Light Rail Doesn’t Work Here

From North Carolina to California our highways are over capacity and grid-locked.  How did this happen?  The short answer is that, historically, our city councils and town boards have ignored long term road and infrastructure planning while rabidly approving sprawling development. Roads to these communities quickly become parking lots for thousands of frustrated commuters.

I live along one of those overburdened roadways and we are all screaming for relief!  In response, our development-friendly city council realized that they must at least make a token effort to address the associated traffic problems. Their first step is to propose “the plan” for a fix, a light rail system.

Step two is soliciting public comments on their we-know-best proposed transit plan.  It always amazes me how many intelligent experts are part of our community offering innovative, visionary advice—engineers, scientists, statisticians, health care professionals, urban planners, economists, scholars, and most importantly people who care.  But anyone who has participated in these public forums realizes that even the best suggestions are  ignored.

Predictably, our City Council voted to adopt their original doesn’t-help-anything plan to build a 17-mile light rail system, the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Plan (DOLRT), despite overwhelming logical objections.

So, what’s wrong with this plan?

  • There will be over 40 at-grade crossings creating traffic backups, accidents, and air pollution
  • It doesn’t go to popular destinations like: Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Research Triangle Park (main employment center) and Chatham Park (new population center).
  • Route selection and station locations were dictated by politics.
  • Many of the proposed train stations are linked to more development in a transit corridor that reached over capacity for it’s roads, schools and infrastructure years ago.
  • DOLRT only serves a small corner of our area.  Most of our residents won’t benefit, yet they will be paying the cost.
  • Our neighbor, Wake County, listened to professional planners opting against light rail and went with other solutions like less costly Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will serve more people with flexibility and funding for future population shifts
  • As projected ridership numbers affirm, it won’t make a significant difference in getting cars off the road and may add to the congestion with commuters driving to train stations
  • The 2012 allocated sales tax funds were for mass transit and not exclusively tied to light rail.
  • Presently, the ever-rising estimated cost is over 2.4 billion dollars to build and 29 million annually to maintain with loan payments extending beyond 2050.
  • Sources of funding are questionable relying on cash strapped federal, state, and local government sources—MORE TAXES!
  • It will consume our whole transportation budget taking money away from existing and future transportation options like bus service, bicycle paths and greenways that would get more cars off the road.
  • The first passenger won’t ride until 2028. Until then, we’ll be funding a bad plan and it may be obsolete by 2028 because of shifting population density and ever-changing technology.
  • More, more, more….

Of all these problems I am most bothered by the cost and the dated train model.  We desperately need solutions to our traffic problems, but we should be moving forward instead of back to railroad tracks and tethered electric trains.  A lot of alternative, innovative solutions that will better relieve our traffic mess without bankrupting our transportation budget are available NOW like: BRT buses, a network of protected bike lanes, driverless cars and trucks, and drones capable of transport.light rail and flying pod cartoon

If we make wise transportation choices now, we’ll be able to afford all the latest and greatest transportation technology that will eventually make gridlock just a memory.  My preference would be to fly with the Jetsons as opposed to riding with Fred and Barney.

Global Warming

  • “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”
  • “The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records, so okay, they’re at a record level”
  • “Look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place.”
  • “We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”

In addition to these out-of-touch-with-reality quotes, our President has enacted out-of-touch-with-reality energy policies like removing bans on off-shore drilling, approving and promoting new pipelines, defunding alternative energy research, lessening environmental emission standards for fossil fuels, and all sorts of FUBAR elimination of environmental safeguards.  At best you can call the President environmentally challenged and at worse you can see this as it really is, an attempt to support a 1950’s energy policy that is harming our world and blindly continues to promote the production of fossil fuels that profit influential coal, oil and gas companies.

Ignoring the consequences of the long-term effects of global warming or climate change is irresponsible and all credible scientists agree that we have a problem, and something must change before we’re all treading sea water.

First we all have to understand what “global warming” is:

Then we must vote for politicians who are willing to listen to responsible scientists and create policies that are common sense solutions to the climate damage caused by our reckless, unbridled use of fossil fuels.  Elect lawmakers who will enact well thought out strategies to phase in more solar, wind, hydro, and innovative energy sources with a gradual reduction of fossil fuels—a challenge, but doable.

The best thing you can do is to become an intelligent voter by researching global warming.  Just google “global warming” and/or look at websites like these below and vote for environmentally friendly candidates who care about the future of our planet.

Union of Concerned Scientists

NASA

National Geographic

 

Southern Snow

As a major snowfall approaches my home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina weather forecasters warn of a dusting to several inches of snow showing us a spaghetti of forecast models which seem like “cover their butt” scenarios that make them right, no matter the outcome.  Panic is immediate!  Even before the first flake falls, schools close, and bread, milk, water, beer, and wine shelves are cleared.  Then we all watch endless newscasts of the impending Armageddon while our North Carolina “Holy Crap, it’s snowing” emergency snow clearing plan is activated.

Highlights of the plan as per our city website:

  1. If snow is in the forecast, City crews apply a salt brine solution to major thoroughfares, bridges and overpasses 24 to 48 hours in advance. This helps to prevent snow from sticking to the pavement and makes plowing and additional salt application more effective…
  2. If snow or freezing rain begins to fall the Public Works Department activates its snow program. Salt spreaders and snow plows are mounted onto 25+ City trucks. Up to 100 employees begin working around the clock in 12-hour shifts until the streets are clear…
  3. Next, heavily traveled streets referred to as primary streets are treated with salt. If one or more inches of snow falls, crews begin plowing roadways… During inclement weather, the City plows more than 1,000 lane miles of streets….
  4. Residential streets are plowed only after all primary and secondary streets have been cleared.
  5. The program is not designed to provide convenient road conditions for extensive travel throughout the city.

This plan is sound unless we actually get snow.  I’d like to be clear that our city’s snow fighting crews are excellent and equal to their peers in any other part of the country but when it comes to snow they know that they are fighting a losing battle.  The plan has an iffy start since the first step of applying the snow melting brine is usually a waste of time and salt since 90% of the time our snow starts as rain so the salt brine solution is washed away before it can do anything.  Then when the actual snow starts the limited number of plows are hard pressed to even keep the main highways clear.  Remember the disclaimer on their web site: “The program is not designed to provide convenient road conditions for extensive travel throughout the city”–WTF

With or without Brine the snow quickly overwhelms the plows and the untouched side streets become impassable which is actually a good thing since it keeps the cowboys off the dangerous roads until the intense southern sun returns and melts the road glaciers.  Eventually the plows surrender and just go home for a deserved rest.  And a day or two after the final flake falls a brave plow reappears on our frozen side street at 2am in a futile, but appeasing, attempt to clear the impenetrable ice.  To northerners this may sound FUBAR but we who have lived through this snow dance for years are resigned to the fact that we will be home-bound for up to a week.  Spending millions on more snow fighting equipment for an occasional major snowstorm would be like manning northeast beaches with lifeguards during the winter.snow cleared driveway

Despite my unplowed window to the rest of the world I’m programmed to keep my driveway clean which gets me 50 feet to the snow and ice-covered roadway–driveway to nowhere.  But the unplowed roadway is a safety barrier preventing me from venturing beyond the safety of the driveway.  Why?  Because after a few experiences of driving during southern snowstorms I’m terrified of sharing the snow-covered roads with fair-weather driving southerners or too-cocky transplanted northerners who somehow make it to the main roads.  Too fast, too slow, too close—hundreds of crashes-crashes-crashes.  Many quickly discover that the only difference between their perceived go anywhere, all wheel drive SUV and other vehicles is how far they go off the road.southern driving in the snow

After a few winter storms in the south I stopped trying to transfer my unreasonable northern snow clearing expectations and decided that waiting the few days until the southern sun clears the roads is a better option than getting caught in a demolition derby.   Being trapped in my neighborhood isn’t all bad since this is a rare southern phenomenon (hopefully) that does have some positives: watching southern kids discovering the magic of sledding, snowballs and making snowmen, bundling up for a neighborhood walk sans cars, getting together with neighbors to help shovel driveways, and enjoying the beauty of freshly fallen snow brings me back to some of the good things about my past winters in New York.

Neighbors shoveling driveways

Neighbors helping neighbors

Snowy scene

Most of the time the break is enjoyable as long as the power stays on and the bread, milk and beer lasts.  And unlike New York, in a few days it’s back to a normal southern winter of 50-60 degrees with sun and a Carolina blue sky.

frog statue in snow

Cold frog