|Path through mangroves-- I wonder if there are snakes in the trees?|
Sanibel Island, Fla
My first reaction to realizing the impact the proposed elevated light rail would have on Aldersgate was to fire off an email to the congregation, giving them the link to Triangle Transit’s virtual tour and encouraging them to write, phone, or email their county commissioners, whose contact information I had found on the Internet.
Immediately, I encountered the obstacle so common in congregations composed of older members, even in tech-saavy Chapel Hill. Many folks seemed unable to click on the link and watch the virtual tour. Perhaps their computer systems were too antiquated to run it. Or maybe they didn’t want to see it, or perhaps they didn’t know what a virtual tour was, or they thought their computer would get a virus. Who knows? Very few people watched it, although I did hear a lot of, “Pastor, I couldn’t figure out how to do that.”
One person told me I was exaggerating when I said in my email that the light rail was going to come “right through the church’s front yard.” I discovered Aldersgate had met more than a year ago with Triangle Transit, who told them the train was going to run well away from the church building, in the grassy median between Fordham (Hwy. 15-501) and Fern Aveune. That was Aldersgate's understanding, anyway.
“That’s not what the virtual tour indicates,” I replied to the man. The virtual tour says Fern Avenue will be relocated. When he finally watched the virtual tour, he was outraged – this was NOT what the church had been told! Meanwhile, I called the public liaison person at Triangle Transit, and she answered some of my questions.
She admitted that yes, light rail is planned to come very close to our church building; in fact, it is going to destroy some of the sanctuary’s front steps. But Triangle Transit would commit to rebuilding those steps in a sideways direction. Fern Avenue, the narrow street that provides access to the church building, will always be open to traffic, even if it’s only one lane, she told me.
I tried to imagine what that would look like – orange barrels, dirt road, construction debris, giant beeping trucks, and monstrous piers to hold up an elevated train. The train, incidentally, will run every 15 minutes, and will be about the same height as the church’s front entrance, which is 18 steep brick steps high, facing Fordham.
“Your church has a strange architectural design,” the woman told me, implying that having to climb 18 steep bricks steps was an odd way to welcome people in through a church’s front door. I gnashed my teeth. I was not the pastor of Aldersgate when the new sanctuary was built several years ago, but I had been on the district committee that supposedly oversaw the architectural design of the new sanctuary. The committee had expressed the same concern, among others. Somehow the new sanctuary got built anyway without corrections. Eighteen steep brick steps were, in fact, a major design flaw. Just try getting a casket up or down those steps, I wanted to scream.
“Can’t you have it cross Fordham a bit earlier so it doesn’t impact us so much?” I asked. No, she said, that would make it impact the N.C. Botanical Gardens directly across the street from Aldersgate, and federal law prevents that.
“We’d like to come out and meet with your church and explain everything,” the woman said soothingly. “When would be a good day?” So we set an afternoon date about two weeks in the future.
Our path forward was about to get complicated.