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krazeeboi

What Columbia is doing right & what can be improved upon

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This is a little different from the "What do you like/dislike about Columbia?" threads. Here, we're speaking from more of a technical aspect--planning, functionality, logistics, etc. So what are some things you see Columbia doing right in this regard, and what things can be improved upon? Here are my observations:

What's being done right

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I don't think that an all encompassing downtown master plan is the way to go. Main St is not the Vista, etc. and these districts need to be treated differently. Height restricitons and materials/facade requirements are one example. You would have to distinguish the two in your plan at some point, so why not leave them separate?

Columbia is doing a lot of things right. I think that if the USC/Guignard master plan and park is stuck to, this will really start to be evident. The Vista is becoming a more attractive place to live. There is more than just Gervais St as Lady St is becoming a viable secondary corridor. The Five Points master plan is another example of doing something right. They will have to stick with it, but it will be a great result.

Columbia needs to focus on mass transit (rail) more. The other two big cities in SC are making what appears to be a more concerted effort at establishing rail transit lines. Columbia did complete a study, but it is not clear what will become of it. This city probably has the best chance at making rail transit work in SC after Charleston. I agree that regional cooperation will be required to make it happen.

Education is an important area that needs some attention. People with families will not want to live downtown unless they can go to the schools in Shandon.

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About the downtown masterplan, I think it is important as far as connecting the dots downtown. A "subplan" would be necessary for Main Street, and the Vista would have its own as well. But an overarching masterplan would detail the changes that would be necessary in order to start connecting these two, with Assembly as the linchpin. This way, the individual vibes of each area would be preserved yet the transition would be more smooth and fluid. By the way, I think Lincoln will be the next emerging corridor in the Vista. In some ways, it already is.

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What issues would it address that the other documents don't already cover?

I agree about Lincoln St. It already has a good base of restaurants, plus it has that awseome tunnel thing which needs to be used somehow.

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It would address the connectors mainly--corridors such as Assembly, Elmwood, Huger, Sumter, etc. Making those "connector corridors" more pedestrian-friendly and visually-enhancing would be a top priority.

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Another thing to add is that Vista-oriented efforts should be coordinated with Innovista. I don't think what we've seen yet (the Sasaski plan) does that.

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The cover story in this week's edition of the Free Times features the city's efforts to improve security and overall conditions in the city's parks. The city has a pretty extensive parks system, and it's good that the more neglected ones are getting some much needed attention.

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Columbia needs to focus on mass transit (rail) more. The other two big cities in SC are making what appears to be a more concerted effort at establishing rail transit lines. Columbia did complete a study, but it is not clear what will become of it. This city probably has the best chance at making rail transit work in SC after Charleston. I agree that regional cooperation will be required to make it happen.

I would love for Cola to be more aggressive regarding light rail, and I would love them it to get it before Charleston or Greenville. The need is definately there, as long as you can convince people THEY DONT NEED THEIR CARS at all time. Plenty of people commute from Sumter/Camden/Newberry/Lexington/Irmo and could support Light Rail service.

However, I think wide scale commuter rail service is impossible in any of the three cities due to the lack of downtown transportation systems. Say I live in Camden, take the new light rail line to work, work in the new office building in the Klein Development, and get off at the closest stop which is in the new DT transportation hub located near the Convention Center and lively Innovista Campus. While its a walk that I wouldn't mind taking most days, there is really no way for me to get there other than walking. The CMRTA Bus service is not reliable enough to support movement of people once the Light Rail line terminates, where ever that may be. Hell, they dont even know where to get the funding so they can keep the current service running.

One more thing. I would love to see a High Speed rail line from Charlotte to Columbia to Atlanta. With Stops along the way in Rock Hill, Ballentyne, Lexington, Aiken, Augusta, etc. I would just be able to hop on Friday afternoons and venture down the Cola for Football Games, etc. I recently went to the Catulunya Region of Spain, and the train service was great. It was pretty quick, stopped a several cities in its path, and I loved the fact the I could travel and not worry about parking, etc. Going anywhere in the Barcelona region was pretty hassel free. AND it was decently cheap. If we could get something going in the carolinas like the European Rail lines, then we'd be talkin.

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You have a point. The trolley service was cut, so that option doesn't exist anymore.

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SCDOT can Improve lightning up the interstates in and around Cola because those are some of the darkest things I have ever driven on. It don't make no since to be 3 and 4 lanes one way and you can barely see infront of you.

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If they do establish commuter rail, they will have to rework the bus lines to accomodate it.

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Let me add a contrarian note regarding rail...

It simply will not work, and would be a boondoggle and distortion of the Midlands' already thin transit network.

You need high population and employment densities to justify rail, even light or commuter rail. This being the Sunbelt/New South, density is among the lowest among American metropolitan areas. Some of us may dislike, despise, even hate the sprawl we see around us, but it is a reality and it is not going to change with the cheap land around us.

And even if gasoline continues climbing in price, what will start happening is a "villagization" of sprawl - more semi-mixed use developments (more Villages at Sandhills or Lake Carolinas rather than Columbianas or large Mungo developments), more businesses and jobs clustering and located in such developments and closer to residents (i.e., fewer large, isolated, sprawling office parks) - again due to cheap land. Car drivers will eventually adjust driving habits, and in the longer term swtich to more fuel efficient (and hopefully alternative-fuel) cars.

Also think about the history of urbanization of the South. The short story is - the South largely urbanized during the age of the car, not rail, and so its "urbanization DNA" is largely auto-oriented (for better or for worse). Moreover, culturally speaking, many Southerners still have the idea of living is sparsely populated areas, and will go to seemingly great lengths to live on a large parcel of land. And I am not talking about wealthy folks on equestrian estates. South Carolina has the largest percentage of mobile/trailer home dwellers in the US. Where else can you see such large swaths of land with people living in trailer homes on 5 acre plots? These areas aren't far from the city of Columbia. Anyone flying into Columbia Metropolitan Airport can see that (especially when your landing approach is over, say, Swansea or Lower Richland).

Of course, when cities, including Southern ones, get to a certain critical mass of density, or just as importantly, *WANT* to increase density, then there may be more valid ground for discussing rail. We know Atlanta has reached that point, and Charlotte is now developing light rail (but only because there is some degree of political will in Mecklenburg County to densify itself by changing land use planning along and near fixed rail transit routes - similar to what Arlington, VA did with the Washington Metro rail lines running through it before they were built). But the Midlands is nowhere near that point yet. Even in Charlotte light rail is still controversial - not everyone wants to live in citifying, densifying areas in condos or townhouses near rail lines (although most of those folks have probably moved to exurban areas in surrounding Monroe, Cabarrus, and Iredell counties).

So, as much as some of us wish for rail as a nice transit option, we are one of the LEAST compatible metro areas for rail.

Next post - transit improvements that are suitable for the Midlands

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Ok then what are viable transit improvements for Columbia and the Midlands?

First and foremost is salvaging a viable CMRTA bus system, including a steady funding stream. Subsidization will need to managed carefully, because this being South Carolina, you will always have anti-tax ideologues complaining about paying for a system they don't use, etc. (of course, like public schools, a decent bus system is one of those minimum infrastructure systems good cities need to fund). With the current funding crisis, priorities should be focused on poor and working class riders who need to get to jobs and shopping. Focus on hospitals, downtown and major suburban business/job centers (Blue Cross, Harbison, Fort Jackson, VA Hospital, USC, etc.). Also focus on the elderly and handicapped (paratransit). Ideally, young people (teens-early 20s) who don't have cars should be able to use the bus for jobs and entertainment. That would constitute a BASIC bus system and the MINIMUM needed to have a humane, functioning bus network.

Now, how do we go from there to a better bus system? Funding again becomes a question - since you need more money to move beyond a bare-bones network to one with higher frequencies and . Perhaps look at creative revenue sources like a rental car tax or a special tax district in dense business areas (so that their densities go to support a variety of transit and auto modes, not just generate auto trips that forces you to build/maintain car lots and garages). Of course, if it were politically feasible in this time of high gas prices, a higher gas tax would be one of the more straightforward ways - I believe SC has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation. We also need to be sure that such taxes aren't earmarked solely for road purposes - again this is politically difficult in a sparsely populated state where very few transit advocates exist. Nevertheless, we should think about "higher value" bus services beyond the basics, such as express bus service to Williams-Brice from suburban areas on USC football game days. Get that alum in Blythewood to park his car near, say, I-77 and Farrow Road, hop on a bus, and consolidate all those surge auto trips onto fewer bus trips.

There is also another way, which I wish were implemented in cities across the nation, for transit to blossom. That would be the licensing of private jitneys (very common in areas like the Caribbean islands). Private operators would run small shuttle buses along semi-designated routes, and regulated mostly for just safety and cleanliness. In dense areas where curb frontage is at a premium, you can "lease" curb frontage so jitneys have space to drop off/pick up passengers. It is critical to avoid having one or two exclusing contracts that may create a monopoly - you need competition and it can work if you properly regulate for safety, etc. I think private jitneys are a great idea to experiment with, because they fit between taxis that are too expensive and large public bus networks that don't always cost-effectively serve folks in less-than-dense metro regions. Personally I think jitneys have their greatest potential in densifying "edge cities" like Perimeter Center near Atlanta and Tysons Corner, VA outside DC, but you can think of Columbia in terms of a "stand alone edge city" because it has less commercial square footage in its CBD that "true" edge cities in large metros.

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If thats the case, then I ask why trasnit systems are being built or considered all accross the South? Look at Charlotte. They are building their first LRT line, and they are seing tons of transit oriented development. When developers see the government investing in something like rail, they will know that they have a low risk investment. Property near fixed transit stops (not bus station) is in high demand in Charlotte. Atlanta is experienceing a similar situation, though its 30 years late.... they are having an urban explosion there that focuses on transit stops and land near the new "emerald necklace" beltline LRT they are building. Jacksonville is puting in a BRT system. Dallas's LRT system is so popular that they are expanding it. Houston has one now. I think Raleigh is talking about rail in some fashion too. Rock Hill is getting federal money for a rail study this year. Anderson's comprehensive plan call for looking at a rail connection to Clemson. I can go on, but I think you get my point.

You dont need edge cities for transit to work. You do need density. SAFTEA-LU, the federal transportation legislation, requires that alternate transportation be considered in all projects. It also requires that a certain percentage of federal money go towards mass transit. This number is increasing. Rail is one of these things that I think needs to be invested in first. It will not be immediately successful. Mass transit will never proudce a proffit. But people will slowly catch on to it. At the rate they are building new residential units downtown, it is conceivable that a trolley could be used to circulate them at some point.

You are right that the bus system needs to be invested in too. Rail is only one part of the system. Busses need to be set up to get people where they need to go in an efficient way. Wait times will have to be reduced downtown to 15 minutes at a minimum. Probably less than that to be successful. That is incredibly expensive though.

Jitneys would be a great idea.

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What is the smallest metro area in the nation that has commuter rail? If Charleston is considering it, I don't think it's too unreasonable to think that Columbia should as well.

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What is the smallest metro area in the nation that has commuter rail? If Charleston is considering it, I don't think it's too unreasonable to think that Columbia should as well.

Someone posted an article a while back about a new type of monorail that was being studied in 2 cities, Charleston and I think Savannah. The cars were attached on the side of the supports, so that a two directional travel could occur with only one "track". Does anyone remember this? I think I saw it here or in the Charleston Forum.

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What is the smallest metro area in the nation that has commuter rail? If Charleston is considering it, I don't think it's too unreasonable to think that Columbia should as well.

Syracuse, NY is the smallest metro with commuter rail. I should point out, however, that there seems to be a large gap between Syracuse's size and the other metros with commuter rail systems (see this website). Some others, like Stockton, CA and Pompano Beach, FL link smaller metros to larger metros, either with separate commuter rail systems (as in the case of Stockton - which connects to the larger CalTrain of the Bay Area), or are part of a large, single, but multi-metro system (as in the case of Southeast Florida's Tri-Rail, connecting the Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami areas).

I will say that the same website lists proposed systems in metros as small as Greensboro, Santa Fe (NM), and Harrisburg, PA - but again, they are in the context of connecting with/to larger regions or metros (the Triad, Albuquerque, and Philly, respectively).

Now, if we want to talk about a commuter rail line (or some hybrid commuter-intercity line) running along a Columbia-Blythewood-Rock Hill-Charlotte corridor, then it might get more interesting, but there are still a lot of challenges (namely that we have to see how rail in the Charlotte metro proper works out). Get back to me around 2015-2020 and I'm sure it will be a more interesting option.

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SCDOT can Improve lightning up the interstates in and around Cola because those are some of the darkest things I have ever driven on. It don't make no since to be 3 and 4 lanes one way and you can barely see infront of you.

Why do u need street lights on freeways? That's what you have headlights for; there's no pedestrian traffic.

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Well, the fact that you're actually traveling through a city should be reason enough to include proper lighting along the freeways (e.g., 277). When you get far enough out though, I agree that they're not really necessary.

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Why do u need street lights on freeways? That's what you have headlights for; there's no pedestrian traffic.

The freeways are not properly lite and can be improved. They are dark and dangerous!!!!! The only well lite part of the freeway is passing under Greystone Blvd in the city. From Broad River to Two Notch is too dark for a busy freeway such as I-20.

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I don't buy this lighted freeway thing either. Other than wasting electricity, what purpose does it serve? They light regular streets for pedestrians, and so drivers can see things that may be coming crossing the road. You don't have things crossing the road or pedestrians on an interstate (well, except at that unused pedestrian bridge on 277).

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For me, it's just waaay too dark. The worst is when you actually have lights that don't work (like on I-85 through Greensboro and I-77 through Charlotte). And headlights don't always work 100%, especially if the painted lines are faded and there are no reflectors. That's an accident waiting to happen.

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I agree, some of our interstates are too dark. I think the heavy traveled urban areas should have lighting, like the loop around Columbia, or at least have them on our spurs I-126 and 277.

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