Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Flying on the Coaster

There was an interesting article in the New York Times back on January 1st that spoke directly to me. It was entitled: “Why the West Coast is suddenly beating the East Coast on Trans-portation” by Ms. Camille Fink.

“It is an incredibly exciting time to be in urban transportation,” the New York transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, told a breakfast gathering of powerful New Yorkers, pointing to California’s progress.*

The Los Angeles area, the ultimate car-centric region with its sprawling freeways, approved a sweeping $120 billion plan to build new train routes and upgrade its buses. Seattle has won accolades for its transit system, where 93 percent of riders report being happy with service – a feat that seems unimaginable in New York, where subway riders regularly simmer with rage on stalled trains.

“It’s a tale of two systems,” said Robert Puentes, the president of the Eno Center for Trans-portation, a nonpartisan research center in Washington. “These new ones are growing and haven’t started to experience the pains of rehabilitation.”*

While I’m hardly an urban kind of guy and big cities are more my nemesis than a friend, I did find the article scored a direct bullseye on my interest level in transportation. It’s not just my love of the bicycles or walkabouts that garnered that attention. Rail travel has always been on my short list of imaginative ways to get about.

Sharon and I have done the Amtrak commuter run from D.C. to New York several times. We’ve ridden the rails from San Diego to Santa Barbara and hopped the Coaster for a day trip to San Diego. The San Diego Coaster is part of a much larger Amtrak network of rails that weave their way up and down the West Coast.

The Coaster’s normal run goes from Oceanside, just south of Camp Pendleton, down to San Diego. The ride from Oceanside to San Diego costs a little over six dollars round trip and takes about an hour. One glance at traffic on highway 5 morning or evening and its benefits can’t be denied.

The D.C. (actually we boarded in Annapolis) to Manhattan commuter run is a fascinating reveal on the east coast and its inhabitants.

The run up the coast from San Diego to Santa Barbara does the same reveal on the opposite side of the country. The Coaster is an amalgamation of the two; commuters, long distance rail riders, suburban Moms on a quick jaunt into town and a wide assortment of humanity in-between. I was just there to look, listen and sneak a picture or two.

Scenes from the Pacific Coast Highway

Los Angeles plans to build 100 new miles of rail – essentially doubling the Metro system, whose first rail line opened in 1990. There are now six lines and 93 stations. “I made sure we included funding for long-term maintenance,” said Dow Constantine, the executive of King County, which is home to Seattle, “so you don’t get the situation we’re seeing in New York and Washington where the systems have been neglected and it’s expensive and inconvenient to rebuild.”*

There’s even talk of a rail line extending from downtown Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley. Having spent some time on highway 10 going into L.A., I can only hope it will come sooner rather than later.

*Excerpts taken from the New York Times article “Why the West Coast is suddenly beating the East Coast on Transportation” by Ms. Camille Fink, January lst, 2019.

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