Monday, January 9, 2012

Public Transportation: How Do Small Cities Move Forward?

Although I have wondered this prior to today, I am starting to think I would find life more to my liking in another country - it's no longer even a move to another city, but a completely different country. How very sad. While I do love the city I live in, it's incredibly frustrating to want to see positive change and realize that it takes politicians such a long time to get anything done. While the citizens of this fair city were able to "fight the man" and develop their own power municipality over 100 years ago, apparently, decent public transportation is not at the forefront of most residents' minds. If it was important, I doubt that there would be rest for the folks at RTD or for local council people.
Old mill - this is part of the potential site for the new bus/rail hub.  The building was set on fire by a couple of teenagers almost two years ago now, though it hadn't been used for some time.
Rather than going into great detail about plans for the city's bus system and eventual rail system, I think it is interesting to note that in order to move forward, if the project had an additional 4 cents on every $10 the completion would be done by 2019, if there was an additional 2 cents on every $10 it would be done by 2027, and if 1 cent on every $10 was received, completion would take place by 2035 (Info here). The thought of the rail system not being completed until 2035 (or later) is outrageous to me. In my mind, even 2019 is too much time lost, but at least it would be completed within the next 7 years. For this project to take nearly 25 years to complete, well, let's just say that I am not willing to wait that length of time to be able to have better transportation.
Although I am outraged at the length of time to complete this project, in many ways I also feel powerless to do anything to move it forward any quicker, and I suspect that others may feel the same. Yes, we can attend meetings to get information and put our opinions in to the mix, but will this make any difference? I don't want to be unreasonable about time frames and what it takes to build structures and transportation systems, but is anyone really going to notice 4 cents on a $10 bill?

I do believe that so much of this is centered around the reality that many residents are still completely tied to the idea of using their cars as the main source of transportation, and view it as their right to be able to drive wherever, whenever. I don't begrudge anyone their personal vehicle, but I think that having a usable, reliable public transportation system in place would help eliminate the traffic on roads, and would only benefit the folks who want to drive as well. I actually had a conversation with a local acquaintance a couple of years ago during which she said there is no way she would give up her car - that it was her personal freedom, and she would drive until the day she dies. I don't even know how to argue with someone who sees a car as personal freedom, but I also don't think I need to engage in an argument with someone over this topic. I do think that many would see the benefit of public transportation if it was accessible and easy to use, however, and that this would speak volumes to many different folks from all walks of life.

Denver is an approximate 75 mile (120km) round trip for residents of Longmont (depending on where one is going it could be slightly less or more), and having a rail system in place would make this so much easier and efficient, I believe. So, what do we do and how do we do it? If you are local, there is a planning meeting (otherwise known as an informal citizen brainstorming session) taking place on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 from 6-8p.m. at the public library (unfortunately, I will be in class and unable to attend). This meeting seems geared more toward trying to figure out how to develop the space around the future transportation hub than the transportation system itself, but it's a start (and is also very important to the vitality of the city). I'm wondering if there are readers who have had experience in dealing with a similar situation with public transportation and what your city and/or residents did to help encourage the project along. Even if you haven't had to deal with this, perhaps you live in a city that has a great transportation system and can offer advice to a smaller city that needs to be connected to a larger city through a mass transit system.

I don't have answers (as is typical), but I would love to see this project move forward quickly, and any thoughts, opinions, etc are certainly welcome.


  1. There's a lot of us who've given this very idea a lot of thought. Because building a transportation system is so expensive, it is almost entirely at the mercy of the government for funding. As we all know, government funds are currently down as well, so the government is not looking for a way to spend money faster. And so it goes. The political will is not really there because most of America lives in rural areas, love their cars, and rural areas will not have a lot of benefit. It's really hard to get us out of our cars. We are very spread out in this country compared to Europe.

    As for moving to another country, you hate to leave your relatives and basically your life to start over. Then there is the curious problem of being able to work and create a living there. Retirement someday? There's a lot of unknows.

    The other option is to move to a bike friendly city in the US. Obviously, Portland comes to mind. In looking at this option, I noted that all the really bike friendly cities are in cold climates. I don't like cold climates and would prefer to be in a warmer region, even warmer than where I live here in Atlanta. My ideal climate is Key West. So moving further north is not a consideration for me. Bottom line ---- if you like a warm climate and a real bike friendly city in the US, you may be S-O-L.

  2. i've never heard of driving as a "personal freedom." driving seems to give people a sense of freedom. but i feel like drivers are at the mercy of gas prices and parking. doesn't sound very "free" to me!

  3. I live in a not-so-small city in another country, and even here we struggle with public transportation infrastructure spending. Perhaps not to the same degree as in the US, but it's definitely a pain point for anyone who lives outside of the city of Vancouver proper.

  4. LuckyChow - I'm not leaving the country (though I often wish it were the case). As you point out, finding a job before moving would be quite a challenge, so unless I win the lottery - well, let's just say, I'm not going anywhere. :O)

    I do prefer the warmer climates, and I think Colorado has been about as much a winter area as I would be able to handle. Fortunately, even when it's quite cold, the sun shines quite a bit... the only thing that gets me through the snowy times (I know, I'm a wimp!).

    Ridonkulus - I agree that driving (to me) is certainly not a personal freedom, but some people really feel that way.

    Cecily - No place is perfect, unfortunately, and I think living outside of any major city is the biggest issue. Making the choice to live in the 'burbs vs living in a city is always the decision I struggle with personally. I like the smaller town feel, safety, etc, but I like the amenities (including better transportation) in a large city.

  5. I lived in the old city of Louisville before moving to Flagstaff and swear I'll never live in amother small town or the suburbs ever again. I hate not having easy access to public transit. People here are very married to their cars despite how small the town is and having good multiuse paths for walkers and cyclists. I think a lot of voters here support funding public transit but don't use it themselves.

    I think if you want to support public transit the best way is to use it, invite others to use it with you so they can see how easy it is to use and get involved in your city's transportatio planning commission (even if it is just to go to meetings). If you have an alternative transport org join it and try to be a voice of reality rather than pie in the sky expectations. Many in the public believe the alt transport crowd want to take away their car and some activists do a pretty good job of reinforcing that notion. I think it always helps to begin from a point of agreement. Everyone wants personal freedom but it looks different dependig on who you are. For me car ownership is an expensive burden, though I do own one. I just don't want to have be forced to use it. For me personal freedom allows for a host of options. When asked about my reasons for biking, I stick to the really easy to relate to explanations: built in exercise in my day, saving money on gas, great for stress reduction, and fun. Yes, I like the carbon footprint stuff but for most people it just doesn't sound that compelling. Just you doing what you are doing by using public transit and biking and blogging about it really does more than you think. You're an influencer. You've probably already gotten someone you know to think about bike commuting and taking the bus, if you haven't already turned someone into a convert. My example influenced by cousin to begin bike commuting and using public transit and she has since influenced her husband and one of her best friends.


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