Thursday, 29 January 2004
|1905 - Mass transit gushing in the media|
Everywhere there's been a light rail line built recently, the media has gushed over it. Never mind that it's a limited system, designed for a minority of people to use. They just love spending taxpayer dollars on such things.
The light rail line in Minneapolis is due to open soon, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Nick Coleman wrote a column gushing over the prospect. Here's the reply I sent in as a letter to the editor:
Nick Coleman's column on the new light rail line inspired me. I want to jump right on board. There's only one problem: It'll take me two hours to drive to the closest station.
Tell me again: just what will that multimillion-dollar boondoggle do for those of us outside the Cities?
current mood: annoyed
Well, it _is_ the Minneapolis paper.
Isn't this what a CITY tax is for? Or do things not work that way in MN? They've been talking of raising KC Metro tax to do public transit, but the same problems arise: it'd be like the bus -- it wouldn't serve outside the city too well, it'd have crap hours and inconvenient stops, and I'd STILL be paying for it (though the "paying" part may not be totally true for the bus).
Sure, I'd go for a rail system if I could hop on and actually use it to get where I need to go. Beats the smeg out of battling lousy drivers every day.
The Minneapolis light rail system is being financed with a heavy dose of state transportation dollars.
I don't know much about the Mnpls. light rail. However, I *do* know that the time is coming when we (generic and national) MUST do something about our overdependence on automobiles.
I am forever grateful I live in a place with an efficient 24 hour transit system.
The problem is that not every place is like NYC. (For that matter, it's arguable that there's no place quie like NYC, but that's another discussion.) Rail transit is inherently only effective when you have a large, dense population in a small area, or an area that has large numbers of people going to one part of it. This is true for the NYC metro area, and almost nowhere else in the US.
I'm more familiar with Hosuton than I am Minneapolis, obviously. The light rail line there was rammed through over the populace's objections by the former mayor because he thought Houston needed ti in order to become a "modern city". The result is a $350 million white elephant that goes where few people will get regular use out of it. It's been said of the Minneapolis line that it would be cheaper to buy each of the riders a Mercedes, and I have no trouble believing it.
The automobile is a symbol of the American dream. Without it, we'd all be forced to live in places like NYC. While that's fine for some folks, many, many others want no part of it. They want to live in a single-family dwelling with a yard and room to spread out. They want the freedom to go places and do things on a weekend without having to depend on anyone else. They want to not be packed in shoulder to shoulder with a few million strangers in a few square miles.
There is no answer to our dependence on automobiles that does not imply destroying Americans' hopes and dreams. I think that's an unacceptable tradeoff.
I don't agree with this, and the numbers back me up. The fact is that due to suburban sprawl and overbuilding of new, single family homes in what were once rural areas, we are seeing increasing commute times and traffic problems as well as an ever-increaasing reliance on oil (which aint a good thing, no matter how you slice it.) The problem is not the light rail itself. The problem is that they're using it incorrectly. It seems that it would make much more sense to link outlying areas to the cities via commuter light rail rather than attempt to make inter-city communting. Suburban folks generally want nothing to do with the city on weekends, and city people don't want the suburban people there anyway. Commuter rails from suburb-city and even suburb-suburb address this need.
As per your other comment about spreading out with a yard. Gotta tell you, but unless the growth rate sharply drops in the next 100 years or so, you can be grateful you are not going to live long enough to see the end of that dream as well. We have outgrown our own "dream", and the day is coming that people will no longer be "entitled" to a single family home with an individual plot of land, in the sense that you envision it now. People will still have single family dwellings, but they won't look like what we imagine now. People will still have cars to use for weekends and travel, but for day to day commuting the traffic will be too much to bear, as cities create tougher and tougher taxes and regulations to discourage automobile use within cities.
So either we stop the population explosion, or we change what we are willing to accept.
I see a different end result, based on my Houston experience: instead of longer commute times, people will, instead, decentralize. Instead of commuting to a business-heavy downtown, businesses will locate all around the area, offering their employees another way to avoid long commute times. Thiws prospect horrifies city planners, since it throws a monkey wrench into their carefully planned ways to tell people how to live, but it works.
Light rail, in this scenario, is an unnecessary and useless Band-Aid.
I don't pretend to know what the country will look like in 100 years. I believe, however, that people will find solutions to the problems that require neither NYC-style rabbit warrens nor long commutes. Living in crowded conditions like NYC is not for everyone, and people will find ways to avoid it.
Yeah, the Metrorail line here opened recently, and I can only think of two places it goes anywhere near that I might ever be interested in going to: the Houston Zoo and the downtown public library. I only go to those two places rarely, and in both cases, I might as well just drive there.
Ooo, not to mention that since it opened, there've been eleven cases of the train colliding with cars or trucks, mostly from people making illegal left turns in front of the train.
Actually, I might use it to go to the public library, just to avoid parking downtown.
OTOH, I've never set foot in the place...
You're one of the very few people I can see getting any use out of it, since you live nearby.
I can't see myself getting any use out of it. It doesn't come any closer to my house than Astroworld, which I don't consider within walking distance anymore. I haven't even crossed the tracks, except once a few weeks ago when I went to the zoo for a local furry meetup.