Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lexington will get "Trolleys" again, sort of

Today Lexington received four transportation grants, supposedly to solve our congestion and air quality problems. These are called CMAQ grants and are given to innovative or special situation projects. You can read about them here. Two of these grants are really just "feel good" money wasters and one of them, the largest, is a repeat of a past mistake that died a painful death years ago.

Lextran wants to return to "replica trolleys" in a downtown circulator system and this grant will allow then to purchase 4, yes only 4, fake trolleys to run continuously around a pair of less than 1 mile loops. This was trendy idea in the '70's and created quite a stir among the normal downtown occupant of the day. They were used by many as a novel way to celebrate special occasions. Eventually the newness wore off and they started to show their age and they didn't age well. The funding necessary to keep them running dried up and the only people riding were the lower income residents, some of them riding only for the companionship of somebody to talk to.

I will be first to say that I want trolleys to return to Lexington. I want "real trolleys", the ones with tracks and routes that go into the residential areas and collect people, deliver them downtown and return them home again with their purchases. We had those once and they worked, worked well, and at least 30 cities in the U.S. have or are considering streetcars/trolleys as a solution to their transit problems. These cities are not the largest or the most famous in America and they are moving forward with their plans. Lextrans request lists as goals these three items.

1. Enhancement of Lexington's existing public transportation system

2. Reduction in traffic congestion and improvement of air quality as a result of increased transit use

3. Boosting downtown tourism and the city's image as a world class city

Enhancement? How does a diesel guzzeling, decorated school bus inhance the transit system? And how will these trolleys increase transit use if they carry the same riders that would be using the existing routes. Does anyone really think that people will ride these things for only a few blocks to avoid walking more than the distance from their car to the store entrance.

This bring me to the idea of downtown, which I posted on yesterday. Did these people talk to the Downtown Lexington Corp. so that they could coordinate on the defination of downtown. DLC, in their report, list eight landmarks that are claimed to be in downtown, some of them are more than 1 and 1/2 miles from the old courthouse. Lextran's coverage area is less than a quarter of that. DLC want residents to come out to dine and shop and attend entertainment venues, then go home after an enjoyable day/night. Lextran, from the input meetings I attended, talked about transporting people from shops to work and Main St to Campus(UK or Transy), nowhere was there a mention about transit from home.

Can anyone tell me how a fake trolley will boost tourism? Will you travel to a distant location for the express purpose of riding or watching a fake trolley? There are transportation museums around the country that are struggling to have tourists come see the real thing, so who will come see the fake ones?

And then there is the idea of Lexington as a world class city. In whose alternate reality is Lexington a world class city? We have a world class basketball team, everybody knows that, and we have loads of world class horse farms. We even have world class distilleries, but just how much of their product do you have to imbibe in order to think that Lexington is a world class city? According to the dictionary, world class is defined as an adjective meaning "being as good as anyone else in the world in a particular field"and our downtown is nowhere near Cincinnati, Chicago, LA, New York, Paris(France) or Rome. We will never be a world class city. We have world class snobs who have homes here; who will tell you that we don't have a world class city.

So I have to say that these grants, although they bring money into Lexington, will avail us nothing if we don't do things right and go for real trolleys and a real transit system, then we are just throwing money down the drain. We need to stop going after feel good and start doing good.

Come see me when we get a real trolley running, I'll be the one grinning from ear to ear and feeling real good.

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