Saturday, March 8, 2008

Bob O'Connor's anti-Light Rail Rant

On March 5 Virginia News Source ran a piece by Bob O'Connor attacking light rail for Virginia Beach, entitled "The City Council That Doesn't Listen - Light Rail". VNS had it up for two days. I've had a copy of it sitting on my desk for two days. Now that I have time to respond, here it goes:

1. "The City Council of Virginia Beach, now in the year 2008, wants to reconsider the plans for light rail."

Good for them. With Virginia Beach's transit and redevelopment needs growing, it makes infinitely more sense in 2008 than it did in 1999 (when I was a "No" voter).

2. "They certainly will not try another referendum because they cannot risk another no vote."

Congratulations! You've figured out what Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance Transportation Chairman Reid Greenmun hasn't. Last month on, Greenmun actually claimed that light rail required a referendum.

3. "Therefore, they will have to try some nefarious scheme to get the light rail project extended to Virginia Beach."

If O'Connor had actually been paying attention to Norfolk's timeline, 3-4 City Council elections will occur between starting the light rail process and construction. It would obviously be an issue every time. It's impossible to build it in a vaccum.

4. "The push for light rail system was emphasized at a recent meeting conducted by City Council to discuss redevelopment plans in the Oceanfront Resort Area."

First of all, only one Councilman (John Uhrin) was at those meetings.

Second, at their Retreat last November, City Council amended Barbara Henley's point for a decision on light rail during this year to simply transit down the Norfolk Southern Right-of-Way. If Bob had stayed for the whole Retreat, rather than leaving in a huff after light rail first came up, he would know that.

5. "Such a wildly expensive undertaking ignores the obvious benefits of telecommuting using satellite offices and urban design."

Ah, yes, O'Connor on telecommuting again. Let me point out again that none of Virginia Beach's three largest industries (military, tourism, and agriculture) lends itself to telecommuting on a sizeable scale.

As for "wildly expensive", the local share for light rail Newtown Road - convention center would be about one-quarter of the cost of the convention center itself.

Finally, "urban design" is part-and-parcel of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). By far the quickest way to get "urban design" in Virginia Beach is to build light rail!

6. " dependent on developers who know mainly how to do the same thing over and over again and are incapable of designing new people-friendly enviroments."

TOD is hardly the "same thing over and over again." It would be quite different from anything currently in Virginia Beach, with the possible exception of Town Center.

Most of all, TOD is all about "new people-friendly enviroments", producing walkable spaces within a quarter mile radius of the train station.

7. "Wake up, council join us in the 21st century."

Yes, and in the 21st Century oil prices will hover at levels never seen before, pretty much a given due to new demand in China and India. Therefore, we need to fundamentally change our transportation model, going to one with transit and (yes) rail at it's core.

The irony was that in his previous piece for VNS, Bob O'Connor attacked City Council for not doing more for our local roads. As no new sizable amount of money for secondary roads will be available anytime soon, our only realistic option is to build a much-improved transit system to move people. Virginia Beach could fund good bus service for a year for the cost of one medium-size secondary road project.

No, Bob, you and light rail opponents need to join us in the 21st Century, moving to a transit and rail-based transportation model.

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