Monday, May 05, 2008

fun with frontrunner

(Photo Credit: KUTV

On Saturday, my wife and I rode Utah's newest commuter rail up to Clearfield and back. It was a fantastic experience and I highly recommend those of you who have to commute from the northern suburbs to SLC to take it or Rapid Bus Transit. We started out our trip by eating brunch at Hong Kong Tea House, which had a high-quality Dim Sum. We prefer Dim Sum via carts, because we know lots of dishes by sight rather than by name (either English translation or Chinese), and because it makes it more fun. But has you might have guessed, the place has pretty good tea. And it is a stone's thrown away from one of the new TRAX stops and about half way between the Gateway and the Intermodal hub.

The hub building is very nice and clean and much larger than a similar building in Providence that I am all too familiar with. I particularly enjoyed the (LEED certified) architecture, and tablets explaining Salt Lake's former ethnic neighborhoods. You get the feeling that the neighborhood between the Gateway and the Hub are going to explode with development, but those "towns" (Greek, Japan, etc.) are not coming back.

The commuter trains themselves are clean and quiet, both inside and out. The ceilings inside are about 6'5" as it felt a bit tight to me and I am 6'3" 1/2. There are two levels on the cars, the top deck features small card tables perfect for laptops and, of course, card games. We saw lots of young families and groups of friends young and old and actual ethnic diversity (for Utah). At $5, it is about as much or less than the amount of gas you would spend driving and takes about the same time on a Saturday (on a weekday at rush hour, I bet it is much faster). Plus, you get to enjoy the scenery, play with your children, talk to your friend/spouse.

The onboard WiFi was acting up for us--we were "connected" but not able to send or receive--but assuming those kinks get worked out, then you can even get some work/play done on your way to and from work. If I was a parent traveling with young children (which I will be in a few months), I would much prefer the train to driving. It is safer than having to look back to see why the baby is crying, what your kids are fighting about, etc. And troubles are likely to be quelled much sooner if you sitting right next to them without having to worry about driving. Everyone on the train was remarking about how this will "save gas," but I also think it will reduce stress, which will only help quality of life, marriages etc.

Soon, TRAX will go to the airport, to Draper, and to "the Jordans." A trolley line will go up east along 21st South from 3rd West up to Sugarhouse. Frontrunner itself will go all the way North to Brigham City and about the same time South to Provo. By about 2025, Utah will have more commuter rail lines than anywhere but places like New York City. How cool is that?

How did this all come to pass? First, our local Congressmen (Jim Matheson and Republicans before him, as well as our GOP Senators) secured 80-20 federal funding for mass transit using the Olympics as a hook. Next, once taxpayers saw how great TRAX was, they voted repeatedly to increase their own taxes to pay for expansions. Now communities like Bringham City and South Jordan are voting to raise tax revenues to pay for TRAX/FrontRunner to come to their neighborhoods. Third, environmentalists sued to block the Legacy Highway. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but here's how it went:

The suit first stalled the highway from being build for years. Then, instead of settling for a moved highway, the attorneys representing the environmentalist worked into the settlement "funding the environmental review of light rail and bus plans." The studies showed what the environmentalists had been claiming for years--that we can't build enough roads to fix our traffic troubles, and that our air quality will only get worse if we take that route. As a result, Bus Rapid Transit lines and FrontRunner were built. The U and LDS Church helped a lot by getting their employees to use mass transit and to promote mass transit in commercials. Everyone who rides the trains to Jazz games and the like also deserve credit and praise.

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