Thursday, March 3, 2011

Public Transportation in Arkansas

Big cities have something in common. Something good. Something helpful. Something places like Arkansas don't see much of. They call it something like public transportation. Strange right?

I know that to have a metro system in Jonesboro or any other Arkansas city for that matter isn't a great idea. But an inter-city train isn't such a bad idea. Decent bus systems are not a bad idea. Sidewalks and bike lanes might be the cheapest and simplest idea of all and they are not a bad idea.

Buses: Arkansas has inter-city buses like Greyhound. They take forever to get to their destination. But those buses are not the ones I am talking about. The ones I am talking about are the ones like JETS (Jonesboro Economic Transport System) that take people in the city from one bus-stop to another. It is great that Jonesboro has a service at all; some cities in Arkansas do not have a bus system. However, Jonesboro needs more buses and more bus routes. I remember riding the bus one afternoon from my dorm to the mall. If I drove, it would take about 10 minutes. By bus it took around half an hour or more. The bus comes to each stop every hour or every other hour, depending on the day of the week. 

The timing is because there are so few buses and routes. If they had more buses, more routes make since. With more routes, the current routes could be shortened to have one overlapping point for transfers. Shorter routes would allow the bus on a given route to run more frequently, maybe every half hour. Also with more buses, there could be more than one bus on each route in each direction.  In addition to new routes, a transfer system would be needed.

I learned about transfers quickly in Washington this summer. They had a card with a magnetic chip. Passengers load money on the card and swiped it on the bus. It recorded information about when they got on. If it was swiped again within the next two hours on another bus, it was a free transfer and the time was reset.

Trains: There are plenty of trains in Arkansas. One of the largest companies I know of is Union Pacific. What we do not have a lot of is travel by rail. There are a few AMTRAK stations in the state. Tickets are generally expensive and it is not typically used for traveling in the state. We do not need subways, but a decent rail system would be nice. It wouldn't have to stop everywhere, just major cities. Cities such as Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Texarkana, Fayetteville, West Memphis, Jonesboro, Search, Conway, Russellville, and Fort Smith could be connected by rail.

Rails can run a straight line and require less space than roads. Math tells us the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Yes there may be slight curves in the rail line but, it is still shorter than using multiple roads that go different directions. There would be fewer curves, and less traffic on the rail allowing travel at higher speeds. Between the distance and higher speed it should cut off some time on the trips, although some routes might require a transfer in Little Rock or other "hub."

As long as the benefits outweigh the costs it should be a good idea. I use a full tank of gas when I make a round-trip to Little Rock and back. With rising gas prices the short trip can take a toll on my wallet and bank account. The train-system could be a part of the state government. If there were a charge of maybe $10 for a one way trip from Jonesboro to Little Rock, I think it would be worth it. The trip would be faster and cheaper than driving, not to mention less tiring. And even at that cost, the government should have money to put back into the system, if not even having some left over to use in other areas of the budget.

I honestly feel like the biggest hurdle for this might be getting it started (as with city buses). It would require tax dollars. However, to ease the situation a little, it could be a gradual project. There might even be agreements with railroad companies already in the state to use their tracks temporarily until the state can fund projects to have their own tracks with better routes. In the long run, I think it would help a lot, at least in the future. It would help cut down on traffic on the roads, fuel consumption, and maybe even be a step towards being greener.

Sidewalks/Bike Lanes: Jonesboro is a little behind in this area. Although I think they are a lot better than Conway in many aspects (bus system, parks, etc.), they don't have many sidewalks. I don't think I have even seen a bike lane in the county. 

A friend and I walked from the Arkansas State campus, down Stadium Boulevard to South Caraway Rd. Then we took South Caraway back to campus. It was about a 10-mile hike through Jonesboro. Most of that hike did not include sidewalks. During the journey we saw several problems. If we were lucky enough to have a pedestrian light, as soon as it would turn to walk, it would begin flashing red don't walk signs again almost immediately. Without sidewalks, we were often very close to the side of the road. We walked through people's yards many times to avoid being hit by an oncoming car, especially on the busy roads.

ASU has a high international population. Most of those students cannot drive. There are many students from the United States that cannot drive either. Whether it be because they do not have a license or a car, they sometimes have to walk to places they need to go such as Wal-Mart or the Mall at Turtle Creek.

Bikes are another option for transportation but it is dangerous. There are no sidewalks to ride on. There are no bike lanes on the roads to help keep cyclists out of the way of traffic. If the city, county, or state built bike lanes they could even temporarily help pedestrians. 

Other statements:
I have picked on Jonesboro in most of these statements. That is because it is where I spend most of my time. But it is inclusive of many places in the state, especially the larger cities. The projects would cost money which might mean increases in state and local taxes, but they would be worth it.

In the long run people can save time, money, the environment and lives with public transportation. It also provides a service to many people who don't have other means of transportation. The creation of the public transportation does not mean people have to use it, but there are a lot of people, myself included, who would use it, especially if it made more sense. I would love to walk more often on nice days, but without sidewalks I am hesitant. With sidewalks I would be a lot more likely to walk, not only saving money, and the environment, but living a healthier life and exercising.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree with more public transportation. If i could i would rather take it. I spend the majority of my money on transportation. Rather it be traveling local or far away. Its only a dream right now for better public transit. One day it may be the future!


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