Transit - Promises vs Reality
Sam Burnham, Curator
With so much chatter going on regarding the future of transit in Georgia right now, I want to give the matter a bit of attention here. I think it is important to discuss this topic because there are some pros and cons that need to be addressed. We're going to find that a fair treatment of transit is going to show us there are parts of the proposed and possible advancements that can be good for all involved, some that will only help a few (fewer than needed to justify the expense) and some that are neither feasible or useful.
In discussing this topic, let's use an example from our recent DC visit. Washington has an expansive transit system. With Metro trains and multiple bus routes, there are several options to help commuters and tourists navigate the capital.
But I want to look at one event that is leaving me skeptical. We were leaving the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Madison Dr, on the National Mall. We were approximately 3 miles from our base of operations on Franklin St. Google maps advises that to be a 1 hour and 2 minute walk, a 14 minute trip via car (inculding Uber), a 22 minute trek by bike, or 47 minutes by transit.
To break that down:
1) a day of walking the Air & Space, American History, and National History museums meant a 3 hour walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods in a town with a reputation for violent crime was out. Not gonna happen.
2) Parking in the area is limited and pricey so driving wasn't really an option. A peak Uber XL for the five of us was running somewhere around $25.
3) A lot of people in DC use bikes to get around. That's a solid option. Buying (or stealing) 5 bikes was not an option.
4) 47 minutes via transit isn't that bad, considering.
So we hiked across The Mall to the Smithsonian Castle and then down the block to the Hirshborn Museum to catch the Circulator's Mall route which runs every 5-8 minutes....and waited 30 minutes for one to arrive. In the sweaty DC sunshine. Then we rode, as planned to the route terminus in front of the beautiful Union Station. Then we made the walk a few blocks to the 80 bus stop next to the post office on North Capitol Street. Once there, we waited in the sweaty DC sunshine again for longer than the posted schedule advised and then rode the rest of the way to our stop and then walked the two blocks to the house.
Total travel time on those three miles? around 1 hour and 45 minutes. There are many Metro rail stations we could have used but the nearest one to our house was almost a 30 minute walk. And the way we took was a fairly simple one. Only one bus transfer was needed. The level of planning that some people have to go to to get to their destinations has me believing that the Army should hire widowed DC grandmothers as logistics specialists because they can lay out some amazing plans to get across town.
One Really Good Idea
I was wandering through Union Station trying to find the location where I could buy a Metro Card so I could pay for our bus fares and transfers. It was amazing to see the number of people arriving by Metro train and then sprinting to an Amtrak gate to catch a train to Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Boston, I heard so many cities that I can't remember them all. It was like the terminals at Hartsfield but they were taking trains. This is an idea that I'd love to see feasible options presented for.
If the outlying towns - Rome, Augusta, Carrollton, Macon, Savannah, Albany, Valdosta, etc, were all connected to each other, and yes, obviously Atlanta, by a rail, we could increase ease of movement through the state. Catching the train to attend the Georgia Cracker Quail Hunt would theoretically keep my car out of Atlanta traffic while allowing me to accomplish other tasks while en route. There are a lot of times I find myself in Atlanta traffic when I'm not going to Atlanta but I need to get through there to get to Macon, Savannah, Crawfordville, Valdosta, or on down to Florida. I'm not an isolated case. This happens a lot.
Tying in other states could help this happen. One of our Uber drives was telling us that people can come to DC from New York on the weekend with a $10 train ticket. What if we could get to Savannah or Charleston for the weekend? Maybe even Nashville or Birmingham? Needing something a little quieter? Step off at one of the smaller whistle stops along the way.
I'm not sure how to make this work on a Southern scale but I'd love to see more ideas by people who understand the numbers. This could be a positive development that improves the chances of revitalizing smaller towns, easing Atlanta traffic, increasing tourism, offering better transportation options, and linking Southern businesses. Serious, someone who knows what they are doing, show me how this could work.
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire