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fox cities news, appleton, wi fox cities news, appleton, wi
Send this Issue: Light rail in Appleton? to a friend.

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4/15/2010
Light rail in Appleton?

Instead of walking on hot coals the other day, I perused the minutes of the March meeting of the Fox Cities Transit Commission, responsible for keeping the buses running in Appleton and adjoining Fox Cities communities. Gripping stuff! This dedicated group of folks was reviewing plans for their every-5-year megabucks consultant contract to perform the “Operations Analysis Project.”

Ten years ago or so, I served as a lonely conservative voice on one of these study review panels; lots of caffeine to get through the grind, and stacks of information – good solid numbers and not so good, but still highly relied upon anecdotal stuff – sharing how few people ride which bus routes.

Arguing about bus ridership is another whole subject. I acknowledge that transit service exists here in the Fox Valley because of the helpful social service it provides, but I recognize our transit system is highly subsidized by multiple layers of government – every tax pocket you have. Areas without very high population densities simply don’t and can’t pay for it without those sky high government handouts. (Please, transit fans, please don’t tell me that roads are subsidized to those same levels.)

Nestled in this discussion of where, what and how many buses, was an interesting comment by Commissioner Development Director) George Dearborn.
Mr. Dearborn said he wasn’t sure if light rail would be considered within the parameters of the analysis, but he hoped that it would have a place in the recommendations, because he saw it as a long term solution for improving the quality of life in the region.
Whoa Nelly! (to quote Ed Garvey…)

Wow. So I talked with Dearborn – who is a very nice guy.

The Town of Menasha’s Community Development Director emphasized that bus service is the main focus of the study – how we can maximize our service for the region. But “clearly, looking at light rail for the long term is appropriate…. Buses are not really exciting for people….” Yes. People will use a train because it’s exciting. Hmmm.

In Dearborn’s defense, he mentioned as plausible a fixed rail route from the airport to downtown Appleton. As he said, the airport’s not going anywhere, and neither is the Mall or downtown. Ok, I could see that, I suppose. But gosh, what kind of ridership would you need to pay for the thing? Dearborn also lectured (in a helpful, constructive way) about the critical importance of first getting to the basics of good planning – for example, wise long term strategizing would mean concentrating development, resisting sprawl, so that eventually, densities are high enough to make light rail make sense.

Dearborn is a real Sustainability guy. The Town has a very active Sustainability Committee, turning out lights in the Town Hall – and much more. The writing on the wall Dearborn sees? – “As more and more people can’t drive, how will people get around?” And “Will everyone drive cars forever?”

Winding up our conversation, we went round and round a bit about that question of subsidies – cars and roads get subsidies, why gripe so much about transit subsidies? [Again… see link – above. Because they’re ten or twenty times the subsidies provided for road construction and maintenance.]

Riding the rails from the airport to downtown in little ‘ol Appleton. Dearborn’s vision was oh.. maybe 20 years out. We shall see.

Jo Egelhoff, FoxPolitics.net






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