Thoughts on the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

Last Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of visiting the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory Summit, Utah.  This is the location of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.

When the idea of a Transcontinental Railroad was first suggested by Asa Whitney in 1830, the concept must have been just as far-fetched as suggesting in 1930 that we’d be walking on the moon in 1969.  Yet the vision of a Transcontinental Railroad took less than 40 years to come to fruition.  So why is a nation-wide, high-speed passenger rail system such a difficult vision for people to support today?  And how do we get citizens to support it?

The Upside-Down Pyramid

1I’ve been thinking of a way to visualize how transportation modes should be prioritized. One way of looking at it is to think of a pyramid with a solid base consisting of walking and biking. Right above that comes public transit. In the middle lies everything else. And right at the top are cars. This places the most efficient transportation modes at the foundation of society’s transportation system and minimizes the role of automobiles in society.

2Unfortunately, sprawl necessitates that cars be given priority, while public transit and walking and biking are neglected. The question facing us is how long until the upside-down pyramid topples!

(I’ll be attending a family reunion for the rest of the week, so this will likely be my last post of the week.)

Vacation Photos: Rail Trails and Bear Tracks


I spent this week camping with my dad at the Warm River Campground of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest about 9 miles northeast of Ashton, Idaho.  I’ve included some photos including a travelogue of two rail trails in the area and some bear tracks. Continue reading

My Frustration with the Term “Alternative Transportation”

(For the rest of the week, I will be on vacation and out of cell phone/internet range, so this will likely be my only post this week.)

traffic-cartoonI did a Google image search for “traffic” and found the above cartoon, which sets the stage for the point that I’m trying to make.

I’ve been criticized before for using the term “alternative transportation,” when referring to transit, biking, and walking as opposed to driving.   Well, I’m frustrated by using it.  I believe that walking, biking, and transit should be the norm, while driving should be considered alternative transportation!  In closing…

Bike-Car comparison

Station Park: When Transit-Oriented Development Isn’t

When the location for the Farmington FrontRunner station was chosen, the land next to it was vacant and ripe for development.  There was a lot of talk of using the land to create “transit-oriented development.”  It’s potential was even mentioned in a 2007 New York Times article.  Unfortunately, just as staying in the presidential suite at a hotel does not make you the President, building a development next to a train station does not make it transit-oriented.  I’m not exactly sure where the planning process went wrong in Farmington, but I am well-aware that what has been built there is not what the planners at UTA had envisioned.  I usually hop on FrontRunner and make a visit there once every couple months.  Walking from the station to the shops, restaurants, and theater requires traversing a vast parking lot with a high risk of being struck by a soccerparent (trying to be gender neutral) driving a minivan.  I made a visit there this afternoon and snapped a few photos.

IMAG0265Here’s a view of the Farmington FrontRunner station looking down from the station’s pedestrian bridge which crosses over the FrontRunner and Union Pacific tracks.  To the right lies Station Park. Continue reading

Best Practices for Rail Systems: Various Levels of Service

At times I’ve found it difficult explaining best practices for rail systems.  Germany is a great example, but it’s cost prohibitive to fly people over to Europe just to make my point.  One aspect that’s difficult for people to grasp are the various levels of service.  As a real-world example, let’s say we’re in the city of Köln (Cologne in English) and want to take a train to Hamburg around noon.

At 11:48, there’s an InterCityExpress (ICE) departing, which is Germany’s most expensive and most luxurious train.  At € 94 ($122), it’s pricey though.  Usually the ICE is the fastest train, but due to a transfer the 4 hour 17 minute trip is slightly longer than other options:

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Salt Lake City: A Conservative State Builds Progressive Transit

Salt Lake City: A Conservative State Builds Progressive Transit from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Another great video from Clarence Eckerson at Streetfilms.  I didn’t make it into this video, however one of my colleagues, Tom Millar of SaltCycle, plays a big role discussing the Sugar House Streetcar, which is set to begin operation in December.

Streetfilms Shortie – Checking out GreenBike in Salt Lake City from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

But I did make it into the above film (briefly at 1:02), which I originally reported in “Thoughts on CNU 21.”

Final Paper for Green Communities

The following is the final paper I wrote for my Green Communities class:

I would like to make sustainable transportation the focus of my career.  Growing up I was blessed to have lived in Germany twice.  The first trip was as an exchange student the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.  A couple years later, I returned to Germany as a missionary and lived there almost two years.  I was deeply impressed by the options offered by their transportation system.  They hadn’t put “all their eggs in one basket” as the US had in the second half of the 20th century, when we placed our priority on a auto-centric transportation system.  I was impressed by the presence of a Fußgängerzone (pedestrian zone) at the heart of every city, town, and village.  Additionally, these pedestrian zones were typically anchored by a train station (or at least a bus hub) along with civic and religious buildings.  I now realize the symbology of placing walking as the priority at the heart of a community.

My experiences in Germany left me with an affection for public transit, especially trains, and also walking and biking.  I saw the benefits of having transportation options and of living in higher-density, walkable communities.  I wondered why we couldn’t enjoy the same way of life in the US.  Considering how energy intensive our auto-centric system is, I now realize how critical it is that we diversify our transportation options.

Transportation improvements alone won’t create sustainable transportation.  I have come to learn that land use is inseparable from transportation.  Attempting to make one sustainable without the other is a futile pursuit.

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