Sunday, December 18, 2005

Railing For and Against Rail: A Story in Confliction

Okay, first of all I seriously doubt that there is anybody in the entire New Mexico Mid-Region Council of Government listening area who wants a light rail mass transit system more than me. Maybe I'm not alone, but I have incredibly high levels of the following criteria:

1. I certainly agree that single-passenger vehicles are one of the greatest dangers to the planet.
2. I detest urban driving. Hate it.
3. I much prefer rail to bus as:
a. I get motion sickness on the bus.
b. Rail is romantic and cosmopolitan while buses as unromantic and creepy.
c. Buses stop too much.
d. Then there's the whole plural of bus it busses or buses? Should it be buses or busses, really?
4. I really love rail/subway system maps. In fact, I now notice that I have a MTA New York City Subway map pinned on the wall not five feet from this computer. I would really love to live in a town that has a light rail map. I'd memorize the stops. I'd get the official subway theme tune stuck in my head, like this one in Budapest. You can check out other Budapest rail tunes out here.

So the last few days I've been looking at a bunch of websites from other cities with mass transit including some form of rail. I now know the difference between commuter rail, light rail and incline rail. I now know the annual operating budget for Dallas' DART system ($294 million in FY 2004). I now know that it costs $18 to ride round trip from Stockton to San Jose, California. I now know what a "fare evasion administrative fee" is. There's still very, very much I don't know and I'd love to talk with someone more knowledgable about this stuff (something that wouldn't be hard to do given that I am still largely clueless). Still, I have developed some questions that I haven't seen answered yet.

As an aside, one thing about these various mass transit web sites is the frequent use of Adobe Acrobat .pdf files. Isn't it about time that someone created a more user-friendly, less end-user crashing software program for this stuff? Relative to the rest of the web .pdf files are the Windows 386 of Internet circa 2005. Now on to the questions:

1. Rail Runner along existing rail lines is easy. Negotiate some agreements, buy some choo-choos, build some stations, voila! But:
  • Where are the constructed stations?
  • What agreements are in place with SunTran to provide bus/rail links?
  • Why haven't the fare prices and other details been worked out?
  • What's the rush to service given these details are still being worked out?
2. Then there's making ABQ and environs the site of a real rail-inclusive tranportation system. Otherwise we have a few choo-choos running a few people up and down a corridor. Frankly, Rail Runner's meager benefit to the transportation problem primarily extends only to the southern suburbs and Santa Fe. What about Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and the Marty-sprawl of the Westside? Unless our goal is to idiotically just have folks drive down the hill to the rail station we're now talking extensive right-of-way issues, long-term road construction to retrofit roadways for rail lines, plenty of long-term bonds with multiple bond issues votes overseen by a supposedly coordinated overarching entity of central planners.
  • Are we in Bernalillo County ready to fund projects that cost billions of dollars? Billions?
  • Is our traffic really bad enough now to warrant these expenditures? How bad would it have to get?
  • Of course in a perfect world, we would have worked out the right-of-way issues beforehand, but we are still not including rail (or even HOV lanes) in our roadwork planning. How are these issues gonna be decided when it involves real eminent domain issues, including possible relocation of businesses/families? Hell, we're moving a bunch of historically significant rocks instead of making any families move now.
  • Dallas' DART is held up as a shining example of the development of a mass transit/taxes-averse community finally embracing a rail-inclusive system.
I was gonna get into the Denver example and a bunch of other stuff, but think I'll hold that for another time. As I said way up there somewhere, I am in FAVOR of light rail. Love it. I just have a whole bunch of questions, the biggest of which is wondering if the my fellow 'Burque citizens are ready to make the sort of commitment necessary to take this rather insignificant Rail Runner thing and make it something more than a Big Bill cap feather. Right now, I'm guessing a brilliantly designed, persuasively argued, James Carville/Karl Rove-orchestrated bond initiative on a real rail-inclusive system would fail miserably (say 70/30 ratio).

I'm definitely keen on hearing more about the whole process, but for now anybody who talks about taking the Green Rail Line up Central to Nob Hill or the Red Line to Cottonwood Mall from the South Valley as if we're living in some adobefied Boston or San Francisco is getting nothing but smirks from me. I'm hoping desperately that I'm wrong, and that Rail Runner is the forerunner to a grand system where I can pay the Senior Citizen fare from my conveniently located bus line through my spotlessly romantic rail station to my utterly efficient post-Nationalized Health Care medical facility. Meanwhile, I'm gonna drive by that dirt patch on 2nd Street that is supposed to magically turn into the "Rio Bravo/Airport" Rail Runner station by March and wonder again about things like long-term urban planning.


Michelle Meaders said...

You say you want light rail for Albuquerque, but you just talk about the Rail Runner, which is Commuter Rail (Heavy Rail, going N-S).
Albuq. has been planning real Light Rail (going E-W) for years. See for starters.

frannyzoo said...

Michelle: Thanks for your post and link...I guess what I'm getting at with light rail is reflected in the "planning for years" aspect. Drawing up plans with no set-in-place funding mechanism isn't planning, to my mind.

Take for instance, the City of ABQ web site on "Albuquerque's Light Rail Future".

The use of the word "could" on that page is very, very instructive IMHO.