Thursday, May 13, 2010

Prospects for Rural Transit

First of all, let me say that I am a city person. I love being in big cities, and I venture to them nearly every chance I can get. I enjoy the lively atmosphere that cities can provide, the high-quality public space, the cultural attractions, and the fact that both businesses and buses stay up past 10pm. However, I'm currently the resident of a suburb (though a very urban-ish suburb), and I spent most of my childhood in a rural town in the San Gabriel mountains. On this thread, Chewie and I got into a discussion about whether or not rural areas are permanently shackled to the automobile. I say no, and for a few reasons.

First of all, I think there is a misconception about what rural areas look like. In most cases, rural people cluster in towns. Sure, there are some people who live completely isolated, miles from the nearest human being, but they are few and far between. Even in farm communities, where it was once common for farmers to live on their farms, several miles outside of the nearest village, large agri-business firms are increasingly taking over farming duties, and workers at these sites arrive in the morning and leave in the evening. Most of the support personnel- schoolteachers, sales clerks and shop owners, government officials, and other people who serve the local community live in town- and rural towns are often very walkable places. (Even this score is brought down significantly because pharmacies and movie theatres are two of WalkScore's categories- neither of which exist in the town. Check out Delano, CA- a rural farm community big enough to have those amenities.)

Since rural areas are, by definition, lacking in population, rural transit networks serve a different market than urban ones. In cities, transit often takes you to a different part of the city. In a small town that you can walk across in an hour, transit's function changes- certainly, there is some in-town service (like in Delano, or Hanford or Wasco), but the primary goal of rural transit should be to link neighbouring towns, and especially smaller towns to larger ones. In most cases, rural transit that serves both of these roles exists, and it could be improved to the point that it would be a desirable way to get around. In many of these towns in the central valley, the heavily-used Amtrak San Joaquins provides 12 daily trains to points north and south, with connections to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I also think that car-sharing services will play a key role in small towns in the coming years. Car-sharing is an easy way to get people to transition away from the personal automobile- it allows people to think about a transit-centric life, while keeping access to a vehicle in case they need one.

Anyway, I should return to why I think transit and car-freedom can work in rural areas. Short answer? They will have to. Like our entire civilization, rural areas will have to transition to a post-oil existence over the course of the next century. We must wake up and see what a scarce and precious resource oil actually is, and save what little is left in the ground for those purposes that require it- plastics and modern agriculture- and stop using it to frivolously flit about in single-person cages. Transit in rural towns is never going to be as developed as in cities- Wasco will never need a subway, and Wrightwood will not see trolleybuses any time soon- and some people will remain too far off the grid to ever serve practically. We need, however, to start moving every town of any size off of its auto addiction, rather than keeping this harmful mentality that transit is only a big-city sort of thing. The future of our civilization depends on it.

4 comments:

Chewie said...

The interesting thing about Delano apparently is that it has an extremely high rate of workers carpooling for the trip to work (32%) and virtually nobody using transit for the same trip (1%). (http://factfinder.census.gov)

One of my favorite cases is Avalon, on Catalina. Admittedly it's kind of a weird case since it's on an island and confined by nature preserves. It's so small you can walk across it, and if you work on the mainland you have to take transit: the ferry. In Avalon 50% of workers walk to work!

k said...

OFF TOPIC:

May 17 6:00 pm PUBLIC HEARING for Metrolink EXTENSION OF THE 91 LINE, RCTA, PERRIS VALLEY LINE UCR, Riverside Extension, Conference Room C, 1200 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92507 http://perrisvalleyline.info

OPPORTUNITIES TO COMMENT CLOSES MAY 24

COMMENT ON THE RCTC Draft Environmental Impact (EIR) Report on ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS of the PERRIS VALLEY LINE which is available for Review (public comment closes May 24) http://perrisvalleyline.info/

The Draft EIR will be available online in the Documents http://perrisvalleyline.info/documents.asp section of this website April 5, 2010.

The close of the public comment period will be May 24, 2010.

Hard copies of the Draft EIR are available at the following locations:

RCTC Office
4080 Lemon Street, 3rd Floor
Riverside, CA 92502-2208
(Monday through Thursday only)

Riverside Public Library
3581 Mission Inn Avenue
Riverside, CA 92501

Moreno Valley Public Library
25480 Alessandro Boulevard
Moreno Valley, CA 92553

Perris Branch Library
163 E. San Jacinto Avenue
Perris, CA 92570

Woodcrest Library
16625 Krameria Avenue
Riverside, CA 92504

Highgrove Library
690 West Center St.
Riverside, CA 92507

k said...

OFF TOPIC

June 10 at 1 pm Greater Riverside Transportation NOW Coalition (T-NOW), Zacatecas Café, 2472 University Ave, Riv

Western Riverside Transportation NOW is dedicated to promoting and expanding transportation alternatives.

http://www.riversidetransit.com/meetings/transnow.htm

ONE TOPIC OF DISCUSSION
IS LATE NIGHT (to midnight)
BUS SERVICE

Want night bus service from UCR to downtown by Plaza and to Tyler Mall? (eg RTA 1 line).

CAVEAT: RTA does not have money for buses running to midnight now, but the TNOW group is discussing the costs, means of funding a a test run of some type of late night service, discussion of type of buses and/or taxi owned vehicles, days the service would be provided with weekday evenings being the current focus, but also discussing weekend night service, and also service for special events.

Discussing what benefits late night services may bring to businesses, residents, students, workers, special events, citizens who rely on public transit and want to attend Council or other meetings, and perhaps visitors is under discussion as well. Ideas of ways to raise money in absence of RTA funds, at least for test runs which could provide numbers which could support the need for future RTA funds for night service is being discussed.

For example do Riverside City Council members and/or County Supervisors have special pots of money, from which a portion could be donated as seed money for a weekday test. Can business who may benefit from more folks stopping in to shop, eat, donate some such as from Downtown groups; Plaza groups; Tyler Mall, UCR, Cal Baptist; donations from citizens groups or ?

RTA, City of Riverside and County of Riverside, Leaders, and others need to work to RUB OUT THE STIGMA that criminals and down and out folks ride the bus, and CHANGE THAT THINKING such that EVERYONE including BUSINESS LEADERS, POLITICIANS, etc EVERYONE Rides the Bus. That is what happens in New York, London, Cambridge, Toronto, San Francisco, most major urban areas, IT IS ACCEPTED FACT THAT EVERYONE RIDES THE BUS, even BILLIONAIRES.

That said, we need to wipe out the damage done by ongoing statements about Greyhound made by Riverside City Council members in past years, and turn the table so that folks WANT to RIDE the BUS for its convenience and benefits (dont have to fight to find parking, feed the meter, or pay parking tickets! for example)

Community support and monies are needed to get this off the ground for a test run Attend the TNOW meeting above to give your comments.

CITIZEN INPUT IS NEEDED if Riverside is to ever get late night bus service.

ATTEND the TNOW meeting and discuss YOUR ideas.

JN said...

Chewie- I would guess that a LOT of folks who live in Avalon (one of my favourite tiny cities as well) have a boat, so they can avoid the ferry. We also heard of a couple who made the 26-mile crossing on Sea-Doos, though that's not an option in bad weather.