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.