Published: Oct 30, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 28, 2012 04:55 PM
As someone who has worked for environmental causes since I became old enough to understand the impact that people have on this planet, I can think of no more important local issue this fall than Orange County’s opportunity to move forward with a modern transit system. Public transit is a critical piece of providing for our environmental sustainability, and a vote against the transit referendum is a clear vote against the environment.
Public transit is a key component in environmental sustainability. If we want to be ready for the rest of this century, we need to make car-free and car-less living a viable lifestyle for our residents. It may not be you who makes that transition, but if even a few of the rest of us do, you stand to benefit from the improved air quality, reduced congestion, and more livable community.
A big part of the environmental benefit comes from giving us greater control over how we grow as a community. Concentrating development in compact, mixed-use developments along the transit corridors served by this plan is a clear way to reduce our per-capita carbon footprint, and helps us to maintain the character of our existing neighborhoods and the rural areas and farmland beyond Chapel Hill’s borders that many of us cherish.
Unfettered growth is an ecological problem, but even a worse problem is pretending like we can stop growth by not preparing for it.
There is extensive research showing the positive effect that light rail stations have in shaping the impacts of growth on a community. The same level of positive impact, as of yet, has not been seen around bus stops to the degree it exists with rail. Buses are an important part of the plan, but they alone cannot accomplish everything that rail can.
This referendum, however, is not about choosing between buses and light rail. We will need both in order to accommodate demand, and I am pleased that this plan provides a good balance between the two
Opponents have been working feverishly to obscure the facts. They would like you to believe that just because a particular route isn’t funded that the whole plan is without basis. If this particular investment were the entirety of our transit infrastructure in the Triangle, their arguments might carry some weight. But it’s not. No, there is no rail service to Wake County in this phase. But the vast majority of folks who wake up and leave Orange County in the morning are headed for Durham County, not Wake. And for those of who do commute to Wake, there is already excellent express bus service, which will be even better served with the enhanced feeder service and park and ride improvements in this plan.
They’d also have you believe there is no place in the plan for service to RDU or RTP. But this simply isn’t true either. My last trip to both was on public transit, and both are potential beneficiaries of improved frequency and expanded hours of service through the plan which we are voting for now at early voting and on Election Day.
Make no mistake: a vote against the transit referendum is a vote against public transit, plain and simple, and along with that, a vote against the economic vitality, social equity, and environmental sustainability which transit provides. We can’t afford to wait any longer to bring a 21st century transportation infrastructure to the Triangle. Please vote for the referendum, if not for yourself, than for our future.
Baker is a board member of the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club, Chapel Hill Planning Board, and co-chair of Orange County Friends of Transit.