Trains important to country
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 2:49 PM
Train freight, train transportation, and train lore are woven into our country's history. From the fabled Golden Spike which linked one side of our continent to the other in 1869 to the last couple of generations of kids enamored by Thomas the Tank Engine, America's economic and cultural history has been woven into and around rail.
Our own history in Crawfordsville speaks powerfully to this as historian-librarian Bill Helling learned when he researched local transportation history. Even though he knew things would have changed a good deal because of the proliferation of automobiles in the last half of the twentieth century, his finding were nonetheless startling. In 1915 it was possible (and at modest cost) to leave Crawfordsville or arrive here via bus, interurban, train, or trolley over 50 times each day. Times have changed.
As the interstate highways expanded and became a liberating and all powerful economic force in the decades after World War II, even to the extent of shaping America's cities and leading to the creation of the modern suburb, trains and other modes of public transportation, except in America's largest cities, faded into the background.
Now things are changing again. In the past decade or so, cities have found it less and less possible to add new arterials around their centers. Each year traffic gridlock costs an increasingly large amount of our nation's resources. Texas A&M keeps track of such data, and reports that in 2011 Indianapolis gridlock cost the city's economy over 35,000 people-productive hours; for the individual commuter, time on congested roads nearly doubles daily drive time.
As this traffic slowdown was developing, the digital age arrived, giving flexibility to how and where Americans work. No longer do the majority of young people entering adulthood yearn for large houses and large cars in suburbia, choices that now mean long, expensive commutes. People entering the labor force now are choosing to live in smaller, more efficient dwellings, either in cities or on rail lines so they can work on their computers as they ride to work. New twenty-first century options are re-defining public transportation as well. Many cities now have Bike Share and Smart Car Share plans even as these same cities are building light rail and commuter rail. Many cities, like Milwaukee, have now linked airport to rail to bus service (and to other public transport modes) for an efficient, well used multi-modal system.
This massive transportation flip is being call The Great Inversion by transportation experts and it's happening everywhere. (We here in Crawfordsville have taken our first step by approving the Master Plan for our Pedestrian-Bicycle Route Development.) Two American generations are largely responsible for creating this massive shift, the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. In other words, the generation with the most power, now entering its elder years, and the next working generation.
While most of us here in the rural Midwest still travel by car most of the time, it behooves us to be aware of this rapidly approaching Inversion. Statistics tell us that ridership on all public transportation is increasing notably. On Amtrak trains alone, ridership has increased over a million riders each year since 2003, and Amtrak has set ridership records in 10 of the past 11 years.
All over this country, young people are speaking up about this. At a recent High Speed Rail Conference in California, dozens of young professionals, college students, and recent graduates explained what high speed passenger train service would mean for them and their generation. "One of the reasons I'm here today is because I feel a heightened sense of responsibility to do whatever I can to ensure that my generation's opportunities are no longer car-dependent," said Rebecca Sansom, young director of Trains-forming America, during her testimony.
The League of Women Voters has supported access to public transportation for all Americans as part of the Meeting Basic Human Needs position reorganized in 1990. "This reorganization addresses the basic needs of all people for food, shelter, and access to health care and transportation."
The League of Women Voters is nonpartisan and does not support or oppose candidates or parties. The LWV encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of \policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the League, visit the website: www.lwvmontco.org, send a message to PO Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org