Posts Tagged ‘mass transit’

Rails to Trails Progress Report

September 7, 2009

It seemed like a good transportation move when Columbus voters approved a sales tax for capital improvements that included a railroad trolley from downtown Columbus to Columbus State University. Rail is the most energy efficient way to transport masses of people. However, instead of following through with the trolley idea, city leaders decided to dig up the old railroad tracks the trolley would have used. They decided that not enough folks would ride the trolley to make it financially feasible. Maybe they were right. Maybe.

However, replacing those tracks with asphalt for a Rails to Trails project could be considered energy efficient, too. Folks riding bikes and walking the trail will not be burning fossil fuel, and will be improving their health.

Rails to Trails biking and walking trail under construction, Columbus, GA

Rails to Trails biking and walking trail under construction, Columbus, GA

Columbus City Planner Rick Jones tells me that the first phase of the Rails to Trails program, an asphalt trail from downtown Columbus to Columbus State, is about a third of the way through. When you look at the asphalt that has been laid from 14th Street in downtown Columbus almost to Hardaway High School, you would think it’s more than a third finished. However, other things have to be done. 

One of them is a rest station which is under construction near Hannan Elementary School. It will feature a concession stand, rest rooms and a parking lot. One of the construction workers told me that, at the rate construction of the rest area is going,  the building should be finished in about a month.

Rails to Trails rest stop under construction, Columbus, GA

Rails to Trails rest stop under construction, Columbus, GA

The second phase, from Columbus State to Cooper Creek, Jones tells me, will get started in about a month. He says the Rails to Trails project should be completed in   about a year.

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Gov. Perdue Climbs Aboard High-speed Rail for Georgia and America

June 4, 2009

The return of  rail transit is inevitable.  It’s just a matter of time because it is the most efficient form of mass transportation, not only in fuel economy, but in reducing out carbon imprint.  Instead of continuing to pour billions in pouring concrete and asphalt to expand highways, that money can go to building rail systems. 

The news that Govenor Perdue was in Washington to meet with Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican appointed by President Obama,  about giving his support to the Obama plan for a national high-speed rail network is encouraging. The President’s plan calls for two high-speed trains to go through Georgia, with Atlanta being the hub. Read all about it by clicking on this link to the AJC’s Political Insider.  

Georgia Transportation Folks, The Way You’re Doing It Now Doesn’t Work

December 1, 2008

  Why oh why doesn’t the Georgia legislature stop stalling development of commuter trains in the state?  My Friday night nightmare trip on rainy I-85 from Atlanta to Columbus made me once again reflect on how frustrated I get over the never-ending lane construction on I-85, and how difficult it is to get politicians to accept inevitable change. Trains are coming back because there are simply too many automobiles clogging the highways. The solution is not to continue to pour millions and millions of tons of more concrete and asphalt. The solution is mass transit.

  They learned this a very long time ago in New York City, London, Paris, Berlin and other major cities in the world. Atlanta is working on it, but is a long ways from providing enough mass transit service to come near to solving the problems of gridlock.

Wikipedia)

Baltimore-Washington International commuter Train (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

  The highway arteries leading in and out of densely populated areas are a part of the problem and that can only be solved with commuter trains. Every time I drive to Atlanta on I-85 I reflect on the astronomical costs and unsafe travel conditions caused by construction for adding more lanes. Running two rail lines up the center of I-85 would seem a lot simpler, less costly and saner policy.

  The state does have a plan to develop rail transportation, but the legislature won’t fund it. They talk about it, but when it actually comes to switching funding priorities, they back off. Why? So far, I haven’t seen a good answer to that question. I did read where Governor Sonny Perdue is backing implementation of a the Lovejoy to Atlanta commuter train because it is practical to get it up and running on existing tracks soon.  But, I’ll believe something is actually being done when I see it.

Comparing the Cost of Driving to Using Mass Transit

July 19, 2008

 Hey! The price of gasoline has dropped below $4 a gallon. Who can resist such a bargain?

 

 

But diesel is still way up there. What if you had to fill up this baby?

 

There is one good answer to this, public transit. Let’s take a look at the difference in cost.

 

Right after I took the shot of the pickup, the driver and his young son came out of the gas station’s convenience store. After mutual greetings, the conversation with the young daddy, a friendly man, went something like this.

 

  “Do you use this truck for work?”

 

  “Oh, no. It’s my play thing, but I do drive it to work.”

 

  “Any idea what gas mileage it gets?”

 

  “Not enough,” he answered with a smile.

 

  “How much?”

 

  “Oh, on the highway, about 18 miles to the gallon.”

 

 “That’s pretty good for a truck that size.”

 

  “Yeah, not bad. In town it’s about 13.”

 

  “What does it cost you to fill it up?”

 

   “About a hundred dollars.”

 

   “How often?”

 

   “Once a week.”

 

   “That means you are paying $400 a month for gas.”

 

   “Well, actually, 500.”

 

   “Do you plan to switch to a smaller vehicle?”

 

   “No. This one is paid for.”

 

   “What you are paying a month for gas amounts to a good car payment.”

 

    “That’s true, but this one is paid for, and even if I wanted to switch, I couldn’t get much of a trade-in for it now. The capital expense would mean I wouldn’t save by switching.”

 

  Just think, if he were still making payments on it, and paying for maintenance and repairs, it would be close to a thousand dollars a month.  

 

    Well, what if he used public transportation? In Columbus, at $2.50 a day for round trips to work, it would run him something like $55 dollars a month. That’s $55 compared to $500. In Atlanta, it would run him about $77. In New York, $88.

 

  Even if he considered taking a bus, he probably couldn’t because he probably lives in a suburb which has no public transportation.  I didn’t think to ask him, but the chances are high he does live in a suburb because so many people do. And that’s another big problem. It’s called sprawl and it’s all over America.

 

 

  

 

    

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

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Metra Plans for The Future

July 17, 2008

 

  I did something I haven’t done since 1949; I rode a Columbus city bus on a regular route just to see what it is like now. (I have ridden on chartered city busses since then.)  I took the Uptown route because it is the shortest one. I was not comfortable. The wooden seats were hard, really close together, and sometimes I wondered if the bus had any shocks or springs on it, but that was because the Uptown route uses only “trolleys,” busses that look like trolleys.

 

Metra Trolley Bus, 2008

Metra Trolley Bus, 2008

 

 

 
  I think perhaps the real trolleys that Columbus had in the 1900’s rode better because they were on rails and rails don’t have bumps and potholes. The bus trolleys are quaint and perhaps add to the historic district atmosphere, but the people who ride those busses regularly would be better served with the regular, comfortable busses that travel the other eight routes in Columbus. Maybe the trolley buses could be used just for Historic District tours and special events, etc.   
 
 
 

 

 

 Columbus, GA Trolley on 10th Street in 1900

 Columbus, GA Trolley in 1900   Courtesy, Georgia Dept. of Archives and History

  

 The bus made a lot of stops, causing the short route that goes from the transfer station on Linwood Blvd on a loop through downtown Columbus and back to take almost an hour. That route did put the bus stops within two blocks of just about anywhere downtown. And it was definitely being used as people got on and off a lot. At least they didn’t suffer as much as I did on those hard seats because I rode the whole route.
 
 
 

 

 

Metra Trolley Bus Interior

Metra Trolley Bus Interior

  

  As Metra Director Saundra Hunter and I discussed the future of mass transit, we agreed It is a far more fuel efficient way of transporting masses of people than private cars. Also, it leaves a smaller carbon footprint. But, for it to increase ridership , the system has to become more convenient. 

 

  

 Miss a bus at a stop now and you have to wait an hour before another one will come along. She says the system hopes to go to a half-hour between arrivals.  That is going to mean adding 15 new busses to the 40 the system now has, and hiring additional drivers and mechanics.  However, that cost will be offset by an increase in riders.

  

 With the price of gasoline expected to stay high and perhaps get higher, public transportation will, of necessity, make a big comeback. The question isn’t “if” but “how soon?” It took $4 a gallon gas to make people finally switch from their gas guzzling SUV’s and monster trucks to smaller, more fuel efficient cars. It is understandably hard to give up with convenience of cars. I can remember how liberated I felt once I got my first one and didn’t have to walk across the street – we did indeed , at one time live across the street from a bus stop -.to a bus stop and sometimes have to wait up to 15 minutes to catch a bus.  15 whole minutes! I still prefer my car, but I’m willing to switch. It would be a lot cheaper for me to ride the bus downtown from north Columbus, but the nearest stop is two miles away. Guess I could drive to the stop, but I’d have to have a place to park. So Metra has some kinks to work out before it can handle a big switch to buses, but it knows that and already has plans to make the changes.

 

 

 

 

  

Metra Ridership Up by 7 Percent

July 16, 2008

 

  When Saundra Hunter went for her regular workout at a spa, she noticed that a fellow exerciser’s husband was waiting for her in his car. Her friend, who has to pay $100 to fill up her SUV, explained that she leaves it at home a lot now.  She said that it just costs too much to fill it up, adding, “We have stopped going everywhere in separate cars very much. He even takes me to work and picks me up when I get off.”

 

Saundra Hunter, Metra Director

Saundra Hunter, Metra Director

 

   There is another even cheaper way to get around town: Metra busses. Some folks have figured that out, and ridership is up. Saundra, who is director of Metra, said it has already increased 7 percent over last year. Metra customers average about 82,000 rides a month.

 

“I expect that trend to continue and we’ve been getting ready for it.”

 

  Who rides the bus?

 

   “The low income, or ‘dedicated,’ group is the majority. However, we are getting more ‘riders of choice’ now.”

 

  “Dedicated” is a nice way of saying they can’t afford cars or taxis. “Riders of choice” means they can, but opt not to, because too much of their income is going to pay for gas.

 

  Not only is this group going to grow, it is a positive thing if it does, we agreed. Mass transit is not just cheaper, it’s much more fuel efficient if enough people use it, and it leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

 

  However, to encourage more riders of choice, some improvements will need to be made. For one thing there is too much time between busses. You miss one and the next one won’t be along for an hour. Metra has plans to start running busses every half hour. That’s not going to be cheap.

 

  “We’ll have to buy 15 new busses, and hire more drivers and support personnel,” Saundra told me.  Metra now owns about 40 busses, with more than 20 in operation at any given time.  

 

       

  

 

Metra Bus

Metra Bus

 

   I told her that when I was a boy, back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, busses were ubiquitous, arriving at bus stops every fifteen minutes and bus stops were within easy walking distance of most places.  My family had a car, but my dad used it in his business so I ended up riding the bus a lot.  I had a lot of company. A lot of families didn’t even have one car back then.

 

 

 

Columbus Buses at Transfer Station, 12th and Broadway, 1944

Columbus Buses at Transfer Station, 12th and Broadway, 1944

 

 

 

  Also, I walked and rode my bike a lot. People tried to live close to relatives, schools and shopping areas then. Instead of supermarkets that were two miles or more away, you had the neighborhood grocery store. Also, you could order groceries on the phone and they would be delivered to your door! Really! I think there was a minimum amount that you could order to get the service, though.

 

 I was a short city block away from 11th Street Elementary School; a block and a half from an aunt, uncle and four cousins; and about four blocks away from three movie theaters and retails stores. But, if I wanted to go all the way out to the Royal Theater, which was about two miles away,  or over to Idle Hour Park in Phenix City to go swimming, play arcade games, bowl or play on the playground (I broke my leg on that playground) , I took the bus.

  

 When I started to go to high school, I took the bus. The stop was across the street from 11th Street Elementary, which was even a little closer to our house than the school.

 

   Also, a big difference then was that the busses were operated by a private company. They could make a profit. That, like Scarlett’s Old South, went with the wind.  Transit systems are municipally owned and they don’t make a profit. “There are no public transit systems that are not subsidized by the government any more,” Saundra told me.

  

So public transit is on the way to making a comeback. It is going to require a different mindset, not only on the part of potential riders, but governmental leaders. Everyone is still thinking in terms of cars and roads.

 

 

 

Impact of the BRAC Impact Hearing

June 23, 2008

  Last Tuesday evening I got the feeling that most people are still in denial about the huge way our world is changing and how they are going to have to change with it.

 

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  BRAC hearing at Columbus Public Library

 

  At the BRAC impact hearing at the Columbus Public Library, we all were given the opportunity of saying which of our transportation needs should have the top priority when 30,000 new folks with their thousands of cars and trucks move into the area.

 

 

                                          Voting Remote

Casting my vote

 

 

  When five options were listed on the screen, we used our voter remotes to register our choices. After all of the clicking was done, not to my surprise, the vast majority, 53 per cent, clicked on “minimize congestion.”  

 

                                         

 

 

“Add new sidewalks and bike trails” came in second at 22 percent.

 

 The one I clicked, “improve transit service” came in 4th at ten percent, beat out by “repair existing roads” at 12 percent.

 

  Last, and a big surprise to the folks who were conducting the hearing, was “improve access to Fort Benning,” at only 4 percent.  After all, the growth at Fort Benning is the reason for the big influx of people to our area.

 

  One man in the back of the room said he was surprised that “improve transit service” got such a low vote. I joined him in that opinion and said, “Considering the energy future, you have to wonder why people are still talking cars and roads and not mass transit and rails.”

 

  The man sitting next to me joined in with, “When gasoline hits $12 a gallon you are not going to have to worry about traffic congestion. People won’t be driving their cars.” 

 

  Retiring Deputy Superintendent of the Muscogee County School District Dr. Robin Pennock, said, “Solving the traffic congestion problem will take a combination of all of the options on that list.”

 

 

                                          

  Dr. Robin Pennock, Deputy Superintendent MCSD

 

  She was right, in my view.

 

  The BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) issue is bringing out a lot of other issues that are important to our community. They would be important, even if the

area wasn’t about to grow by about 30,000 people in the next few years.  I’ll be discussing them in future posts.