My morning commute, if I run along the Interstate system, is 10.6 miles and takes approximately 18 minutes. (The return trip, which occurs during a busier traffic period, takes slightly longer.) This is an average of a shade over 35 mph, which is 10 mph faster than one should go through my neighborhood, posted 25 mph because of its not-quite-straight streets and inattentive children, and about half the speed one can go on I-44 without getting tailgated.
Oklahoma City Metro Transit actually approaches to within two blocks of my house, and stops very near where I work. The trip requires one transfer downtown and costs $2.50 in each direction, or five bucks a day, though a monthly pass would be substantially less expensive. And the bus takes a lot longer than 18 minutes. I'm not likely, therefore, to switch to commuting via bus, unless my car is out of commission for an extended period and will cost some ungodly amount to repair. (The latter, at least, is within the realm of possibility: Mazdas may be inexpensive to operate, but they aren't inexpensive to fix.) The 21.2-mile round trip consumes 0.9 gallon of gas at worst; at two bucks a gallon, that's $1.80 worth of fuel. Obviously this isn't the only cost of driving insurance runs me $1200 a year, and let's face it, this car isn't going to increase in value any time soon but these costs accrue even if I don't drive to work, unless I sell the car and do without, which is not going to happen.
The Oklahoma Fixed Guideway Study, which began this week with public hearings well, let them tell you:
The Fixed Guideway Study provides a unique opportunity to identify futuristic guideway transportation systems like bus rapid transit, light rail transit, highway high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and other potential transportation solutions that would improve connections among greater Oklahoma City's growth centers, help spur economic development opportunities, improve mobility, expand transportation options, and improve air quality. Metro Transit is working with community leaders from across the region to conduct the Fixed Guideway Study for the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area.
HOV lanes don't strike me as being particularly futuristic, inasmuch as they already exist in some areas. It is, however, reasonable to assume that the cost of getting across town will increase over the next couple of decades, so it's quite sensible to contemplate solutions today.
Rail solutions, on the other hand, should have been contemplated years ago, before the state decided to relocate Interstate 40 farther south, in a path which would knock out most of the 12 tracks serving Union Station, making the establishment of commuter rail decidedly more problematic. ODOT seems to think that the Santa Fe station, which currently serves the Heartland Flyer passenger train to Fort Worth, can handle the passenger load, but new track would have to be laid to connect the existing lines to the Santa Fe, or entirely new lines would have to be built. Neither of these options strikes me as being especially cost-effective. Still, I-40 is running way above capacity now, and slapping some sort of diamond lane on it would be the height of absurdity. Not that I don't expect that to be proposed as a solution.
Better transportation meets three requirements: it's faster, it's cheaper, and it's safer. (Otherwise, why call it "better"?) The FGS is going to have to go out on quite a few limbs to come up with something that might actually work. Let's hope they have the temerity to do so.
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Copyright © 2005 by Charles G. Hill