How to Ride the Bus

Step 1: Purchase a copy of The Plain Dealer.
Step 2: Read The Plain Dealer's full page article about how to ride the bus.
Step 3: Hit the streets confident in your newly discovered bus-riding knowledge.

I am all for encouraging people to use RTA in Cleveland (and transit systems in other cities), but do we really need a newspaper to teach us how to ride? Since when did riding a bus become so complicated that we needed a full page article with instructions? When I read The Plain Dealer article, I felt like the RTA bus is being described as some sort of futuristic innovation; something that we look at it in awe and wonder how such a magic devise works...

In a lot of ways, the article reminds me of a clip from Family Guy, which for copyright reasons, is no longer available online. Hopefully this transcript will suffice:

*Context* Peter Griffin and Carter Pewterschmidt board a public bus.
Carter: So, these people live here?
Peter: No, this is a bus. People ride it to get places that they need to go.

Maybe I'm being a little harsh on The Plain Dealer; maybe our culture really is confused when it comes to riding the bus? If so, what does that say about our culture? We're smart enough to learn how to drive cars, understand traffic laws and social norms, and learn road maps and routes (at least we did before GPS got big); by comparison, riding the bus should be a piece of cake.

Recent ridership figures across the country show that $4 gasoline is bringing people out of their cars and onto transit systems. It isn't that we were unable to ride the bus in the past, and it wasn't that we couldn't figure out how, it is simply that we didn't want to. Perhaps The Plain Dealer should be more focused on why we should get out of our cars and onto buses, not how to physically do it.
June 9th was World Naked Bike Ride Day, which, according to the organization's website is held "to celebrate cycling and the human body. The ride demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists on the road and is a protest against oil dependency." The event is designed as a PR stunt, hoping to attract attention to the organization's cause. Unfortunately, media has completely bastardized the event, reporting that the bike riders are out protesting "high gas prices". Such a statement couldn't be further from the truth.

As one of the event's organizers wrote in a British newspaper:

Our protest was against the social and environmental costs of oil and the destructive domination of our streets and the planet by cars. Decades of cheap oil have fuelled an overdependency and overuse of this alluring mode of transport, resulting in global warming, air pollution and carnage on roads across the world with 3,000 people killed every day. As one of the organisers of Saturday's ride I, along with many fellow cyclists and environmental campaigners, welcome the recent price rise in petrol and diesel. It will focus thoughts where other messages have struggled to get through. It may help some motorists to curb their car use and make more efficient use of their motors or even trade them in for bikes.

Thanks to distorted news stories, it might be difficult to understand, but there are some out there who truly believe we need to experience pain now to correct the inevitable problems coming in the future. Of course, media is all about ratings, and the best way to get people to watch is get them fired up over high fuel prices, no matter what the cost, apparently.

Dump the Pump

Congratulations folks, it looks like my National Swarm the Subway proposal has gotten off to a good start (although I will concede that my blog probably did not contribute to the actual happening). Back on May 17th I pondered what would happen if you crammed an absurd number of people onto our city's buses and trains, and the answer is that the media actually noticed. In the past two weeks there have been major stories about America's lacking mass transit systems from the Washington Post, who calls our mass transit system "glaringly, perilously inadequate"; the New York Times reports that "mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots." and MSNBC writes, "now that people are demanding service, there isn’t the infrastructure to provide it".

So now that the media is on board, the next step is pressuring government to make provide the money to build the long-overdue infrastructure. Specifically, we need to demand state-of-the-art rapid transit like the newer systems in Japan and China and even Mexico. The biggest challenge will be convincing government that the investment in this infrastructure is worth the cost. Those calculations are difficult to make, because on a dollars and cents basis, most transit systems will never see a nominal return on investment, and will probably rely on public funding, year after year, to break even; that is OK. The necessity of transit in the United States is linked deep into our economy, as the Washington Post says:

"The fact that the vast bulk of transit ridership in the United States is concentrated in the 50 top metropolitan areas, which together account for almost two-thirds of economic activity in the United States, underscores the critical link between public transportation and American competitiveness. If America continues to neglect transit, it will stunt its own economic prospects."

Of course spending billions developing a mass transit system that will never turn a profit seems wasteful to the casual observer; but cost/benefit analysis needs to take into account potential productivity gains and losses resulting in public transit systems (or lack thereof). Those calculations are difficult to make and to this point have been understudied, though they could bolster the already compelling argument for rapid transit development.

The Washington DC Metro rail system should be example for which we develop future transit projects. Metro rail is without a doubt the sophisticated and successful post-WW2 rapid transit system in the United States, and a study of its history reveals why. Metro was designed under the basis assumption that money is no object - the ultimate goal of the project being to build a world-class rapid transit system. Of course there is plenty of room for improvement and Metro has its fair share of problems (with well over a half million rides per day, minor problems are inevitable), but overall it is difficult to argue with the success of the system. An important question to ask is what Washington DC would look like if planners and policy makers had cheaped out and built an extremely half-ass transit system? The answer to that question is answered in most major cities in the United States.

When discussing costs of developing transit infrastructure, inevitably there are those who push for all-bus systems. The upfront cost to developing rapid transit is high - rail lines, stations, rail cars all cost money - but with buses, the roads are already there, all you need to do is throw some vehicles on them. In the short-term this is cheap, but its not an ideal solution. City buses simply aren't efficient - they have to fight the same traffic as cars, they have to stop at all the red lights, and the fare collection system is slow and difficult. Few cities have electric buses, so their bus fleets are subject to the wild diesel and natural gas price swings, which ultimately could endanger the health of the entire system. Light rail is slightly better, but still subject to traffic lights and vehicle traffic. In Dallas, their failure to dig their downtown portion of their light rail system under the city has led to a unique bid: either the system cannot be expanded any further, or downtown traffic (cars and buses) would be trapped by a non-stop flow of trains through the city-center. In Houston, whose light rail is built into busy city streets, has by far the highest crash rate of any rail system in the country.

The technology exists; there is proof that well-built rapid transit can be successful; the past month has demonstrated the major lack of infrastructure in our country; and the media is now on board with the cause. The next step is pressing government to invest in this development; this is a big deal - our future lifestyles and economic prosperity depend on it.
He finally did it. Yesterday night, Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. The centerpiece of his argument, of course, is confirmation from the Senate Intelligence Committee that Bush lied to the American people about going to war with Iraq and, as believed by many, there can be no more serious offence than lying to the country about issues of war and peace. Dennis’s actions have received relatively little major media coverage, with most updates coming from the blogosphere and concentrated political outlets. Nevertheless, what Dennis did yesterday is both historic and significant, as the crimes committed by the Bush administration are now officially documented in the congressional record books for all to see for all of history. I could continue by congratulating Dennis and discussing the importance of the impeachment articles, but there is already plenty of discussion throughout the blogosphere on those topics; plus, there is another pressing issue at hand.

Dennis’s congressional seat is up for grabs in November, and there strengthening opposition in Cleveland to throw him out of the House. I blogged back in January about the misguided support many Clevelanders were throwing to Joe Cimperman, a Democrat who campaigned for the party’s nomination. Dennis survived the primary, but the episode demonstrates his vulnerability. Dennis now has to compete with Jim Trakas, a Republican who seems to have little respect for Dennis’s impeachment articles. Responding to Kucinich’s actions, Trakas made the following statement:
"Once again, Kucinich shows how out of touch he is with Cleveland and the 10th District. A meaningless piece of legislation that is going nowhere seems to be the priority of our congressman while the constituents in the 10th District suffer."
Trakas’s statement points out his lack of seriousness for Dennis’s articles, but also lends to the type of Representative we could have in congress next year. Although he could have stayed silent on the issue, Trakas used the impeachment articles to launch a hostile attack on Kucinich.

Dennis might be running the most important congressional race in 2008; the stakes are huge and they go well beyond Greater Cleveland. Consider that we have one of the most honest members of congress, who refuses to play Washington’s typical games and we have the only member of congress with the audacity to stand on the floor of the House and for 3 hours documenting the case for the impeachment of George W. Bush. On the other hand we have a candidate who denies Kucinich’s accomplishments and calls his legislation meaningless. Who takes the seat in congress will ultimately be decided by those residing on the west side of Cleveland, but it doesn’t mean Dennis’s supporters elsewhere in the country shouldn’t support his local campaign – the stakes are simply too high to lose Dennis as part of our government.