Friday, January 22, 2010

Ding! Ding! Ding! Goes the Trolley

God, I love public transportation.

I struggle with embracing Cincinnati's bus system, what with its poorly designed wheel-and-spokes system. That said, it's a great service for people who really need it (including me - I was bus-bound for 2.5 months in 2007 when my car's turbo blew up. I was grateful for the public resource).

The thing is, I wish ours was a system that was used more by people who wanted it, instead of just needing it.

I just got back from spending almost a week in San Francisco, where public transportation is a way of life. The people don't just dig their trains, trams and trolleys because it's environmentally friendly - the truth is, riding public transportation is infinitely more convenient, too.

We flew in to Oakland before noon, and only had to hop on a quick bus before we piled on to the BART. In all, our trip from baggage claim to hotel lobby took about 35 minutes.

We really only needed a car for our one daytrip to Sonoma (though Wingman held on to it for two excursions to see high school pals elsewhere in the Bay area), and so the rest of the time we decided to stick to the MUNI. I was chomping at the bit to get the MUNI Passport; I discovered its significant convenience when I visited San Francisco just over a year ago. The pass (1, 3 or 7-day options) allows you to ride an unlimited number of buses, trolleys, and streetcars - as well as San Francisco's classic cable cars, which carry a hefty, $5 one-way fee.

My three-day pass was 20 bucks, and over the three days of use, I more than made up for my investment.

The other, super-cool thing about traveling around a city with excellent public transportation - many smartphones (Droid, iPhone, etc.) feature a Google Maps option that will give you a transit option, complete with walking directions to specific bus/streetcar stops.

We were quite the pair - pulling out our dueling smartphones, racing to discover the directions to our planned destination first.

The thing is, people in these big, freakin' awesome cities champion their public transportation because it's. so. easy.

Forget driving in circles, looking for an open parking meter or the cheapest parking lot. And ditto for dealing with road rage-laden traffic jams and idiots who don't know how to drive.

Public transportation gives you an opporunity to get to your destination swiftly, simply and with complete sanity. Bonus points for the chance to indulge in some pleasure reading.

The other thing that pubic transportation complements - getting a chance to actually see the city. Had we been trapped in a car the entire time, I likely wouldn't have noticed the lovely street detailing in the otherwise grungy Tenderloin. I wouldn't have known that the names of the streets were engraved in the concrete at almost every street corner.

I wouldn't have had the chance to let my eyes linger a little longer as I peered in the shops, restaurants and businesses we passed.

Public transportation also gives you a chance to rub elbows with real humanity. We saw beautiful and interesting people of all colors, backgrounds and social classes. We had the chance to eavesdrop on a few hilarious conversations.

We got to know a little bit more about life in San Francisco thanks to public transportation.

I am really hoping Cincinnati steps up its game and rolls full steam ahead with big plans for public transportation. A streetcar system could do wonders for our communities, and would likely be the first in many significant steps to improve our fair Queen City.

And someday, maybe some 30-somethings from San Francisco will come and get the chance to learn a little bit more about life in Cincinnati.

And maybe, just maybe, they won't leave.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post Kate, I agree with you. I think the Cincy Streetcar would be super fab.

Randy Simes said...

I've been told that Metro has been working with Google for some time to offer the GoogleMaps Transit directions feature for Cincinnati. The release has been delayed a couple of times, so I'm not exactly sure when it is coming, but it's definitely on the way.

TGirsch said...

"Public transportation also gives you a chance to rub elbows with real humanity."

That's precisely what a lot of suburbanites DON'T like about it. :)

Also, had you flown into SFO instead of Oakland, you wouldn't have even needed the short bus ride. The BART has a stop right at the airport.

Anyway, as much as I like the bay area's public transit, I found it lacking compared to other cities. It was still remarkably bus-oriented, especially in the downtown core. Compare against cities like Boston or Toronto, and you'll see what a REALLY comprehensive transit system looks like.

I can't imagine Cincinnati EVER moving too far in THAT direction.

Kate The Great said...

TGirsh - great insight. Yeah, I've flown into SFO before and agree it's a bit more convenient, but in the big picture, it's not entirely different from OAK.

Funny - I guess I'm someone who grew up in suburbia who has come to love being with "the people." Don't know if it's because we moved from Cincinnati to the East Coast when I was a teen (I am also a big fan of the T in Boston. Is there a *better* way to get to Paddy Burke's or the Black Rose??!!) and had a healthy dose of exposure to life outside of the Strip Mall Set.

And of bigger cities, I know London's tube system practically like the back of my hand, and feel quite comfortable in DC's Metro.

But I mention cities that are far bigger and have maintained a far more progressive outlook than our fair Queen City.

It doesn't mean we can't decide to finally put on our Big Girl Panties and try something a bit more ambitious.

Hell, I'll settle for a Pampers pull-up at this point.

The Better Half said...

Great post. I've visited San Francisco several times, and have always been impressed with BART.

I lived in DC for four years. The thing that I missed (hell, STILL miss) when I moved to Cincinnati is Metro.

I lived five minutes from the last stop on the Blue Line. I lived there for three years before I ever drove my car into the District. I always took Metro.

The system is starting to show its age, and there was the crash that made national news last year. But the system is still clean, safe, fast, and far cheaper and more reliable than cars. And out-of-towners can learn to use the system in about two minutes.

Julie and I have been there twice in the past two years. Both times, we bought visitors' passes that we used multiple times to take us all over the city. If there was a single thing that made me "homesick" while we were there, it was Metro.

Like you, I hope Cincinnati embraces the streetcar.

VisuaLingual said...

Great post. When I lived in the Bay Area, I embraced the various transit systems in so far as that was possible. The crazy thing, to me, was that there are several independent systems in one metro area, so longer trips can get really expensive because of the separate fares. Anyway, I've always been amazed at my friends who live there and would, for the most part, rather drive than walk or take transit, especially BART, which gets really expensive if you've got a few friends taking the same trip. There's a still a strong car culture out there.

TGirsch said...


That may be a part of it. I actually grew up in a bit of an Edward Scissorhands-y neighborhood, even though it was within the city limits (Milwaukee) and I could get anywhere by bus without much hassle. Then I moved out to the actual suburbs (Pewaukee, WI, and later Loveland, OH) and found that I missed public transit a lot.

But the real eye-opening moment was a long weekend in Toronto, when I quite literally never used my car other than to drive to and from that city. We went wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted, never had to mess with parking, and absolutely loved it. I've been a mass transit convert ever since.

I actually moved away from the Cincinnati area in a huff after Metro Moves was shot down in flames. :) Sometimes it seems to me that the only thing Cincinnatians hate more than the way things are is the idea of changing anything.