanding

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Construction on U.S. 17-74-76, slated for completion in 2016, prompted the Park and Ride program as a way to ease congestion on the causeway. File photo.
Construction on U.S. 17-74-76, slated for completion in 2016, prompted the Park and Ride program as a way to ease congestion on the causeway. File photo.

Several months into Leland’s Park and Ride program, organizers believe the ride-share service is working–and worthy of expanding to surrounding counties.

That’s according to Adrienne Harrington, a transportation planner with Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Harrington visited the Park and Ride sites—at the Food Lion on Mount Misery Road, near the U.S. 74-76 interchange, and at Lowe’s Foods in Brunswick Forest—last week to see, firsthand, how the program is being utilized.

The service, which started in January, allows commuters who want to carpool or vanpool to work to park their cars in reserved spaces at the lots, which are also located along Wave Transit’s Brunswick Connector bus route.

In an “informal” data collection effort last week, Harrington noted four cars parked in the Food Lion lot—which has 10 allotted Park and Ride spaces–and one in Brunswick Forest’s 15 designated spaces.

Harrington said that is a promising sight.

“This is the beginning of something that is going to be available for a long time. It is one of the first programs in our Transportation Demand Management program that is really still in such an infant stage at this point. When we set up both those Park and Ride lots we had heard that people were interested in it, and we see they are being used, so we feel really good about it,” she said.

The Park and Ride program grew, in part, out of discussions between transportation planners, commuters and town officials about the congestion on U.S. 17-74-76, which is currently under construction—through 2016—to widen the causeway to six lanes.

“That started some conversations about what can we do to make that commute more manageable, more pleasurable,” Harrington said. “There are a lot of places throughout North Carolina, and the country that offer Park and Ride lots.”

The program, which is a collaboration between Wave Transit, the Town of Leland and the MPO, also includes a rideshare-matching program, through the statewide website ShareTheRideNC.org, that connects commuters interested in making carpool arrangements.

“We wanted to be able to introduce that ride-share program. But the ride-share and Park and Ride really complement each other…Hopefully between the two, people can enjoy their commute a little more,” Harrington said.

And, she added, she’s hearing positive feedback not just from riders, but from business owners, as well.

“They’re very much in favor of it. You know, if two people leave one car behind and the car stays there all day, a lot of times when that person gets dropped back off at the end of the day, they need to run into the grocery store, and there’s one right there. So, [store owners] feel like it brings them business,” she noted.

Once the MPO has its Transportation Demand Management program finalized, Harrington said she will begin more formally gathering data on ridership—through looking at the number of cars at a given time several days in a row, and evaluating ride-share numbers, for example.

And, she said, the MPO will begin looking at additional Park and Ride sites in Brunswick County, as well as New Hanover and Pender counties.

“As our population continues to increase, and people to continue to move to this area, as traffic congestion is probably going to get worse…I think this is a good opportunity for people to carpool, vanpool or park and use transit,” she said. “We’re hoping to develop our Transportation Demand Management program later this year. One of the priorities is expanding Park and Ride lots. We’ll start having conversations with other land owners or business owners other planners in the region and see if we can collaborate and find other ideal locations.”

Some of the areas keyed up for possible Park and Ride lots include I-40 coming into Wilmington, U.S. 17 from the north and N.C. 133 in Leland.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@hometownwilmington.com.