Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why Don't I Ride The Bus? And Would I Ride The Streetcar?

I've lived in Cincinnati since 2000 (with one year away while I worked for a federal judge). In all that time, I've never used public transportation in Cincinnati. During brief periods of time that I've been without a car, I didn't go to SORTA's trip planning page; I dialed 411 and found a cab.


It's certainly not an aversion to public transportation. I grew up in Buffalo (until I was 14) and Pittsburgh (for high school), and in both cities rode the bus frequently. I spent a few years in Chicago, where I rode both the bus and the "el." I lived in New York for a summer, and reveled in busses, trains, and subways there (in fact, I had an unbreakable "never drive in Manhattan" policy, and was too impoverished to take cabs). And on visits to D.C. and Moscow, I've happily used public transportation.

Some of the problem, no doubt, is lack of familiarity with bus routes in Cincinnati. If I wanted to catch a bus to Hyde Park from downtown, for instance, I have no earthly idea how to do it. Some of it is discomfort with Cincinnati's geography generally: if it weren't for my Tom-Tom, I might still be wandering around the West Side after my most recent excursion there.

But lack of familiarity can't explain it all, can it? Certainly, the first time I was in NYC, I had no idea how to get to Yankee Stadium from midtown Manhattan. But somehow, I found the "D" train and got there in time for a game.

In Cincinnati, unlike in other cities, public transportation isn't widely embraced. Had I told friends in Chicago of plans to drive from the dorm (in the South Side) to Wrigley, they'd have been incredulous. During law school in Cincinnati, had I told friends of plans to take a bus from Clifton to the ballpark, I'd have been greeted with blank stares.

Downtown is small enough that I can walk anywhere. I live at the western edge of downtown, and have no trouble walking to the courthouse or the Justice Center, both on the eastern edge. One fun night a little while ago, a companion and I had dinner at Palomino's (sorry to you chain-haters), walked to Music Hall for a concert, and then walked over to Kaldi's. And I ended up getting back to my apartment (near Tina's) on foot. Of course, the weather was nice that night.

If I leave downtown, I drive. I'll admit it: I don't even think about the bus. A few weeks ago, I spent all day at the UC College of Law for a seminar. That would have been a simple trip. (According to SORTA's tripfinder, I should have caught the 18 at Government Square and taken it to Clifton and McMillan. The trip would taken 12 minutes, required a half-mile of walking, and cost $1.50.) But as much as I hate finding parking in Clifton, I didn't even think about the bus.

As the streetcar debate rages on (presently fueled largely by the folks over at the Beacon), I wonder, would I get my ass on public transportation if it were a streetcar instead of a bus? Probably not so much. I might use the downtown "circulator" to get around downtown (instead of walking), but I doubt I'd use the downtown-Clifton connector instead of getting in my car. The thought of standing on a corner in ten-degree or ninety-degree weather to catch a streetcar just doesn't appeal to me. (Add in the other factor--that once I was at my destination, I'd be limited to traveling to other locations along the proposed streetcar's fairly limited route, or face a bus-or-cab choice.)

So what about y'all? Every time I've been even remotely negative about the proposed streetcar, you yell at me in the comments. If you're one of those who do, do you take the bus now? If you don't, will you use a streetcar? And why use the streetcar when you won't use the bus?

We've got to think this stuff through before we make the major policy decision that light rail represents.

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