The main reason I started this blog a few months ago was to perform a social experiment that I have been wanting to do for a while now. For the month of October, I will not drive a car and will rely only on public transportation and my own muscle to move throughout the city.
This is probably the most common response I get when I describe my public transportation experiment to people. Although I grew up on the outskirts of the Little Rock city limits, I have always had an interest in the city. I love being in the great outdoors, but at the same time I love living in downtown Little Rock, and what would seem to be two completely opposite environments in reality complement each other. I think my love of urban design and planning comes from a desire to create a city that renders suburban sprawl obsolete. As time passes, it is difficult for me to watch my parents’ house that once was outside of the city limits slowly become a wooded oasis among a strip mall and suburban home environment. And what was once a quick drive to the country has become an unattractive, stop-and-go fight to get through west Little Rock as our city continues to feed its endless appetite to push west for more land and more cheap, unattractive, and poorly planned developments.
However, I believe Little Rock is steadily beginning to fight this trend. With the development of a hugely successful bike system and the re-emergence of a downtown culture, people are beginning to demand more quality of life. The “McMansion” in a cul-de-sac neighborhood, miles outside of town, has been revealed as the developer scheme that it is. People are wanting to live in an exciting and vibrant city and Little Rock has risen to the challenge.
But how can Little Rock jump to the next level and become the jewel of the south it so desires to be. I would argue that THE vital part of any thriving city is its public transportation system. I’m actually quite a nerd in that I take vacations to areas that have great public transit. Thank goodness my wife goes along with this! Whether it is taking a summer trip to travel between and in the Portland, Seattle, Vancouver corridor in the Northwest or a Washington, New York, Boston vacation in the Northeast, or even hopping an Amtrak train here in Little Rock to spend a week in Chicago, any vacation where I don’t have to drive is a good vacation. And thanks to great public transportation, I often see much more than I would if I had to worry about traffic, directions, or parking.
I believe there are three city types: cities where public transportation is prominent and diverse, cities where public transportation is secondary to private transportation (our own cars) with few options, and cities where public transportation is non-existent and the road rules all. Most cities fall into the second category, often relying on a bare bones bus system marketed towards the poorer population who have no other alternative. It is difficult to find cities that have no form of public transportation except in suburban communities and sprawl neighborhoods. Even Hot Springs, Arkansas, a city of less than 40,000 in population, has a bus system that crisscrosses the city.
So when people ask why am I doing this, I guess there are really a number of replies:
- To find out where Little Rock stands on public transportation and what direction it is moving towards, if any at all.
- To find out how well out the bus system works and who rides it
- To explore what other options we have to move through the city ( walking, biking, canoeing, etc.).
And, at a broader scope, to ask the questions:
- Is a city, no matter the size, really a healthy, functioning environment if it relies almost completely on its own citizens’ ability to move themselves by their own means from one point to another?
- Do the city’s responsibilities expand beyond providing civic functions, services and spaces, and include providing access to all its amenities?
- And in a society where owning a car is an integral part of everyday life used to facilitate travel to work, school, shopping and more, are these questions even relevant? In a city like Little Rock, has public transportation become an unnecessary extra amenity while the automobile has become a social necessity? What a switch!
So I hope you will follow me in the upcoming days as I get ready for October.
And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE comment and discuss!!! There are many goals for this experiment, but the main reason for blogging about this is to create awareness, interest, and discussion.