(The editorial below appeared
in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
.) This much is sure: Light
rail will transform the city of Norfolk, Va. How, and to what extent, nobody
knows. But the ripped-up streets and chaotic traffic downtown will end, and
Norfolk will get back to the business of reinventing itself. This time, though,
the landscape will be fundamentally different, bisected and improved by a new
mass transit system. The experience of several U.S. cities offers some clue to
what the next few decades will hold in Hampton Roads.
By the end of next year,
the $288-million light rail line - more trolley than Amtrak - will connect the
eastern border of Norfolk with the western, linking Norfolk State University
with Harbor Park with City Hall with downtown businesses with the new library
with MacArthur Center with Eastern Virginia Medical School.
It will take time, but
those destinations will build significant gravity, attracting customers and new
businesses. Neighborhoods strung out along the Elizabeth River will become as
central to city life as anyplace. Stores will sprout around each station.
A few thousand cars will
be diverted off streets and highways by people taking the train. But until the
cost of commuting rises radically or traffic worsens massively, the primary
effect of The Tide will be on where people live and work.
Even as The Tide's
opening gala starts to appear on municipal calendars, light rail's opponents
still point to that impact as if it were some sort of secret, proof of depraved
intent on the part of city fathers. Changes to development and commuting
patterns were, of course, the goal all along.
"The way people use
downtown will change," Cathy Coleman, president of the Downtown Norfolk
Council, told The Virginian-Pilot's Debbie Messina. "People will be in places
they've never been before.
Highways - which can cost
more to build, especially in an area like this - wouldn't do that. And adding
capacity to highways is expensive, as every commuter in Hampton Roads knows all
too well. Once light rail's tracks are laid, adding more capacity is both trivial
Think of light rail -
even a starter line like The Tide - as an amenity. Good schools, safe streets
and reasonable taxes will not individually attract many people or businesses.
But put them all together into a livable community, and over time, things will
change for the better.
It doesn't have to stop
there, of course.
Add an extension to the
Navy's facilities, to the Oceanfront or across the Elizabeth River, and the
transformation would reach well beyond Norfolk. Virginia Beach is looking for a
way to transform Virginia Beach Boulevard from a collection of outdated strip
malls into a place where people go because they want to. Chesapeake and
Portsmouth have taken painful note of Richmond's failure to pay for roads and
see a commuting alternative.
Expect every step along the
way to be opposed by the same folks who rail against The Tide, who rail against
every penny spent on any amenity. Opposition to light rail isn't a failure of
mass transit to make a difference in the lives of people who use it and live
nearby. Opposition is a failure of imagination, and Hampton Roads can dream
bigger than that.
BNSF Powder River Division
employees celebrated the Orin Line's 30-year anniversary in honor of the first
unit-coal train that traveled the 116-mile rail line across the Wyoming prairie
on Nov. 6, 1979, according to the company newsletter.
Mayor Paul Winfield
returned to Vicksburg, Miss., from a three-day trip to Washington, D.C., where
he visited local delegates in a continued effort to wrest from federal sources
nearly $4 million to get the stalled Washington Street bridge replacement under
way, according to the Vicksburg Post.
The city of Lincoln,
Neb., is moving closer to closing J Street railroad crossings in the South Salt
Creek Neighborhood at Second and Third streets, the Lincoln Journal Star
reports. Closing the crossings would please Burlington Northern Santa Fe, with
which the city is negotiating to buy a railyard near the Haymarket for a new arena, if voters approve building one in the spring.
Work on Caltrain's Grade
Crossing Improvement Program, which will enhance safety at 25 grade crossings
in San Mateo County, continues in Atherton and Menlo Park. Work will take place
Dec. 5 and Dec. 7 - 10 between the hours of 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. at Fair Oaks Lane
and Watkins Avenue in Atherton and Ravenswood and Oak Grove avenues in Menlo
Park. Work also will be done from 10:00 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5 to 1:00 a.m.
Sunday, Dec. 6 at the Broadway crossing in Burlingame.