Public Transit: Not Just For City Folk

As some of you are aware, I am currently on the other side of the continent, enjoying some relatively good weather (fingers crossed) in the Puget Sound area. One of the things I always try to do when traveling is to ride around on whatever public transportation is available. Part of the reason is so I can better envision what might work in North Carolina, but another reason is because you get to interact with locals on an equal basis. You're not just a tourist asking stupid questions, you're a fellow passenger, so you can be trusted with all sorts of local gossip. :)

I spent the afternoon yesterday with another BlueNCer (DQ), and one of my goals for the day was to get where she and her husband lived using nothing but public transportation and my two feet, which I succeeded in doing rather well. We're not talking about a metropolitan area folks: these are pretty much exclusively residential townships, separated by thinly developed areas of 5-10 miles or so. After walking two blocks from my sister's house, I changed buses four times before being deposited 1/8 of a mile from my destination. $1.25 a pop, and I sweettalked a few free transfers along the way, so it cost me less than a gallon of gas each way (monthly passes are considerably cheaper).

I've heard (and read) many naysayers who claim the ridership of these systems in N.C. will be thin, and wouldn't justify the huge expenditure. To this, I say: build it and they will come. It may take a couple of years, as people aren't always quick to embrace change. But they will come. And although areas like Chapel Hill have very decent bus routes already, the system only serves those with local needs well, and begins to come apart as you get farther away from the hub. Which is why we need at least robust regional systems, if not a statewide one.

We have a unique opportunity to build a bus/light rail system which would serve the needs of many, not just those living in high-density population centers. But it can't be a hodge-podge of local efforts that happen to occasionally overlap each other. The entire system needs to be designed so that (like here) you get off one bus, and five minutes later your connection pulls up to get you. It sounds complicated, but it's really not.

I also wanted to talk some more about biodiesel. I've been highly critical of this movement lately, but that's mainly because we are (in my opinion) moving in the wrong direction by using food crops as a feed stock. We've been looking at the easiest route to ethanol using current low-tech methods, when we need to focus energy and resources developing methods to refine/process cellulosic biomass from waste and turn it into fuel. But I have a feeling this is another case where the free market is following the most lucrative path, and doing the right thing just isn't economically enticing enough. Frankly, that's one of the reasons we have an elected government: to take steps when other entities won't or can't. North Carolina, with its University system and huge mindbank of researchers in the RTP should be at the forefront of developing this technology, instead of helping to drive up world food prices and feverishly digging more landfills.

I can see a future where most of us don't need to own a car (or SUV, hint hint), and the transit network we utilize helps us keep our wastes under control. And that future is not a fantasy scenario: it is infinitely achievable, we only need to want it enough to make it happen.

Comments

I have friends that live outside Montreal, QC, Canada in the

suburb of St. Hubert and work in the city. They own a small car but very seldom drive it, and never into the city. They take the train into Montreal to the Metro and ride the Metro to their places of employment.
They also only have a very small refrigerator, about half the size of mine, as they tend to do their shopping daily at small markets on their way home. This way they are assured the very freshest of ingredients (especially produce in the summer), freshly baked breads, etc.

It is a different lifestyle for sure, but one that I would have NO problem becoming accustomed to in a very short time.

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

I lived in the environs of Pittsburgh, Pa for 16 years.

I often worked on one side of one of the 3 Rivers and lived on another, and rarely had to drive to work. What I saved in car payments and gas, I paid for with time, but I like to read, and you can do that on a bus, you know? I loved it. If it's feasible, I'm all for it. I'd love to see light rail moving up and down and across this state, and state of the art biofueled buses carrying children to school and people to work, unless of course, they were all able to walk and/or bike to their destinations!

I love my car. But I'm willing to let it sit in the driveway when I can. :)

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
Pointing at Naked Emperors

Your car would appreciate the rest :)

And so would your wallet. From NCPIRG's report (fat pdf):

America’s Transportation System
Is Extraordinarily Expensive
America’s local, state and federal governments
spend more than $150 billion
annually on expanding, maintaining and
operating the nation’s highway network.32

But that figure doesn’t begin to account
for the large expenses American households
face in owning and maintaining
vehicles. In 2005, American consumers
spent more than $900 billion on vehicles,
fuel and other vehicle-related expenditures.
33 Vehicle and related expenses accounted
for 17 percent of total household
expenditures—more than households
spent on food and clothing, combined.34
(See Figure 4.)

The more automobile-dependent the
metropolitan area you live in, the more
money you are likely to spend on transportation.
Residents of areas with robust
transit networks spend approximately 10
percent of their income on transportation,
compared to as much as 25 percent
in auto-dependent areas.36

The more than $1 trillion spent by
households and governments on highways
and automobiles does not include hundreds
of billions more spent by businesses
on facilities for cars—particularly parking.
The annual cost of providing parking
has been estimated to be as high as $500
billion per year, including the value of the
land on which those parking lots sit.37

I want to thank Brad and David (excuse me, Congressmen Miller and Price :) ) for their efforts in this area, and encourage everybody to take the time to read this report.

But I thought Skip Stam said

that nobody would ride a train? At least that's the tune he was singing back in 2005 ...

Rail Funding Criticism: A group of state House Republicans has written to US Sen. Elizabeth Dole, recommending that she not help secure funds for the Triangle Transit Authority's regional rail project. The project is planned and designed but needs $484 million in federal money to be built. About 15 House Republicans have written to Dole; the 120-member House has 57 Republicans. "We believe that is a wrong thing for you to do," the Nov. 21 letter says. State Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, helped coordinate the letter. People will not ride the train, the letter says, and so it shouldn't get tax money, according to The News & Observer.

Are you telling me he doesn't/didn't/willnever know what he's talking about?

"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." - Harry Truman

"They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum Then they charged the people a dollar 'n a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Choo Choo Stam?

the Nov. 21 letter says. State Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, helped coordinate the letter. People will not ride the train* Railroad Model Maz

Boy! Will Skip be surprise when Gas goes to 10 dollars a gallon and he can't find a place on the Choo Choo to Downtown Raleigh except by bicycle.

Yeah, they think the only

people interested in something like this are the extreme low-earners who can't afford a Lincoln MKV and probably don't even have a driver's license anyway. Why would decent folks want to ride with that type? And why should taxpayers spend money just so homeless people can ride back and forth?

We've got some real winners stealing oxygen there at the NCGA.

Gods, yes, please, better public transit...

When I was expecting my first child, I lived in San Jose, CA. We didn't buy a car until I was nine months pregnant and couldn't make it from work to home without a pit stop. :)

Things their light rail/bus line had that NC would do well to emulate:

1) You could transfer between buses at any point. Not all buses went downtown. This saved a lot of time if you were trying to get somewhere. Instead of having to go all the way downtown every time, you could transfer to a bus where its route crossed your first bus.

2) Monthly passes available at grocery stores, drugstores, and other places.

3) Stops at places like Caltrain. Amtrack stops in Cary and Raleigh would be useful and benefit both.

I loved riding public transit there. The highway could be at a dead standstill, and I'd be going down a city road at a higher rate of speed. I could get to the mall a full twenty minutes faster on the bus... with all stops!

Buses with bike racks

Nearly every bus I've ridden on here had at least one bike rider catching a ride on the bus, and most of these folks were going to/coming from work.

The highway could be at a dead standstill, and I'd be going down a city road at a higher rate of speed. I could get to the mall a full twenty minutes faster on the bus... with all stops!

While I was typing the above, the Today show was talking about a competition in New York between an automobile driver, a subway rider and a bike rider, on who could get to work the fastest. The bike rider beat the subway rider by a few minutes, but they both beat the car driver by a huge margin. ;)

If you build it they will come.

Look no further than UNC Hospital to prove that point, stand outside at 8am any morning or at 5pm any afternoon and watch the public transit buses/vans/cars from counties all over the state pour in and out of the hospital. With gas at $4.00 a gallon, more and more people are going to be willing to carpool/bus to their place of work. We have gotten so used to convenience (getting in the car to grab lunch) that we forget it wasn't always so. People used to flood out of the mills/mines/plants and sit on the walls eating their lunches out of pails. There was a reason, they walked or took public transit to work.

Live local. Eat local. Walk or bike to work. Look into telecommuting one day a week.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me