Train Dreams Harm Transportation Outlook
Coming from a METRO Board member and Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) alternate who should be advocating for our METRO bus system, Mike Rotkin’s recent column exhibits a surprising train bias and misrepresents or ignores relevant facts:
1. All U.S. light rail systems with daily commuter service serve major metropolitan areas. Most serve populations of more than 2 million. Our entire county has under 275,000.
2. Caltrans traffic data shows more than half of all northbound Highway 1 traffic reaching the Highway 1/17 interchange exits north onto Highway 17. A train wouldn’t help them.
3. No RTC study forecasts a train taking enough people out of cars to make a dent in gridlock traffic or greenhouse gas emissions.
4. Contrary to stereotyped statements about Watsonville residents, a train would not help most since more South County residents work at Dominican Hospital, PAMF, Costco, Cabrillo, UCSC and for the county and city than in our tourist industry.
5. METRO serves these locations and could be made faster, more appealing, and more reliable sooner and for dramatically less money than it would take to build a train system that wouldn’t reach these employers.
6. Bus fares are usually more affordable than train fares.
7. Rail investments often lead to declines in bus service and overall transit use.
8. Transit ridership is declining everywhere except in cities with redesigned bus networks.
9. Some Watsonville commuters work in trades requiring vehicles. They need realistic, achievable gridlock-reducing solutions, not an unfunded train with imaginary riders.
10. Railbanking preserves the rail easements so that future generations could revisit the rail option if it ever makes sense.
Mr. Rotkin’s dismissal of any path along the rail corridor as “recreation-only” ignores global and national transportation trends. Entire countries including China, The Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark recognize well-designed active transportation infrastructure as an essential component of robust transportation systems.
Many American cities are finding relatively inexpensive investments in safer bike and pedestrian infrastructure and bus system improvements lead more people to leave their cars at home. These cities are reaping additional benefits: lower healthcare costs, flourishing neighborhoods, and even dropping crime rates. Imagine the cafes, bike repair stands and other small businesses that might sprout up along a vibrant and effective trail that circles the Bay.
The rail-with-trail plan values empty rails or new tourist trains over potential trail users and will require expensive new bridges, mass tree removal and major retaining wall projects. A greenway prioritized for active transportation could include small scale transit options and would allow many local commuters using bicycles, e-bikes and other new transportation devices to get out of gridlock and into healthier, planet-friendly lifestyles.
We are in the midst of a global transportation revolution. Within a decade travel options will be vastly different then they are today. Our planning should not be limited to 19th century technology whose limitations and cost impede a healthy transportation future for our county. Let’s hope those who are steering our transportation decisions can rise above misguided rail bias and allow our community to move forward.
Buzz Anderson, Pedro Bonilla, Jack Brown, Bobbi Burns, Craig Calfee, Bill Cook, Denise & Dave Côté, Lauren & Dean Cutter, Mark Davidson, Tom Evans, Jim & June Fox, Tyler Fox, Sarah Gerhardt, David Giannini, Ron Goodman, Tom Haid, David Harnish, Michael & Dominique Hollister, Nathaniel James, Michael Kaye, Eileen Lacey, Bob Landry, Nancy Lockhorn, Jean Mahoney, Joe & Ellen Martinez, Gail McNulty, Paige McQuillan, Will Menchine, Deb Molina, Hannah Newburn, Brian Peoples, Emily Reilly, Miles Reiter, Scott Roseman, Ernestina Saldana, Sibley Simon, Bill Simpkins, Geoffrey Smith, Alicia Stanton, Nadene Thorne, G Craig Vachon