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Opinion: Don’t be railroaded, Columbus

Opinion: Don’t be railroaded, Columbus


Opinion By Wayne T. Lewis, Publisher, (614) Magazine

I’m one of those people who loves to know how and why things work. From rocket motors to chicken coops, my curiosity knows no bounds. One my latest interests is trying to understand the preoccupation by some in Columbus for this thing called, “light rail.”

There has been talk of rail transport in one form or another since well before I landed here about 10 years ago. One of the early things I noticed back then was the traffic. It was marvelous. It flowed effortlessly in most parts of the city. Of course that’s changing now, as the city’s prodigious growth is slowing the pace of getting from Point A to B.  Yet, traffic here remains relatively tame compared to cities both smaller and larger.

Still, the voices of the incessant city planners, politicians and wanna-be experts in city development sound off regularly with the urgent need for pricey rail projects. Most recently, The JET task force appointed by our outgoing Mayor has made news with its pending recommendations for the future of city transportation.

Among these is a 3.6 mile route along High Street. Despite an estimated price tag of $335 Million (which we all know will double by the project’s end), one more question begs to be answered.


Why does Columbus need to spend, frankly, any money on building such massive, permanent infrastructure for a short jaunt that is already served well by COTA? Which, if you didn’t know, is virtually serving this entire route for Free at the moment with the CBUS Circulator. A paltry $1.3M is all it takes to operate that line. What, are buses just not cool or progressive enough for these folks? Some even run on clean, natural gas.

Or how about the bright idea to spend another $406 Million on an airport-to-downtown route.  Earth to city planners: that trip is a sub-$10 Uber fare. How does it benefit the city’s residents to duplicate existing transporation outcomes and at such great expense?

It’s as if these city leader/planner/plotters don’t believe Columbus can be a City with a capital “C” unless we have the proper, progressive urban trappings.

Government subsidized travel in general, perhaps outside of megalopolises, is a never-ending boondoggle of waste, inefficiency and long-term economic hardship for municipalities once the federal “build me” funding is long gone. Case in point: Amtrak. Or if you prefer somewhere smaller scale, this piece from the Minneapolis Star Tribune says a lot.

Would more transportation options be beneficial to the city and its citizens? Sure. But while the planners plan, the private sector is busy offering these options from brands such as CoGo Bike Share, Car2go, Uber, Lyft, pedicabs and others.  Getting to and fro in this city has never been easier or cheaper.

Sadly, writing this has not been very cathartic. I still can’t peg the obsession among some so-called city leaders to spend what would be well over $1 Billion of other people’s money for something the city doesn’t need and relatively few would use.  Why not spend a Billion bucks on better schools or something? Heck, for that kind of change, I’ll bet we could dig ourselves a giant, man-made lake complete with white-sand beaches. I know there’s some land near the Arena District available, right Hollywood Casino?

Now, excuse me while I hop in the heated seat of my comfortable SUV and make the harrowing 14-minute, 9-mile journey home which the taxes sloshing around my gas tank paid for.

Seriously, our City is just fine, thank you.


The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the opinions of the staff or management of but of the individual author.


In Response…

Emily K

The city of Columbus is set to gain 500,000 people in the next few years. We cannot put that many cars on the road. It seems the trend is to keep expanding roads. A) We can only expand roads so far and B) this option makes it more and more unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists. I have experienced this first hand. It is dangerous to not drive your car. We are missing out on tourism because there is no way to get from the airport without a car. The bus service does not cover all areas and can get caught in traffic just like a car. Citing Uber, a private company, is not a problem solver. Not everyone uses Uber and it is a private company that does what is best for the company, not the city, and can pull out at any time. As stated previously, Car2Go, Uber, etc, are not good/possible options for those with mobility issues. Those most impacted by the lack of transportation and/or unsafe pedestrian/bicycle options are those who tend to have the quietest voice – the poor, elderly, handicapped, or children. Perhaps you should take a break from your big SUV for a month and try getting around without your own four wheels. It is next to impossible.

D Jennings

Traffic in this is city is great. At times it gets a little hairy. But for the most part you get everywhere you need in a nice short amount of time! COTA needs fixed. It’s routes are dated & no one can get anywhere anytime soon. They need more direct route to area of the city and county then downtown. How about ones that only run at certain times to certain places. Ie Westside to Airport? Hillard to Airport? more of get on here get off here one way routes two or three times a day. Like trains services in most city’s. Plus u don’t need a stop ever few feet. Lastly Columbus does need rail- but rail that would connect our city to other cotys making traveling easier and proving more options.

Orie Givens

There are many people who need mobility but don’t have cars, and COTA is no where near effective. We need more options, period, and we aren’t just talking about a bus to go get wasted in the Short. Everyone can’t access the services for transportation which have become popular. Uber, lyft, Car2Go, etc. are all targeted to a certain section of the populace – our young, urban professionals. Which is great, but what about the people who need transportation options that are more cost effective, with no ballooning, that service more areas at more times of day? Those services are not the best option if you are without a car, working a low wage job in a different part of town. It should not take 2 hours to get anywhere in the city, but our current transit system can take that much time or longer if you’re transferring or going cross town. The light rail may not be the best option, in fact, I would rather see something that connected the city’s suburbs and outlying areas to the inner city. For many reasons we need to abandon our obsession with cars and focus more on mass transit to help our city grow and our residents become more mobile. We are a city with a complex and diverse populace and we need solutions that support more than just those with smartphones and credit cards. And if cost is the concern, why not explore one of those nifty Public/Private partnerships that the administration here has been so proud of.

Kevin Buettner

You fail to see that Uber is still putting cars on the road. There are lots of people in this town that do not use cars on a daily basis and COTA barely services the airport. Add in the travelers that come into the city for a convention downtown and then leave. What about if Columbus lands a major convention, say the DNC 2016? Is Uber supposed to handle this surge? I doubt the taxis can handle it all. It’s hard enough to get a cab on a Friday afternoon. I will agree it needs to tie into a larger picture, but connecting the airport to the city can only help us.

Kadi McDonald

Obviously you’ve not researched many other similarly-sized cities and their transportation options. Consider our neighbor, Cleveland, which has been running routes on the Rapid for years now. I’ve never lived in Cleveland, but let me tell you, driving up 71, pulling off at the airport exit, parking my car, and taking a $2, 20 minute train ride that lets me off right at the Browns’ stadium is pretty amazing. I don’t have to worry about parking, I don’t have to worry about traffic, I don’t have to worry about doing anything except for getting back to my car later that evening.

The push for light rail isn’t because we don’t have other ways to get around – it’s about convenience, safety, and reliability when roads are bad in the winter time. Columbus continues to grow, and in an effort to attract more businesses and residents, a light rail system is a great added benefit. Will everyone use it? No. Will people use it to get to work in the mornings? Absolutely. Will people use it to get home after a night of drinking on the weekends? Most certainly. Will people use it early on Saturday mornings? Maybe not, but that’s why we have things called timetables and peak and off-peak times.

Joshua Lapp

Introducing fixed guide-way transit to Columbus is about investing in and planning for the future of our city. What you deem an obsession, is a rational attempt to ensure that we have a system in place so that our city is not bogged down in the future by traffic and to give our city the ability to grown in a sustainable fashion. Adding fixed guide-way systems such as light rail, with a dedicated right of way, allows capacity to grow in our busiest, densest areas, which are only growing in congestion with new development.

Also- since you thought it important to point out government subsidized travel, lets address that topic. Automobile travel is the most egregiously subsidized form of transportation. Remember the “Split Fix” project downtown whose budget has ballooned to almost $2 Billion for less than 3 miles of roadway? Or the transfer of funds that happen annually to bolster the highway transportation fund? Or the massive subsidies that did and still do allow suburban sprawl. Rail projects are a pittance compared to the billions annually expended on sprawl favoring projects. Please research well before spouting off on these topics in the future.

Back at ya…

me2Wayne T. Lewis

I appreciate the discourse and realize there are strong opinions on this. That said, none of the arguments presented were anything I’ve not previously heard or considered. I’ve spent time in CHI, NYC, DC, N.O., MUNICH, SYDNEY and have used rail-based transport in all of those cities. I’m a fan of it in those places where the sheer population or tourist density requires it. Does anyone believe Columbus will get anywhere near those cities in terms of population? I don’t think so and sure hope not.

Yet, those who preach the virtues of urban density want to see this happen and light rail is the downpayment. The difference is, I’m not asking to spend a Billion+ dollars of other people’s money to build my urban utopia. The truth is several miles of rail lines would be little more than a novelty in the city’s overall transportation scheme. A Billion dollars is not a financial novelty.

“But how about the gazillions spent on roads!?” asks the breathless activist.

It’s a moot point. Everyone uses the roads and without them, civilization (ie:food) would end virtually overnight. This would be the case in cities with even the most expansive rail systems. I’m all for figuring out how to maintain them cheaper but the fact is, roadways are like oxygen to civilization at this point.

One reader brought up Cleveland, who with over 15 miles and two lines, averages less than 8,000 riders per day. Yet, proponents project 28,000 per day in Columbus. If you believe the usage projections, well I have a Social Security lockbox to sell you.

Rail in this city is a want, not a need – even for the foreseeable future. Sadly, generations of Americans have not been taught the difference.


Tell Columbus what you think…


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