I’m recovering from a bit of a sinus/chest infection and the medicine-head has got me thinking about mass transit. You see, I got this nifty prescription cough medicine. It works wonders, but it’s so powerful I’m not allowed to drive while taking it (something about a mild narcotic in it). So this has got me thinking about mass transit. Why, you ask? Because if there was bus service or light rail or some other cool mass-transit technology serving my neighborhood I could leave the house and do fun things like go to the library, or to a museum or some other bit of fun or uesfulness (like picking up the dry cleaning). Never mind that this exposes my inability to sit still. There are no mass-transit options that serve my suburban neighborhood, period. What about the idea of better mass transit options in Las Vegas? I think it would make our city better, less congested and it would be better for the environment (not to mention cheaper on the whole gas/car-maintenance thing).
Whenever I go to visit other cities I like to check out their mass transit options. Most recently I was in Chicago and we had a great time getting around on the easy-to-use, convenient and cheap bus system. (I also highly recommend their “L,” or elevated subway. When I lived outside Chicago I would take a commuter train into the city and then just ride the L wherever I needed to go. I never needed a car!) Likewise for trips to Portland and San Francisco. I love it when I don’t even have to rent a car! It would be great if we had similar options here! Hell, even if it only fed the tourist corridor, it would be getting rid of a sizable amount of congestion and green-house gas emissions in our city.
Back in December, the Regional Transportation Commission said it has 60 projects on its wishlist at a pricetag of $1 billion (some of which will be funded by federal stimulus dollars). Forget the fact that if these shovel-ready projects got funding and approval they’d bring much-needed jobs to our local economy (well, maybe don’t forget that point), many of these projects would do a lot to help ease traffic congestion around the valley. (Or perhaps you like sitting on the I-15 parking lot.) While the majority of these would be road-improvement projects, there are others on the list that would benefit public transit.
I think we need both. Some of the valley’s major corridors are over-taxed. But ideally, I’d hope for even more money toward mass transit options. One project that looks promising to me is the ACE Rapid Transit Project, which would connect downtown with the Strip resort corridor with high-speed vehicles on dedicated lanes with canopied ticketing stops. And whatever happened to that rail project connecting Henderson to the Strip and then on to Summerlin? All the rails are there. What’s the hold-up (still those cranky, NIMBY-drone Hendersonians?)?
And I still think a high-speed rail between Las Vegas and LA would be a boon to our economy as well as easing congestion on the ever-crowded freeways in Cali. (And just imagine it, you could be drinking and possibly gambling — once you cross the NV border — on the train!) There was that stink over whether or not Reid got funds for that put into the federal stimulus bill, but it doesn’t look like those high-speed rail projects will come anywhere near us. But federal stimulus funds or no, the DesertXpress may just be on its way to reality after many long years as a fantasy. The feds green-lit their environmental impact statement a few weeks ago and investors are pouring money into it. The train, which would move folks 190 miles between Las Vegas and Victorville, could have its first phase operational by 2013.
Another option I think is pretty cool is car-sharing services like Zipcar. Basically, you can do short-term car rental for times when you might need a vehicle for just an hour or two. Often these services use a lot of fuel-efficient cars in their fleets. (Not that this helps me in my medicated state, but it is cool, nonetheless.)
Ultimately, I think it’s time that Las Vegas (and the rest of America) gets used to the idea of mass transit and carpooling as a fab way to move through life. I didn’t have a driver’s license until I was 19 because I didn’t have to. And if I had options like Portland, Chicago and New York, I’d take public transportation whenever possible. It’s cheap. When done well, it can be very easy and comfortable. And it is good for the environment.