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April 15, 2008

Guest Commentary: Move on public transit before bridge schemes collapse

There is a mural in Mid City Mall that depicts a beautiful garden with the mall in the background. In reality, that garden space is a big, ugly parking lot. The mural is a vision of what we could experience if there were no need to park hundreds of cars. That mural and the parking lot represent the difference between a community that is car-free and one that is car-dependent. It is the difference between Louisville as it could be and Louisville as it is. The role a great public transit system plays in turning a car-dominated city into a garden community is huge. Getting a great public transit system in Louisville will require realistic, visionary, committed leadership.Most of Louisville’s political leadership is ignoring financial, economic, social, environmental, material and energy realities. The reality is that in each of these categories, our current level of car-dependency is unsustainable. The immediacy of the need to face these realities is critical. Louisville should not wait on the bridge schemes to collapse before moving ahead with a public transit plan.To move forward, a vision of public transit must be communicated. The public will never buy into public transit until they can visualize what a great public transit system can do for Louisville and Southern Indiana. Currently, no vision of public transit is being communicated by Louisville’s political leadership. They may not have one. Public transit can diminish the need for a parking facility on every corner and link neighborhoods to each other and to downtown. It can transform our streets into a safer mix of pedestrians, bicycles and slow-moving cars and trucks. It can reduce the need for families to spend an average of $8,000 annually on private motorized transportation, and keep in our local economy the millions of dollars spent we now spend daily on fuel. It can give children independent access to parks and schools. It can free parents from chauffeuring. It can turn a trip to Slugger Field into a community party. It can turn a stressful commute into an opportunity to read or chat with a neighbor. It can reduce highway travel demand by commuters and increase capacity for freight. Louisville needs a mayor and council members who can communicate a public transit vision. (To date, no organization has promoted a public transit vision akin to what 8664 has done with its vision. The vision needs to be communicated through photographs, drawings, maps, stories.)The level of commitment required by leadership to transition from car-dependency to public transit is enormous. To develop a great public transit system, leadership must finance public transit improvements, establish dedicated sources of operational funding and amend Kentucky’s Constitution (Section 230) to permit the diversion of gas taxes from highways to public transit. Leadership must redefine land-use patterns and implement congestion-pricing measures. Leadership must get public transit projects back in the region’s long-term plans and acquire proportional KIPDA representation for Louisville residents.Leadership must begin near-term improvement of the regional public transit system rather than wait years for the completion of a massive public transit infrastructure investment to be completed (buses can be delivered within 12 months of ordering, used to increase ridership and, upon completion of the larger public transit infrastructure, the buses can then be used as “feeders” transporting riders to the main lines). Leadership must work with the business sector to get employers to encourage employees to use public transit (by providing employees with monthly TARC passes) while simultaneously discouraging private motorized vehicle usage (by diminishing parking facilities and reducing reimbursement for vehicle usage).Leadership is going to need your support to bring great public transit to Louisville. Of course, you can also help by voting out officials who fail to meet the challenge. You can support public transit by reorganizing the geography of your life, reducing your investment in the automotive culture (sell unessential cars and don’t buy a new car — don’t fall for “mileage marketing,” if you want to reduce fuel consumption, drive less). Buy a $35 monthly TARC pass. Avoid the divisive light rail/monorail/bus rapid transit debate (commit to public transit in general and leave the details to the pros). Leverage your commitment with others by joining the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation at cartky.org. After joining, challenge and help CART improve its game; CART is in need of more focused leadership.  Jackie Green is founder of Kentuckiana Transportation Action Partnership (www.ktap.org) and co-owner of the Bike Couriers Bike Shop (www.bikecourier.org). Contact him at leo@leoweekly.com