tampabay.com

A dream of roads where cars take a back seat

By MARC J. YACHT
Published August 30, 2007


A recent motor trip that included several cities made my wife, Helen, and I appreciate the value of good public transportation. Although we could have used the car, it proved best to leave it parked at the hotel. By using buses, elevated trains and trolleys, we avoided the stress of driving in an unfamiliar place, eliminated the risks of accidents and sidestepped the frustration of expensive or hard-to-find parking.

In Chicago, $5.30 got you 24 hours on any city transit. The 24 hours started with your first use of the pass. We traveled from one end of the city to the other, enjoying the ride. We quickly reached Chicago's Loop on fast-moving trains and traveled to other parts of the city, connecting with buses. An added benefit of public transport is mixing with locals who are always helpful in giving tips on what to see in their city. I found city transportation clean, friendly and swift.

St. Louis offered one-day passes for $4.50, and using them, we saw the sights. Included was a visit to the Gateway Arch, a visit to the magnificent Forest Park, where we enjoyed a free concert, walked to the renovation site of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair Exposition and then to the nearby zoo. A bus connection brought us to the Missouri Botanical Gardens and an opportunity to visit the Climatron, a geodesic dome housing orchids and tropical plants.

Pondering the lack of efficient transportation in the Tampa Bay area, I considered how useful it might be if several counties pooled their resources and developed people-mover systems that would offer alternatives to automobile commuting. After all, cars are horribly expensive to run, considering fuel prices, insurance rates, parking problems and accident risk. However, public transportation has to be convenient to the population, affordable, and get to destinations with minimal delays.

As things stand in Tampa Bay, without a car, I am reminded of comedian Jonathan Winters' quip, "I know where it is, but you can't get there from here!" Without a car, motorcycle or scooter, getting around Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties without significant delay is improbable and in many cases impossible.

Imagine commuter trains racing to Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Miami and Orlando with a connecting system of outreach to local neighborhoods, an integrated system that allows short drives to adequate parking with buses as a connecting link to commuter trains.

Such a system might lessen the increasing carnage faced by drivers on Florida highways.

Recently I had the misfortune of negotiating traffic from Tampa to Hudson on the Veterans Expressway at 5:30 p.m. The pace was fast and furious; the highway was clogged with traffic.

Toll booths proved the most interesting to negotiate. Although I did not have an accident during this travel, the lack of contact with another vehicle would have to be described as, "better lucky than good," and should not suggest my driving with superior skills.

Occasionally, I travel to Tampa on Interstate 275 in the morning and find it stressful and dangerous. Along the way are motorists less fortunate than I trading insurance cards and driver's licenses. Again, getting to my Tampa destination unscathed falls into the category of chance.

My recent vacation resulted in being rear-ended outside of Atlanta while in gridlock, and front-ended by a red-light-jumping driver in Tallahassee. I suspect my luck may have run out.

Although I was not faulted in either case, I'm sure my auto insurance rate increase will be little affected by who was at fault. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I could hear the cash register ringing at Allstate.

Consider a manageable I-275 at peak hours and Veterans Expressway a safe, leisurely drive at 5 p.m. An efficient people-mover system of commuter trains and buses could accomplish that. Affordable public transportation would reduce accidents, fatalities, stress and gasoline use, and insurance rates could come down.

Yes, I have a dream that next time I go to Tampa, it's going to be on a commuter train like the one I took in St. Louis - clean, friendly, cheap and fast.

Marc J. Yacht recently retired as director of the Pasco Health Department. He lives in Hudson.