Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Some thoughts on transit

There are transportation statistics galore flying around these days. The more you read them the more confusing they get.

First there was this snippet from the San Francisco Chronicle
Amtrak, the passenger rail service that struggled for years to attract riders, drew a record 28.7 million in the year ending Sept. 30. That is 11 percent more than the year before and the sixth straight year that ridership has increased. Ticket revenue hit a record $1.7 billion, a $200 million increase from a year earlier.
Last year's high gas prices caused many to find other ways to get between cities.
Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., said higher gas prices and concern about dependence on foreign oil have made people more willing to invest in passenger rail.

"There is an appetite for city-to-city rail," Rendell told reporters recently. "Why should we be different than any other country in the world? You go to Europe and you can't get an airplane to a city less than 200 miles away."
Then came this from the same source. Transit ridership up, highway travel down in 2008
People made 10.7 billion trips on public transit in 2008, a 4 percent increase over 2007, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Over the same time, Americans drove 3.6 percent less on the nation's highways. Gas prices peaked at more than $4 in July before falling, but ridership remained strong.

In 1956, Americans made nearly 11 billion trips. However, the percentage was much higher because the country had far fewer people — about 170 million compared with some 306 million today — and not as many cars.
The date 1956 is significant because that was the year that the Interstate Highway System was enacted and the Highway Trust Fund was created. It was also the year that the Thunderbird and the Corvette became established as America's dominant sports cars. Two years later the word "sprawl" was coined to mean the unfettered growth along these new Interstates.
Public transportation use in America peaked in the 1940s and steadily declined after World War II as more Americans moved to the suburbs and highways were built. The number of people taking transit bottomed out in 1972 at about 6.6 billion trips.
Lexington was little different than the rest of the country. Here the streetcars closed down in the late '30s, as I have said before. The buses held sway as the shape of the city was small and compact. It was the mid-'60s before Lexington began to wildly expand develop.

1956 brought IBM to Lexington and more importantly a class of corporate executives that were used to the types of suburbia in the New York/New Jersey area. Larger ranch style homes on lots of about 1/3 of an acre and a little farther from the downtown district. Land and houses were(and still are) cheaper here and these people didn't mind driving at all.

IBM was just the opening of the industrial expansion for Lexington. We wanted clean manufacturing and took just about any industry without a smokestack. Ohh...for those days again. We now need the manufacturing plants and jobs that really make things.

The one thing that the Yankees did not bring with them was a willingness to use public transit and the local transplants(from eastern and southern Kentucky) brought their "drive to the big city and back home" style of transportation mind set. Therefore, is it any wonder that Lexington is one of the highest driving metropolitan areas in America?

The Brookings Institution released this study in December. The Road…Less Traveled: An Analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled Trends in the U.S. in which Lexington is identified as 89th in the top 100 metropolitan cities in the U.S. in terms of total Vehicles Miles Traveled(VMT). Eighty-ninth! Out of 100. That means the 88 other cities drive more than we do. Until you look at the population differences. Lexington rates #87 in terms of VMT per capita. Thats 6,892.1 miles per person, in 2006. There are only 12 other metropolitan areas that drive more per person than we do.

But there is some heartening news here too. In looking at the Lextran ridership numbers I am glad to see that every month, in a year over year comparison, that the percentage ncreases have been mostly in the double digit range and the year end totals 16.2% for 2006-07 and 11.5 for 2007-08.

I'm sure that there is more to be learned from all this but it may take some time.

1 comment:

topazsfp said...

I for one really wish that this city was more cycling and bus friendly. I know several people, myself included, who would ditch cars completely if the buses ran more than every half hour - especially at night.
We can also encourage individual neighborhoods to consider their design; some of them (especially slightly older ones) would work well with introducing mixed-use areas within walking distance.