Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Everybodys talking - Nobodys planning

In today's entry for Naked City, Mary Newsome relates that John Muth of Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) gave a presentation to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission on Monday. Regardless of the content of the presentation, I find this to something worth thinking about. In my 30+ years of watching the doings of planning in Lexington, I have never, I repeat, never seen the representatives of Lextran or their predecessor approach the Lexington Planning Commission to present anything, much less a report of their thoughts on transit planning.

The Lextran board and staff seem to have an agenda and process for dealing with the growth of Lexington. From what I can see, it looks like We'll wait until it shows up and then we'll deal with it...maybe. Mass transit in terms of land use decisions is always an afterthought. The Planning Commission's process for dealing with growth looks like We'll see what they bring us and see if we can tweak it until we like it... or it is tolerable. Mass transit in terms of land use decisions is a never thought. The Urban County Council's process for dealing with growth looks like The larger our population the more Federal dollars we can justify...or at least ask for.

From the very beginning Lexington's mass transit options have been privately held corporations operating under a franchise granted by ordinance. The omnibuses, the mule drawn streetcars and the electric trolleys were all private corporations. They built the lines for the people and built some entire residential developments specifically for the streetcars to service. It is only since other private corporations lobbied for and influenced legislation to remove the streetcars that they evolved into a motor bus system. Then, as they struggled and slowly declined, did the government step in and assist in the operation of a mass transit system, and barely funded it at that. It is now assumed, nationally, that governments, local and national, are required to operate any mass transit system and many do, so as to assist the poor and under privileged in reaching jobs and remaining employed.

There have been several commenters on Mary's blog who are blatantly anti-transit, as expected, and they echo the many other anti-transit folk nationwide. Most of them call for a transit system to be self sufficient and pay for itself by fares. This, of course, is countered with the claim that drivers should pay for the roads and those who call the police should pay for that service. This of course cannot work, but under that scenario, I would pay for the construction(but not the maintenance) of the sections of the arterials that I drive to work each day. As there has been no construction on any of the roads I travel on my 7.5 mile daily round trip, in the last 40 years, what do I owe and to whom?

Some say that the gas tax pays for the roads, well, yes and no. The gas tax does go to fund the Federal Highway Fund, but I can use local streets that were built by private developers as far back as the 1920's and are maintained by the local general fund, without a cent of Federal money. So, what I pay in gas tax goes to pay for your benefit? In reality, the roads built in the urban areas is paid for by the more rural counties, so how is that fair?

This argument also shows up on the Overhead Wire, in his entry about Salt Lake City . Here we find the regional planners wanting to go with a reversible lane setup and HOV lanes, and the local council wants a light rail system. A couple of legislators want to plan for the future demand and not for the current ridership. My question is; Would the Interstate highway system have been implemented nationwide based on the demand of the 1940's (without the military influence, of course). I'm glad to see that some city councils wish to direct the growth and type of growth in their jurisdictions.

Lexington can say that they want mass transit and then do everything possible to make it easy to avoid using said system, or they can build the system and then do everything possible to encourage the people to use it. These would include, but not be limited to:
  • Reducing parking
  • Eliminate extra lanes
  • Increase vehicle fees
  • Congestion pricing
  • Implement land use decisions dependent on transit
For that last one all the parties involved would have to get together and get on the same page. Now I know that the Council and the Planning Commission will hold a joint session soon, but the Lextran board is still missing from the mix.

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