Monday, November 16, 2009

Trolley Concepts

After reading a commentary in the weekly newsletter Destination: Freedom, I now have a fresher concept of proposing and laying out a viable trolley system for Lexington. What if we allow the users to determine the route "tweaks" that will make the system really work for the people.

We have long looked at places like New York and Boston or Chicago and asked, "Why can't we have something like theirs?". The simple answer is, we don't have the population to merit something as big as those. But we can begin to build a basis for a system to grow to that scale. The larger systems in America and those in Europe have been established for well over 100 years. We, in Lexington and many other cities, had systems that could have grown into what we sometimes envy in the rest of the world. Even those in our larger cities went through a stagnant period where they stopped growing or shrank to barely subsistence levels and are just now seeing a renewed expansion phase.

Lexington has talked about a new trolley circulator route or two( I can't really call it a "system") for nearly two years. They have assembled the equipment and done the public surveys to determine the routes and yet I now hear that they will wait until spring to begin service. They want everything to be "perfect" at the outset. That will assure the acceptance by the publicand make it a complete project.

Many of the light rail project that have been undertaken in the past decade have had their detractors and some have struggled for precisely the reasons put forth by those detractors (Randal O'Toole and others). Often, it seems, the chosen routes are from some perceived central location yet not easily reached by a majority of the people without some other motorized transportation method. Way too many of them rely on park-and-ride lots for their stations to succeed. A steetcar or trolley system(tracked or not) need not follow this same methodology to determine routes or destinations.

Campus planners on a small scale and urban planners on a larger scale have for years placed sidewalks and streets respectively and through observation and traffic studies rerouted those sidewalks or redesigned those streets which gained the most usage by using the "desire lines" of the users of the systems. Such a method could and should be used in the circulator trolley routes being pursued today.

First establish a general route direction and then let the riders assist in tweaking the routes under certain guidelines (no deviations more than x number of feet per y number of blocks traveled). This allows the rider to determine for himself whether the trolley ride is effort effective or not. Secondly, the frequency need to be such that one will see the trolley (or streetcar stop or tracks) and allow the impulse buying instinct to kick in. This may encourage travel to a more distant destination with the same effort. Thirdly, the routes should allow for adjustments and changes in climates of the seasons and business. The whole idea of a service is to be flexible and cater to the needs of those being served. The user's needs should come before the desires of the provider, otherwise the user will find an alternate solution.

As I have stated before, I am not greatly enamored with the idea of a rubber tired version of the trolley but I can see that using this to help in determining an optimum fixed route, "heritage style" streetcar is a benefit toward future planning efforts. This is then something that we can build upon in an effort to achieve that which we now envy in the Europeans and others around the world.

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