Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ass transit

Back in the day, before auto companies convinced the city to rip it up, Cincinnati had a great streetcar system downtown, complete with funiculars that went uphill to great neighborhoods like Mt. Adams. Now, though, Cincinnati has terrible mass transit. Like most major urban areas in the U.S., Cincinnati has seen whites and capital flee the city's center for the suburbs. Ideally, the city would have multimodal mass transit, since downtown hosts many jobs but relatively few homes. Instead, we have a bus system that isn't bad but can't serve as the only mass-transit system for a metro area that serves roughly three-million people. (Only about 300,000 of the people live in the city proper.) Help is on the way, but slowly, as is Cincinnati's wont.

I like riding the Metro system here, especially since its acronym is SORTA, while Northern Kentucky's is TANK. Those seem appropriate, since Northern Kentucky has taken advantage of development possibilities, while Cincinnati has lagged behind. Also, though I live in Mt. Washington, I can walk one block to the bus stop, and route 24 drops me off at UC's campus. For me, that's forty minutes of reading. If I want, I can put my bike on the front of the bus and ride once I get off. It's an effective system but not nearly enough for a city.

Below is a map of Metro's bus routes:

I've overlayed that with an image of Cincinnati's population density:

Set aside for a moment the fact that I suck at Photoshop. (Technically, I don't, since I don't have Photoshop, but still.) It's pretty clear that the bus routes serve the most populous areas but drop off pretty significantly after that. If you don't live near a bus stop, or if you need to transfer, you don't have much choice but to drive. In terms of energy efficiency, we might as well be riding asses. (Hence the title of the post; get your head out of the gutter.)

Imagine rail lines going up and down I-71 and I-75, with Park & Rides that correspond roughly with interstate exits. Imagine a rail that follows the Columbia Parkway, continuing up North through Mariemont and Milford. And a rail that goes along the Norwood lateral. Not only would those cut down on the horrible traffic in the city, but they'd also help people save money on gas and support development throughout the city. Plus, we have a bad smog problem thanks to the river valley; cars only make it worse.

These aren't pipe dreams. (I hope.) But they aren't happening anytime soon, so in my next post, I'll write about how my wife and I are getting the most gas mileage out of our car.

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