The Triangle’s transit troubles

Seats.jpg(Cross-posted from the Action NC blog)

I have decided that it’s time to replace my car. It’s a clunker, to say the least. With more than a decade on the road and well over the 100,000 miles on the odometer, the old girl is just starting to fail.  My car has become so unreliable, in fact, that I thought it might be a good idea to figure out how I would get to work if one morning my car just decided not to start.

Every wonder how you would get to work if you didn’t have a car? The short answer is that you probably wouldn’t. And if you could, it would take you a long, long time to get there.

To go from my home in North Raleigh to my office in Downtown Raleigh, it takes roughly twenty minutes to drive the roughly ten miles. To take the bus, the only available form of public transit in Raleigh (or almost anywhere in North Carolina, if it’s even available) it would take more than an hour and a half, in the best case, assuming no traffic and no late buses. And I’m lucky – I’m within walking distance to a bus stop, and there is a bus stop very close to my office. If you had to walk more than half a mile on either side, the time would be even longer. The real problem is that many areas – areas with good jobs – aren’t even accessible via bus. My wife can’t even take a bus, any bus, to her job in RTP, because the routes don’t move in that direction from our home.

So, to those who say we don’t need a commuter rail system, I say you have never had to worry about your car breaking down. Or not having a car. Or you just don’t care about those of us who do.

Thankfully, Durham County residents will have the opportunity to vote on a referendum next week that will take the first step in implementing a real transit system for the Triangle. You know, the region that is expected to see more than 1 million more people move here in the next twenty years? The place that a recent study of traffic congestion found that congestion in a single year resulted in over 18 million hours of travel delays and 11 million gallons of excess fuel consumption, with the combined cost of those inefficiencies estimated to be $346 million?

You know, the place otherwise known as our home?

A regional public transit system is not a luxury – it is a necessity. If you think a rail system is expensive, just think about a million more cars on the already crowded roads and all the gas you will be burning while inching along I-40. How about a million people who are ready and able to work, to be productive, tax-paying members of the community, but can’t get to work because they don’t have cars or worse, can’t afford to gas up the ones they already own?

Don’t you think a half a cent sales tax increase is worth avoiding all of that?

7 Comments

  1. Michael Dayton

    November 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Greetings, Kevin,

    Plan B: why not try riding your bike? Raleigh is on an ambitious program to expand cycling routes from North Raleigh to downtown. Advocates like yourself can really help the cause by showing motorists that a two-wheeled commute is a viable alternative.

    Best, Mike / Raleigh

  2. Goingforward

    November 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    You are correct about the need for improved public transportation. Just don’t expect to live far-out and have a direct ride to where you are trying to go. Public transportation will never be able to accommodate urban sprawl.

    Improved public transportation will focus on certain heavily-used corridors primarily with buses and some rail. This will encourage denser development rather than urban spawn. The result will be improved quality of life, higher property values / tax revenues (so tax rates can remain low), less traffic, and less pollution.

    Public transportation should be there for as much of the region as is reasonably feasible as back-up, or for the few who would rely on it (such as Nannies in rich neighborhoods). However, undoubtedly, a good public transit system in a large low-density area such as Raleigh, requires focus.

  3. Kevin Rogers

    November 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Fair point Goingforward- public transit will not go everywhere for everyone all the time. But the areas we see now as sprawl can, with proper planning, become in-fill areas of nice density in a decade or two. As you point out, it has to start w/ use of the corridors, but can, in time, grow around the transit hubs. I think the point we’re both stressing here is that we need to get started – and be smart about it.

    And thanks Mike – I have done the bike route a few time and will do so again. it’s not just practical at this point for a daily commute, but does make the right day very enjoyable.

  4. Balaji

    November 3, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    My observation is Raleigh and the Triangle region as a whole has a woefully inadequate public transport. Both connectivity and frequency of service are bad. With the kind of growth expected in Raleigh, developing the infrastructure requires great focus and has many challenges.
    Raleigh and the Triangle may have to shift to a high density urban planning before it is viable to have appropriate service levels and returns on public transport.
    A rail will help, but it has to be scientifically planned. We need to designate transport hubs within each part of the triangle and design a hub and scope transport model.

    My humble opinion is, with three leading universities in the area, why dont we call upon each one’s expertise to design the best transport network for Raleigh? It will be cost effective and innovative. A coordinated lead is required to achieve this dream.

    Thanks for the great article.

    Balaji Soundararajan

  5. JeffS

    November 3, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    People who do do not own a car consider transit options when they decide where to live, work and shop.

    Most car drivers, yourself included, have not. They buy a house and then use the lack of public transit options as a convenient excuse to justify their car habit.

    Chances are, someone who wanted to forgo the car-centric lifestyle has already left the area, leaving behind the worshipers of sprawl, highways, and low-density development. Then again, somehow the people without the money to own a car manage to get by as well.

    There is little hope of “fixing” Raleigh transit, solely because the public does not want it. Every time it comes up the devolves to trips to the airport or the RBC center. Places the average person goes less than once a month. The trips we make every single day are rarely mentioned because they have no intentions of using it for that.

  6. Kevin Rogers

    November 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Actually, Jeff, we did consider transit options when we purchased out home. I can walk to grocery stores, restaurants, and recreation, and I was very close to work. I have since, however, changed jobs, which obviously changed many calculations, including my commute. This is exactly why a strong public transit system is important, especially to lower-income folks who have less control over where they work and live. The reality is that not everyone who wants to “forgo a car-centric lifestyle” can afford to do so, and public transit can help close that gap.

  7. Eric

    November 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    The average age for a vehicle on the road is over 10 years old. Im my ten years of owning only cars over 100,000 miles Ive only been stranded one time, and that just required a brief jump start. A new car can break down as well, but proper maintenance on your car is key for reliability.
    I agree that improved public transit would be wonderful in the future, but how old will your car be by the time its set up?