Lack of Adequate Public Transportation
The Bluegrass boasts three large airports: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky in Boone County, Louisville, and Lexington. This can be said to be fortunate, if one disregards the expense of flying to the pocketbook and the environment, because flying is the only way to travel by mass transit directly between the three cities that make up what is called the Golden Triangle: Covington, Louisville, and Lexington.
It is possible to travel by Greyhound bus between Louisville and Lexington but only by transferring in Cincinnati. The total bus trip thus takes a minimum of four hours. A spokesperson for Greyhound says that the company is considering reviving the direct bus route between Louisville and Lexington, and that the main obstacle to doing so is a lack of buses (1). Buses travel directly from Louisville and Lexington to Cincinnati and back, but they do not stop in northern Kentucky. Someone wanting to leave or enter Northern Kentucky by bus needs to take a local, TANK, bus between northern Kentucky and the Cincinnati bus station.
In all, the Bluegrass has three Greyhound bus stations, Berea, Lexington, and Louisville. From Lexington, buses travel north to Cincinnati and south to Berea, thence to London and points beyond. From Louisville they travel southwest to Elizabethtown and Bowling Green. There are no routes across the state from east to west.
Amtrak serves only one railway station in the Bluegrass, Maysville. (It also offers service from Cincinnati.) One train line goes through Maysville, the Cardinal/Hoosier Route, which links Chicago to New York City’s Penn Station by way of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and northern Kentucky. Unfortunately the times of trains are impractical. A passenger going to New York must leave Maysville at 4:51 am and arrives in New York at 9:36 pm, for instance. Louisville used to be served directly by the Cardinal/Hoosier Route, but the Louisville station lost its trains in 2003.
The Bluegrass Ultra-Transit Service (BUS) operates buses among eleven Bluegrass counties, aimed at senior citizens and people with medical appointments. Trips are made at the request of passengers and, except in case of emergency, reservations must be requested seventy-two hours in advance. In addition to the custom service, BUS operates a regular intra-city route between Danville and Lexington. The trips are expensive, unless an individual receives reimbursement from government or private insurance: $1.00 a mile.
The Foothills Development Council operates skeletal local bus services in Berea, Richmond, and Paradise Cove (the latter two in conjunction with the Richmond Transit Service). In Berea there is hourly service between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm Monday through Friday. The service in Richmond and Paradise Cove is roughly equivalent.
Lexington, the Louisville metro area, and Northern Kentucky offer local bus service through, respectively, LexTran, TARC (Transit Authority of River City), and TANK (Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky).
The ridership of TARC, which was over 16 million in 2007 increased approximately 5% annually in 2006 and 2007, and can be assumed to be increasing along with gas prices in 2008. Incredibly, faced with rising demand for its services, TARC is raising fares, as of July1, 2008, and cutting back on service as of August 24, 2008. The authorities say that the changes are necessary to balance the 2009 budget, because increases in the number of passengers do not compensate for higher fuel prices and higher health insurance costs. TARC lacks a dedicated source of funding, money that it can depend on year after year.
With a ridership of 3.735 million in 2007, TANK is also cutting back on service this summer, though not, apparently, raising fares. TANK is funded by Boone, Campbell, and Kenton to which it submits a budget and from which it requests subsidies yearly.
LexTran, which enjoys dedicated funding as the result of a transit tax passed by Lexington-Fayette County voters in 2004, is expanding rather than cutting back on services. Ridership was 5.4 million unlinked trips in 2007 (unlinked means that a trip with two segments linked by a transfer is counted as two trips), an increase from 3.7 million in 2006; and in 2008 Lextran is experiencing additional gains. In May 2008 ridership was 15% greater than it was in May 2007 (2). Unfortunately, Lextran still does not make a visible impact on the floods of vehicular traffic that come near to choking Lexington.
The down-town bus terminal in Lexington may be one deterrent to travel on the bus for people who can afford to drive cars. The terminal is dingy and polluted with the exhaust of buses that idle their engines while waiting to start a round trip. Another deterrent is the difficulty of walking across many Lexington streets because of the heavy traffic, which can make it impossible for some people to walk to or from a bus.
In the Bluegrass there is a tendency for local governments to spend large sums of money on short hiking trails, but to overlook the fact that what is really needed is means for residents to walk safely to the grocery store or library. If facilitating walking and cycling, rather than facilitating the movement of cars and trucks, were the primary goal of traffic control, much would change for the better.
Large cities in the Bluegrass are putting varying degrees of effort into improving conditions for cycling. In May 2008, Bicycling Magazine named Louisville the third most improved city for cycling in the United States, and the government is creating a one-hundred mile cycling/walking trail around Louisville. However, within cities the existing infrastructure makes the installation of safe cycling lanes and cycling paths difficult. At least in Lexington, the announced mileage of added lanes is no indication of the mileage of truly cyclable roads. Cars often have to cut dangerously across cycling lanes to make turns, and lanes may end abruptly at corners.
As for means of cycling or hiking safely from town to town or city to city, they are almost non- existent in Kentucky. Roads through the Bluegrass horse country would make beautiful cycling trails or hiking trails—were it not for the cars; but, with the general lack of broad shoulders or, in many places, of any shoulders, on country roads, vehicular traffic is an ever-present threat to cyclists.
The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy hopes to link Lexington to Ashland with a cycling/hiking trail built on an old railroad bed. However, at present, Kentucky is forty-fifth in the nation in the number of trails constructed on old railway lines. It has thirty-six miles of what are known as Rails-to-Trails, and these miles are in short segments (3). The state has roughly 1200 miles of abandoned railroad lines (4).
The relative lack of public transport in the Bluegrass and the difficulty of walking and cycling safely mean that people have to drive to get to their destination. This results in poor—and at times horrendous--conditions for drivers: congested roads and highways and, in cities, frequent and lengthy stops at red lights.
--Mary Byrd Davis
1. Dave Morse, “Greyhound Mulls Restoring Lou/Lex Service,” June 17, 2008, available online at http://www.cartky.org/node/120.
2. Anna Tong, “LexTran Enjoying Increase in Ridership,” Lexington Herald, June 15, 2008.
3. Kentucky Rails to Trails Council, [Home Page of Web Site], at http://www.kyrailtrail.org.
4. http://worldtimzone.com/blog/date/2003/09/26/kentuckys-abandoned-railroad-lines/, posted September 26, 2003.
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