Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Denver's Light Rail Better Damn Work

When I read this article about the plans for light rail stops south of Denver to create walkable neighborhoods, I thought of Atrios' preference for "urban villages."

Some question the workability of having the light rail so near the freeway, or the commute to get to the light rail stations. But I also read this article
"We'll have one unbroken line of cars from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins," said Jeff May of the Denver Regional Council of Governments. "We're just not doing enough in terms of the growth we're seeing."

It's part of the reason I think Denver light rail will be successful, and why Refs C & D will pass. That and $3 gas.

Now, I grew up in the Bay Area, where an average commute for me by car was 45 minutes, one way, going opposite commute traffic in off-hours. I understand traffic. I lived in San Francisco -- a compact city, to be sure -- for awhile without a car, which had decent public transportation, so I understand that, too.

But then I also lived in Jacksonville, FL, which -- for such a large city, the largest city in area in the U.S. -- has the most abysmal public transportation I've ever experienced. I don't know why they bother.

The bus on the major street near my house passed by once an hour or so. I remember a woman who needed to take the 5 minute ride to her job by 8:30am, so took the 8:20 bus, which usually came between 8:25 and 8:35, but occasionally came at 8:45 or -- I'm not joking -- 8:15. We got off at the same stop, but I was lucky my son's preschool started at 9.

They have a light rail called the Skyway, which sometimes has half a dozen riders on it at one time. It started in a business area in which the businesses all had ample private parking and ended a couple of miles away at the community college, which also had ample free parking. Another mile east on the river was a whole sports and events complex, which included Alltel Stadium (where they had something called the "Super Bowl" this year), and the Skyway didn't even go there! Dear God, I think Jacksonville's Skyway made me go a little insane just now.

Did I mention how incredibly corrupt the city government in Jacksonville, FL is? Another special tidbit about their public transportation...the ticket offices are only open from 7-9am, and usually, when you put your money in the "turnstile," it won't open, so you have to hit a little button to talk to a disembodied voice and ask to be let in.

Which is why Denver's light rail must work. It makes so much more sense. I remember riding it for the first time with my husband, and we were so delighted about how it went to places that we actually wanted to go. And the trains run frequently (unless you're trying to make it to a concert) and are full during commutes. One flaw...you might be able to get away with riding for free. There are no turnstiles to enter, they rely on a "conductor" to check tickets, and conductors can't really get around on a full train. (After the Green Day concert, we could have rode for free, but my conscience made me dig the change out of my wallet for the tickets.)

Final thought, two words: bullet train.

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