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Transportation Options Redux

A while back, I did a series on transportation options. I recently stirred the pot (as I’m wont to do) on Facebook and that discussion generated enough activity to warrant another post here.

What got this discussion going was an observation that the new proposed bus rapid transit line (EmX) in Eugene would result in approximately the same number of bus trips on the road as currently exist. But it would end up being one bus every 10 to 15 minutes instead of four bus routes running every half hour. And it has proven to increase ridership. Having ridden both the regular bus lines and the EmX, it seemed to me to be much more efficient and convenient than the system that currently is in place.

This, of course, generated a flurry of comments and opinions. I do have a group of Facebook friends with widely differing views on many topics, even this one. I enjoy this, because it generates lively discussions and topics to write about here.

I’m also going to make my comments here in the framework of the triple bottom line. The TBL concept is one that, I believe, we can apply to most any topic, especially one related to transportation. And it’s an easy format for me to use. So I will talk about my opinions related to the EmX in the context of economy, environment, and equity.

Some of the comment related to the EmX discussion are centered on economy. The new line infrastructure will cost about $95 million. Yes, that’s a lot of money. About $75 million will be from Federal funding and the remainder from State funding. LTD (Lane Transit District) has already factored the additional operating costs into their budget.

It’s sometimes hard to separate thoughts and ideas into three simple categories, too. As I often say, “everything’s connected.” So there are some economic equity issues, too, but I’ll save some of those for the other sections of this post. So bear with me as I try to categorize my thoughts as best I can.

Aside from the initial costs of EmX, the impact on businesses during construction is also a concern often raised. And while I think it is a valid concern, I also believe it’s still worth it. In the current two EmX lines that have been constructed, not one business has gone out of business because of the EmX. I also have noticed that none of the current businesses along existing EmX lines have joined the “No Build” sign war currently going on along the proposed route. It would seem to me that if the EmX resulted in such an adverse impact on businesses along the routes, those businesses would be joining the fight. But they aren’t.

With all the concern about cost and the complaints about traffic congestion along the West 11th corridor, I wonder what impact simply widening the road would have and how much that would cost? Businesses would still be affected by the construction. Even more right of way would have to be obtained from private land owners. And I think we’d just end up with six lanes of congestion instead of four.

Historically, the EmX is more efficient for LTD to operate and will inevitably increase ridership. Both are win-win situations.

I have always been a strong proponent of protecting the environment. Transit systems are inherently more efficient and create less pollution (by about 95%) than single occupant vehicles. Simply, if you have 55 people (seated) in one bus, versus 55 vehicles, there is less air pollution, congestion, etc. And the EmX buses are hybrid electric, using less fossil fuels.

One point to make, too, is the proposed EmX route will also upgrade bike and pedestrian connections along the route. That benefit seems to get lost in all the hoopla and hyperbole. We have a decent bike route along the new EmX route, but it has some major gaps. We also have a marginal sidewalk system along the route. The proposed extension also upgrades those. Options.

This one is where I have the most passion. We have a society and transportation system that relies heavily on the automobile. So much so that we have effectively legislated a culture that requires you to have a car to get around. And yet we have many people (including friends of mine) who don’t own a car, can’t afford a car. And some can’t ride a bike.

When you think of this, if we have a society where a car is pretty much required to get to a job, how are those who can’t afford a car supposed to find and keep a job? And if the bus system is inefficient, requiring long waits to transfer, that keeps the husband away from his wife or the single mom away from her kids even longer (just as an illustration). We are perpetuating a cycle of social inequity and injustice.

I’ve had some say the EmX conversation is pitting the “98% against the 2%.” In reality, according to the US Census, 64% of Eugene residents commute by single occupant vehicle, 8% carpool, 5% bus, 7% walk, 11% bike and 5% work at home. EmX is trying to even out these numbers to make transportation more equitable for people.

Change is often difficult. Investing in our future is also hard. It forces us to think and plan beyond the “now.” And as a culture, we’ve gotten away from that. We have developed a mindset of the immediate. From fast food to streaming movies on the internet to text messaging, we have placed unrealistic expectations on our culture. We have also become selfish. If I’m part of the 64%, why should we spend all that money on the others? After all, it doesn’t directly affect me.

But it does. There are societal issues we are facing (poverty, crime, dissent) that, I believe, are a direct result of us not considering the impacts decisions we make have on anything or anyone other than myself. And that’s where I fear we may miss the mark.

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7 Responses so far.

  1. Susan says:

    Well said.  Thanks.

  2. Rlj says:

    I use the bus, EmX and a car. I realize the value of the EmX route from Springfield to Eugene Station, but your argument holds no water with the lack of use of the Gateway EmX, and I cannot see it being utilized enough to validate it for W. Eugene.

    There are plenty of capable buses already running out there. It won’t get people to their destinations any faster.

  3. No room or ridership in Eugene says:

    You are making the much flawed comparison between the existing EmX routes, that are located in the medium, to the proposed Eugene route.  Making this comparison is stupid and irresponsible.  There are many differences between these routes, the biggest one is the fact that there is no room for the WEEE, and 1/3 of the route will be run in mixed traffic, in 10 different sections. 

    Go talk to the Springfield Cleaners business owner.  The EmX caused them to lose almost 1/2 of there customers.  LTD said, well, that’s the cost of doing business.  SC also also claimed the Springfield routes DID cause several businesses to go belly-up.

    Wanting people to ride the bus, and actually getting people to ride are two different things.  The social impacts of this project have not been considered.  It’s all about “free” money, I know it, you know it, LTD knows it, and the public knows it.  LTD is a non-elected government agency; a public vote should be held.  

  4. Bill Randall says:

    Thank you all for your comments (even the person whose post was pulled; feel free to resubmit your remarks as we discussed).

    Rlj: Could you give me a source of data for the “lack of use” of the Gateway EmX? I’m not able to find any recent data on ridership since that line opened other than the whole EmX system has seen an increase in riders.

    No room: I disagree with you that the comparison of routes is “stupid and irresponsible.” I look at the full vision of the EmX and all the proposed routes and believe it all makes very good sense. Especially in light of the social impacts. I also realize it isn’t “free money.” 

    As to wanting people to ride and actually getting people to ride, I’m part of those who own a car, can drive whenever I want and actually ride the bus as one of my options. And the times I have ridden, most buses (regular and EmX) are full or nearly full.

    I will commit to doing some more digging on businesses and impacts if those of you out there who maybe have not ridden the bus would try it sometime. It works.

  5. No room or ridership in Eugene says:

    Historically, the EmX is more efficient for LTD to operate and “will inevitably increase ridership.”  Is that an opinion, or can you cite a basis for this ridershiop claim.  LTD has made predictions in the past that have not come to fruitition, such as their park-and-ride located in the W. 11th Fred Mayer parking lot.  Less than 25% of the lot is used on any given day.  Face it LTD can not force a culture on an unwilling public. 

  6. Bill Randall says:

    No Room: from http://www.masstransitmag.com/article/10221176/brt-update?page=6: 
    “Station platforms provide level boarding to decrease dwell time and increase accessibility. Other time-saving measures that are employed include transit signal priority and queue jump lanes. The combination of these measures is expected to save LTD 40 percent in travel time savings over the next 20 years.Since beginning service in January 2007, ridership has increased by approximately 70 percent, with an average weekday ridership of more than 4,600 boardings. Public acceptance is also high, with a recent survey yielding an average rating of 7.4 on a 10-point scale.”There are other sources I could cite on ridership, but I’m sensing your mind’s made up.As to the Park and Ride at Fred Meyer, I shop regularly at Fred Meyer and the bus stop there ALWAYS has a number of people waiting. So judging the ridership on the basis solely of the number of cars in the Park and Ride lot is probably not an accurate measure of how many actually use the bus.