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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Of CHOO-CHOOS and such

["Guest" post by bikeboy]

There's an interesting article on SLC's Deseret News website today.

"Trains packed as Utahns check out FrontRunner"

The TRAX commuter light rail just started running from Ogden to Salt Lake City.

For those not familiar with the geography, Ogden is north of SLC, and the distance is comparable to Middleton or Caldwell from downtown Boise. And another comparison can be made - most of the traffic runs along a corridor, in their case north-south along the Wasatch mountain range, in our case east-west along the man-made I-84 or Highway 44.

The "premium monthly fare" is $145, which includes the train service and the bus at both ends to deliver riders to their final destinations.

They expect 5900 riders to use it every day, and anticipate the number to climb to 12,900 by 2020.

The TRAX cars have power outlets and wi-fi... pretty sweet, huh? Which would you rather do, sit in traffic for an hour each morning and afternoon, or get work done (or whatever, on the web) while somebody else gets you there? Would you rather buy $145 of gas, parking, etc., or pay it for commuter service?

Is the Treasure Valley ready for something similar?

Could some of those poor pathetic slobs who inch onto I-84 at Garrity every morning, and inch home in the afternoon, be coaxed out of their cars?

The Canyon County ValleyRide buses are packed, from what I understand. What if those buses, and additional buses, could run back and forth along what is currently the railroad corridor, independent from SOV traffic?

Would a light-rail system have enough support to be feasible?

One of the perceived obstacles is the fact that the Boise Depot would serve as a hub for people fanning out to downtown and other ultimate destinations. That could be inconvenient and inefficient, since it would force the vast majority of commuters to take a bus ride after the train ride.

What if I were to point out an alternative, that would put the hub just a couple blocks from downtown?

The old-timers will remember when a railroad spur used to go through downtown, a block or two south of Main Street. From there it went eastward, along the north side of the Boise River. Back in the day, it used to serve the lumber mills and other business out that way.

Most of that corridor is still there.

Granted, it's currently being used as bicycle/pedestrian path. And those people would have to be accommodated if any major change were undertaken.

If you want a picture of what I'm talking about... and if you have GoogleEarth... click on this link. It will show you EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

(The spur leaves the main line near Franklin and Hartman. From there it goes diagonally northeast, crossing Curtis near West Jr. High, Emerald, Orchard near the Syringa Bank, and running parallel to Garden Street and the "Connector.")

I'm not advocating for this. I have no idea if there would be popular support; it wouldn't be much use to me. I would oppose any threat to the bike path - I ride my bicycle up that "Garden Street" stretch five days a week. My only intention is to get people thinking about alternatives to their $3.50 gas in their pollution-spewing single-occupant vehicles.


Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Noooo!! Julie! No Choo Choo. In the transit world Choo Choo is the way transit opposition describes toy trains, making people think that rail transit is just a toy and not worth anything. Please be careful with the wording and framing. Other than that great post!

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Oops. Thought it was Julie. Sorry Bikeboy.

Bikeboy said...

Dear trolleypole... sorry for the confusion. (I've added a "disclaimer" right at the top of the post, so Julie won't get blamed!)

Regarding the "choo-choo" semantics... sorry. No slur intended; I LIKE light rail transit systems, and suspect we'll host one at some point in time. (My favorite use of "choo choo" was by Mongo in the movie, "Blazing Saddles.")

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I know you like rail. I was just pointing out the choo choo factor. Thanks for picking up some of the posts. I like finding out whats going on up there!

Julie Fanselow said...

Great post, Bike Boy. (So you're back on your bike?!)

I live in the Depot Bench district, and I still love the idea of light rail going through MY neighborhood. But people right near the Depot hate the notion, and -as you note - there's the issue of getting people from the Bench to their downtown jobs (though TRAX seems to have figured that out).

But I had no idea there was a rail corridor right downtown. If the bike/pedestrian path issue can be resolved, and if this line could link up to a line to get folks out to Meridian and Nampa, it seems like that'd be a brilliant resolution to the light rail routing dilemma.

We have to remember that it would take a good decade or more to get light rail in place. So is the Treasure Valley ready for it now, with a half a million people? Maybe not. Will we be ready in 10 years, when 100,000 more people live here? Hmmmm ...

I plan to go on the downtown trolley tour tomorrow night. I'll see if this comes up, or I can ask about it.

Bikeboy said...

Hi, Julie. Indeed, I'm back in the saddle again. (As of 4/19. But the bus run was very nice... WAY better than surrendering to single-occupant vehicle!)

The shift to transit may be population-driven, but frankly I believe it's also got a large financial component. Today we have $3.50 gas, and people are starting to consider alternatives. (Albeit reluctantly in most cases.) What perspective-change will $4 or $5 gas bring?

Regarding the corridor... the rails are long gone, but the REAL ESTATE is still mostly intact. (As far as I know, the only encroachment is the southeast corner of the Syringa Bank building on Orchard. And there's enough empty space that I believe a go-around could be engineered.)

Ben said...

FrontRunner is entirely different from TRAX. While Trax is nice, it does not have WiFi or power outlets. It is a light rail system that tops out around 40 mph.

FrontRunner is a diesel locomotive system that operates at higher speed and makes few stops. Really, something like this would work well for the Treasure Valley. Run between Boise and Ontario eventually. It would stop in central Boise somewhere, probably somewhere around Eagle Road or the entrance of Meridian... then again twice in Nampa-Caldwell area.

For other examples of this train, see Sounder in the Puget Sound or WES in the TriMet service area.