Friday, December 08, 2023

What About Public Transit?

Nicole & Maggie have a post up today about public transit/greener options for moving your people around your city. I left a comment over there, about the method being used up the hill, in the city where our state's flagship university is located, Fayetteville. 

You can go over there and read it, but basically, the university owns and runs a fleet of free buses ("free" in that they are partly paid for in student fees and partly by tax dollars from the city) which anyone in the city can use, not just students. They and the city also own, together, bunches of public bicycles, electric bicycles, and scooters, which again, anyone can use. I think there's a small (like a twenty-five cents an hour) charge for using them, which can be paid for with a debit card or money put on student ID cards. 

And the city and the university together built and maintain an extensive series of bike trails which cover most of the city and link up to nearby cities -- these are dedicated trails, where cars are not allowed. The problem with most bike "lanes is that they share the road with cars, which is dangerous for the biker, obviously. These trails are for foot, bicycle, or scooters only. Well, I've also seen people on rollerblades. But no cars allowed.

The result is that by using the university buses and the bike trails, most of the city is accessible to people who don't own or don't want to drive cars. And the university itself, while it has parking lots, charges so much for parking stickers (like hundreds of dollars) that many students, professors, and university staff do use the buses and the bike trails. My kid, who works at the university now, takes the bus to work and walks home each day. (Walking to work is a problem, since it's pretty much totally uphill.)

This is the sort of public transit/green option that can work for a small-ish city in the South. Light rail, when it works, is wonderful -- I spent some time in DC and in New York when I was in my 20s and 30s, and I loved, loved, loved their transit system -- but it's not practical for the sort of city we have here in Arkansas, with less than a hundred thousand people per city. (Much less than that in most cities here).

That said, traffic in Fayetteville is still horrendous. Many of the students are rich kids, so they all own cars; and there has been a lot of development due to Wal-Mart money, so all the cow pasture that used to surround the city is now being built up into housing for those kids, as well as for all the workers who support those kids; as well as for Wal-Mart executives and all the workers to support them. Since many, many people live in Fayetteville but work for Wal-Mart in Bentonville, the roads are jammed at rush hours and lunch hours and indeed much of the time. 

A nice light rail between Fayetteville and Bentonville would be lovely, but is also unlikely, since even with the hugely increased population (more than doubled since I was a student there) there's not a large enough population to support it. And also, Arkansas is definitely a car culture. All around me, here in this working class neighborhood, I see people renting a house for maybe eight hundred dollars a month, with three to five massive vehicles parked outside, each one probably with an average car payment of four or five hundred a month. 

And the city doesn't run many school buses here. Instead, someone, some parent or grandparent, drives the kid to school in one of those huge SUVs or trucks and picks them up, every day, with the result that certain roads are just not useable in the hour or so surround drop off and pick-up days -- lines of cars half a mile long in some places block traffic on the two-lane roads that surround the schools. (There are buses available, but you have to live more than two miles from the school, so they aren't used much. And no parent is here letting their child walk to school. Honestly, the only kids I see walking to or from school are immigrant children. And no child can ride a bike here -- we don't have sidewalks, or even bike lanes. Many kids never even learn to ride a bike, because nowhere here is safe to ride. My kid, for instance, never did.

There was an initiative here several years ago to put in bike trails, similar to those in Fayetteville. But of course our voters voted it down, just as they voted down the proposed tax to give more money to libraries. No public goods here, thank you. What are we, communists?

So I own a bike, but there is nowhere I can really ride it -- it's just not safe to take a bike on the local streets, none of which have bike lanes, and most of which have no sidewalks -- and we pretty much have to drive everywhere. When I took the Disability and Diversity workshop this semester, one of our assignments was to figure out how to get from various places to our university via public transit, and holy hell, is our public transit system a joke. For example, it only runs until five-thirty, and only starts running at seven-thirty. To get from my old neighborhood to the university, you would have to ride the bus down to the central station, then catch another bus out to the university -- it would take about two hours. Cost is $1.25, with a free transfer, each way; or a monthly bus pass which costs $35.00. And even with that, you couldn't take a night class, and no one could realistically use that as transportation for a job.

So you have to own a car here. Hence the lawns filled with massive cars, and the workers burdened with massive car payments. 

But at least we're not all paying an extra six or seven dollars a year in our taxes for any kind of public transport system, I guess.

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