Monday, November 10, 2008

The Tensions of Light Rail Travel

Although some of us are disheartened by the failure of Proposition M, we are not entirely surprised with the results. For the past several months, tensions regarding the funding and expansion of the light rail have been running high.

Many citizens in the area rejected the bill because they are unaware of the benefits that come with having a highly competitive public transportation system. Many citizens who do not use public transportation frequently see the expansion of the light rail as a waste of money and resources.

And, they also think that the light rail will bring crime from the city to the suburbs. (Several studies have disputed these assumptions).

Other regions very close to ours seem to be under the same kinds of pressures that come from a misunderstanding of the benefits of light rail travel. A recent article entitled “KC 'blew it’ On the Light-Rail Vote” explains how some observers feel that Kansas City made a mistake by rejecting a vote for bringing light rail transit to their city.

"Kansas City blew it with that vote,” Christopher Lienberger, an urban scholar, was quoted as saying. "It's an essential part of infrastructure in the 21st century. It would have been like not building freeways in the 1960s.”

Indeed, the addition of a new system would have likely been transformative for the city. Nonetheless, the voters in Kansas City spoke and decided against the development of a light rail system.

Actually, the tensions involved with light rail expansion or public transportation expansion in general are hardly new. Encouraging voters to approve projects that come at the expense of increased taxes is perhaps always a hard sell.

Given our own role as observers and cultural commentators on the subject of light rail, we’ll continue trying to assess the implications of this form of public transit, especially now as services will surely become more and more limited.

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