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Are we just fooling ourselves?

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Mostly, we are a positive and idealistic bunch. We think the best of what is happening to our city and we are proud to call it home. It's catching too. I see it every day on the streets. People wander around with cameras snapping photos of our beautiful streetscapes and tall buildings. They point out the future to our out of town guests. I do it with a smile.

In fact, I have bought in completely to the idea that we can make something happen here. With a little effort, some planning, a working government who has the right ideas and some political clout to build something that is functional and invokes real civic pride.

And then a weekend like today comes: over the weekends, my wife and I go car-less. Our jobs force us to use our car for work, but over the weekend, we have no excuse. We live very full lives. We shop, eat, and play in our neighborhood. We visit our friends on bicycle and grab a taxi if we need to. I run errands based on where they are in proximity to the light rail. I use our very wonderful Lynx often for a variety of reason, reasons that even originate based on the fact that I WANT to use the Lynx.

Today, we walked to Smelly Cat for coffee in the morning. We took a bike ride around the neighborhood. We worked around the house. We decided to ride over to my wife's sisters house. This is where it starts: We tried to ride the Greenway, or as much of it that exists. But let's face it, the Belmont portion is not very safe. It's not easy to ride through there without getting harassed. And when you get through it, you're left to your own devices to get around the construction, the holes, no sidewalks, the cars. I take pride in pointing out the sections on Kings where we will one day be riding. But we are in mixed traffic, people don't care about our safety, and we're inches from being squashed at any time. So we decide to treat ourselves and take the Lynx back home. We tried to catch a train from New Bern to 7th St. We bought our tickets. A single train arrived. It's 4pm on a Sunday. The train is crammed full, absolutely jam packed. The CATS official inside the train sees us standing at the doorway with our bicycles and literally laughed in our face. It shouldn't be a big deal. But I know that Sunday trains are at 20 minute intervals. And I also know that CATS pretty much only runs single car trains on Sunday. So even if we waited for the next one, it would be full too and we would be laughed at again. So we ride. Back through the mess. Uptown. To the CATS facility, which is now closed. I should have just dismissed it and sucked up the lost $2.40, but I feel some stupid civic duty to try and right something for the betterment of the next rider. Why do I feel that? Why do I feel the need to make anyone else's experience better? I should only care that WE couldn't fit on the train. But I feel like I should help out the next person whom this will happen to. Make CATS at least run double trains at 20 minute headways. Or maybe just single trains at 10 minute headways. I don't know. Something.

We pick up stuff to cook dinner from Reids. It's heavy. I am hot. I am angry that I wasted money on a train ticket which I couldn't even use. And no one cared. And I couldn't make it better. Caldwell is a scary street to ride on. People in the car yell at us "fall!!" and they scream past us. I am frustrated.

It seems simple, but I am thinking about my wife who gets to be a part of my idealism. Is it worth it? Really? Should I just buy another car? A big SUV? Why do I care about the future oil shortage? Should we drive to her sisters house? We can grocery shop at Walmart. We can get dinner at Applebees. It's probably easier.

We bought a fixer-upper mill house in Noda to be a part of something larger than us. But the house is a headache. The city has crime issues. Should we have just lived in a nice new house out in suburbia with two cars. Why am I so concerned with doing right for the future, and suffering the inconvenience today?

Someone just wake me up in 2030 when things make more sense. Oh wait....I doubt that will be the case.

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Heh, its funny you had this experience this weekend because I had the exact opposite. I utilized both routes 58 and 36 for the first time to hit up Carolina Place and Midtown, respectively. (For what its worth, 58 is very well timed with the LYNX and there is virtually no wait to connect.) Today I hopped my bike to pike up a gift at Paper Skyscraper and a few groceries at Bi-Lo. Tomorrow I'm going to test out the 59 to go from New Bern to Park Rd Shopping Center.

I daresay the thought of selling my car has crossed my mind a few times. I probably won't (airfare to get to Nashville is still outrageous and would cover owning a car for about 6 months for me), but I really like the thought that I could.

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I really admire your commitment to living a responsible lifestyle, and I understand the internal conflict. I had a similar moment about 3 years ago here in Raleigh, and I "gave in." When I graduated college in 2005, I decided I would live car-free. Not easy since my place of work was out in the middle of the no-mans-land of RTP. I chose an apartment near a shopping center and about 2 miles from work so I could bike. I made it 6 months. Then I met my (now) wife and realized that while dating without a car sort of works in college, it would be impossible to do so without a car, without seriously inconveniencing her. I felt like I basically had to make a choice of living in the world as it is, or living in the world as I want it to be. So, I bought a car.

Yes, I sold out. And the truth is, life is much easier now. But I don't feel like I've sold my soul and am just like every other gas guzzling SUV driver out there. Here's why: I've been finding ways to compromise by adopting parts of that lifestyle that make sense, and setting aside some things that just don't work for a "later time". For example I lived in an apartment, and then now a house that is very close to a bus line so I could ride it to work. My house is walking distance from a future rail station on the TTA line (if it ever gets built.) I take the bus to work most of the time. Makes me spend an extra 25 minutes commuting each way, but I figured it out that between gas and maintenance/depriciation on my car, I save $7.00 every day that I take the bus, which comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 per year. Nothing huge, but I feel it's worth when I consider both the savings and the idea of showing my support for the transit system. I ride my bike to work sometimes, too. I go to public meetings discussing transit, I travel on Amtrak when it makes sense, I patronize restaurants and stores in downtown & urban neighborhoods, I check bus schedules first before I go somewhere to see if taking the bus is a reasonable option.

I also determined that I wouldn't "sweat it" or feel bad, when it really does make more sense to just drive. Along the same lines, I also won't try to force my idealism on my wife. So, I only do many of these things when I'm going somewhere on my own. She doesn't like biking on busy roads, so of course I don't force her to do it. She will only ride the bus when it makes sense, and her definition of "makes sense" is much stricter than mine. However, there are certain things like buying a house in an older neighborhood, close to a future station and close to the bus line really are very rational (not just idealistic) things to do. Seems you've already done something very similar to me in that respect.

BTW, my opinion about bikes on buses and trains is that it is not workable long-term. If transit ridership and bike usage contines to rise, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that when your average 40-foot bus seats 30 people, 60 people standing room only... and... carries 2 bikes, that there's a problem here? Same with light rail. Capacity of what, 400 per train? And... just a couple of bikes, and that's only when the train ISN'T full. There's a reason that buses and trains in Japan and Europe generally don't accomodate bikes. Too many people riding! The logistics are just far too complicated.

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It's frustrating because Charlotte is in the middle of the awkward growing stage. Important steps toward livibility like Lynx and expanding the greenway are moving forward but it's piecemeal and slow based on economic and cultural factors. Our city is majority sprawl and most residents are happy with it or just not attuned to anything different because they have always lived a suburban lifestyle. We all have our negative days but I hope you keep the faith. As we have discussed before a safer and sanitary market is needed in NoDa and will be reality if Mercury follows through with their plans, I imagine it will be welcomed heartily by neighborhood residents and you won't have to schlep from Reids. Major props for doing that btw, I am much too wedded to my car although I walk in Dilworth for as many errands as possible.

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This is a great topic.

Somedays I feel just as you did this weekend. Living in downtown Boston for 2 years gave me some expectation of what urban life could be life, though I'm the first to admit there is still some major inconveniences of living in an ultra-urban environment.

I agree with Voyager, Charlotte is caught in between. A overwhelmingly suburban city, that wants to be something different. The problem is, people want it to be physically different, but most aren't willing to adjust their attitudes. While LYNX is a great addition, most people's motives for using it are less than urban-lifestyle in nature. It's to save money, avoid parking downtown, or use it as a touristy ride. Not that these aren't positives, because it does reduce traffic, but it is little-used as a device to live car-free, or serve as a convenient alternative to the car.

Also, there are plenty of people that are "threatened" by people who don't hop in the SUV and head out to Wal-Mart. These are those who yell at bikers and claim the LRT takes away people's choices.

Unfortunately, it will probably take many years for this to change, but by buying into the greater vision, you ARE helping. Acceptance will come with critical mass demanding improvements to the urban experience.

As much as I approve of the Bobcats arena, that $265M could have improved the overall urban experience 10 fold.....completing greenways, widening (and adding) sidewalks, reconfiguring streets, adding LRT vehicles, etc.

We need people to keep returning to the core, and we need them to have a strong voice. We need planning staff to realize that accomodating the automobile as a primary concern in all new development is short-sighted.

As I've often criticized, the paradox is the city plans for today, not for 10, 20, or 50 years from now, so our progress towards true urbanism is often limited by trying to accomodate the way of life we are seeking to change....

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To the train crowdes yesterday: It was because of graduations and they did quickly switch to double trains once they realized the crowds.

We took the train to Southend from Sharon Rd West. First single train we couldn't get on because it was slammed. I was very agitated as we were getting on at the 2nd stop and couldn't imagine why it was so full.

Well about 5 mintues later two double trains flew by down to 485...both were "out of service" on the way to 485. The next train up from 485 was indeed the double train that they just put in service to handle the crowds (still had standing room only).

At least they are responding to large crowds, even it they were unprepared for them in the first place.

Also of note, the Sunday schedule is every 15 minutes now, not 20 like it used to be.

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To the train crowdes yesterday: It was because of graduations and they did quickly switch to double trains once they realized the crowds.

We took the train to Southend from Sharon Rd West. First single train we couldn't get on because it was slammed. I was very agitated as we were getting on at the 2nd stop and couldn't imagine why it was so full.

Well about 5 mintues later two double trains flew by down to 485...both were "out of service" on the way to 485. The next train up from 485 was indeed the double train that they just put in service to handle the crowds (still had standing room only).

At least they are responding to large crowds, even it they were unprepared for them in the first place.

Also of note, the Sunday schedule is every 15 minutes now, not 20 like it used to be.

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Agreed, good topic. I myself keep contemplating bike commuting for my 5 mile trip to downtown Matthews every morning. I'm just having a hard time with a) how poorly drivers react to bikers and b) geez I would be covered in sweat and we have no shower facilities so I would just stink up the office all day. This isn't really driven by a gas saving motive but more by the fact that I really just want to do my part for the environment and get some exercise. Is it worth it? Being a father I hate knowing that I am risking my life sharing the road with drivers who would rather see me fall and get injured and get out of their way so their comfy drive to work would be a few minutes faster. I'm hoping that we really have a drastic cultural shift with rising fuel prices although its looking more like it will take $5 gas or more to get people to slow down and get used to the notion of sharing the road. Sorry, thats my rant for today.

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I'm one of those who lives in the 'burbs and commutes into Charlotte every day. Don't drive an SUV, so I guess I'm already one step ahead. And I most certainly do NOT shop at Wal-Mart (evil empire).

I guess my only contribution is going to be taking the bus and getting my car off the road. It will save on gas/pollution, and me $ in the long run. No more parking spot expense either!

I have switched to the reusable grocery bags instead of plastic.

Turn off lights whenever I can = and have changed to the longer lasting bulbs.

Don't waste water - especially during the drought.

I feel like I'm making a difference, but after reading everyone else's approaches, it makes me feel like I'm not doing enough! :dontknow:

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This topic actually dovetails perfectly with an article I read yesterday in the Sunday New York Time's Styles Section. There is growing backlash and malaise against "green" practices in mainstream society and among adherents getting conflicting messages. Much of suburbia sees green living as elitist and a luxury for people that wear birks and drive Priuses. Many see being eco- conscious only working for singles or dinks. And therefore we can't relate to cost saving trips to Walmart and loading up the SUV or minivan for gas guzzling trips across town to the outlet mall. Perception is reality most of the time and this disconnect is glaringly obvious in cities like Charlotte. These towns have small nodes of TOD (Southend) and small older walkable neighborhoods, ( Dilworth,PlazaMidwood) but those positives are often greatly negated by the much larger and ever growing sprawl. Woo, my keyboard voice is tongue tied. Yes it's quite a rambling final sentence but I am tired and my stream of thought could not be damned. How deep of me...boy I need to go to bed :rolleyes:

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I guess I'm also caught in between. I want to do more to become part of the urban experience, however there are things that prevent me: school, work locations, money, etc. It's not the urban location that scares me (believe me the crime is not good up here in UCity), but it's what the city already is that prevents me from being where I'd ideally like to be right now. The city needs to a) continue and more quickly expand our mass transit. By building this, you are ideally creating small little urban areas around each station. This is going to give people more options that fit in with there current life: where they work, etc. This also gives more options on where to live and how to get to the places that you need to get to, without having to take a guilt trip in driving a vehicle. Believe me- everytime I get in my car, there is a sense of letdown that I experience to Charlotte, to the world (for adding that little amount of pollution), and to myself. It's not even totally a gas price issue as it has become with an enviornmental concern. I know everyone hasn't altered their minds to this yet, but the high gas prices are helping to sway a majority of peoples minds, slowly.

The city needs to continue zoning and allow building more intelligently in the future. That is, if we are going to build a massive office park or another Village at Birkdale, before these get approved, they need to have a solid plan that has more than only having accessibility by vehicle, that is improved streetscape, sidewalks, mass transit conncetions, bus connections, and mixed-use development that allows people to live where they work or eat, etc. As much as I support the Univ Research Park, it is filled with over 30,000 employers that can only access mainly by vehicle. Sure, there are bus routes, but it is typically easier for people to drive and park (with adequate parking); and the bus routes don't always make sense for where they live and how they have to connect to get there. This brings me to my next point....

Suburban planning near urban cores. It would be unlawful to say suburban areas should not exist; America gives us choices on where to live. However, in populated areas like UCity, Pineville, Southpark, etc. there needs to be design requirements that keep a set streetscape and density requirements (thank God the light rail is doing this). This will allow for more efficient bus service that serves, and the city needs to increase the supply of the bus system system.

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The funny thing about this thread is how open ended it is. When I typed it out, I was still coming down from my experience. Now that I read back over it, and the way it has been interpreted, I am able to see a different argument come out than I even knew I was giving. Despite the rhetoric, my convictions are still there, but I would like to refocus the topic and pose a question which I was not even aware of.

ONE: If we live the true urban lifestyle in Charlotte, will we then in-turn MAKE Charlotte more truly urban?

Philosophically speaking, does our environment dictate our lifestyle, or can our lifestyle direct the path of our environment?

Yikes. Sorry about this one guys. I'm on a tangent.

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ONE: If we live the true urban lifestyle in Charlotte, will we then in-turn MAKE Charlotte more truly urban?

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This topic actually dovetails perfectly with an article I read yesterday in the Sunday New York Time's Styles Section. There is growing backlash and malaise against "green" practices in mainstream society and among adherents getting conflicting messages. Much of suburbia sees green living as elitist and a luxury for people that wear birks and drive Priuses. Many see being eco- conscious only working for singles or dinks. And therefore we can't relate to cost saving trips to Walmart and loading up the SUV or minivan for gas guzzling trips across town to the outlet mall. Perception is reality most of the time and this disconnect is glaringly obvious in cities like Charlotte. These towns have small nodes of TOD (Southend) and small older walkable neighborhoods, ( Dilworth,PlazaMidwood) but those positives are often greatly negated by the much larger and ever growing sprawl. Woo, my keyboard voice is tongue tied. Yes it's quite a rambling final sentence but I am tired and my stream of thought could not be damned. How deep of me...boy I need to go to bed :rolleyes:

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The funny thing about this thread is how open ended it is. When I typed it out, I was still coming down from my experience. Now that I read back over it, and the way it has been interpreted, I am able to see a different argument come out than I even knew I was giving. Despite the rhetoric, my convictions are still there, but I would like to refocus the topic and pose a question which I was not even aware of.

ONE: If we live the true urban lifestyle in Charlotte, will we then in-turn MAKE Charlotte more truly urban?

Philosophically speaking, does our environment dictate our lifestyle, or can our lifestyle direct the path of our environment?

Yikes. Sorry about this one guys. I'm on a tangent.

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It's up to the city to lead this charge....people are inheritently oblivious (save my fellow UPers) as to what is responsible development and a sustainable lifestyle. Governments primary oibligation is protection (as seen from my somewhat libertarian point of view) but this also means to protect people from the poor decisions of others.

I don't support mandating where people must live, etc., but I do support the city actively providing the infrastructure, zoning, etc. to expedite the process of developing a more urban environment.

Without tranist, adequate street networks, bike paths, sidewalks, zoning that makes sense (I'm looking at you Bojangles on 3rd), increasing density is simply compounding the problem by forcing more cars onto the roads. Density for density sake is not the solution, but density combined with appropriate infrastructure is way increase the sustainability of Charlotte.

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I have an annoying proclivity of seeing politics in everything but I really do think it's relevant to this issue. In my opinion the surrounding environment dicates lifestyle. The South being a more conservative region, is slower to adapt green practices that are seen as being "out there" or "socialist" or forcing people out of their cul de sacs into TOD housing ( see fight over Lynx). Of course there are exception to this rule : us :) But it's still quite a niche viewpoint in Charlotte.

Topography also plays a role. A transplant from Northern Cali once told me that he thinks Charlotteans by and large focus on themselves and accumulating larger houses and larger cars in opposition to green living because we don't have natural attractions to reflect upon and protect. Our flat piedmont land just screams BUILD BUILD BUILD. We lack the incentive of waterfront or close in mountains to inspire activism. Our closest corrolation is our tree canopy which is an uphill fight to preserve.

Utilizing mass transit systems like LYNX are our best weapon to illustrate the benefits of sustainability. By all accounts it's a big hit with suburban commuters and from this success other improvements could come. That said, the development horizon here has very few natural barriers. And little political will to rein in the "every man deserves his castle" mindset ingrained in Charlotte.

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.... There is growing backlash and malaise against "green" practices in mainstream society and among adherents getting conflicting messages. .....

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Fantastic topic. Let me say to the poster above who asked, yes, you living an urban life will help make Charlotte more urban. You may never know that you will do this, but it will happen. People observe others and learn. During college, I saw a guy who lived car-free taking a wagon down the street. A little red wagon. He was a grad student. I asked him what he was doing. He said he could carry just as much groceries home on the wagon as he could in the car, but much more than he could carry walking without the wagon or biking. It got me thinking about how I could shop without the car more often.

Like orulz, I have struggled between idealism for sustainable urban living and hitting the cold, hard, wall of reality. I'm riding transit about 50% of the time these days, which is much better than where I was 2 years ago (maybe 25%). Gas prices certainly help with the motivation. So has owning an Ipod and downloading podcasts from NPR, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and ESPN. But I'm still driving half the time, too, and some days the transit trip gets really frustrating. I keep a calendar of my commute mode to stay motivated. The more I see the word "BUS" on the calendar, the better the calendar looks.

We do our best to buy local, and have joined a Community-Supported Agriculture program. In weeks when we cook a lot of CSA foods, we know we are really reducing the amount of petroleum needed to get food to our table. It doesn't hurt that the local food is fresh and most of the time, off-the-chart delicious.

With the above two items, we're providing demand for the bus and the CSA. Now, my impact on the bottom line of either the transit agency or the farm is small, but in concert with the impacts of many others, I'd like to think one's lifestyle, through being an example, and through putting resources into business models that function well in that lifestyle, helps change the environment in which we live.

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It's up to the city to lead this charge....people are inheritently oblivious (save my fellow UPers) as to what is responsible development and a sustainable lifestyle. Governments primary oibligation is protection (as seen from my somewhat libertarian point of view) but this also means to protect people from the poor decisions of others.

I don't support mandating where people must live, etc., but I do support the city actively providing the infrastructure, zoning, etc. to expedite the process of developing a more urban environment.

Without tranist, adequate street networks, bike paths, sidewalks, zoning that makes sense (I'm looking at you Bojangles on 3rd), increasing density is simply compounding the problem by forcing more cars onto the roads. Density for density sake is not the solution, but density combined with appropriate infrastructure is way increase the sustainability of Charlotte.

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^I don't support saying "zero growth" outside of certain areas....perhaps a growth boundary, but not discouraging infill at sometimes a less than maximum density perspective.

Unless the entire city has efficient transit coverage, the effects on the environment would be far worse having blanket 6k ppsm (think Los Angeles), than 50k ppsm at transit nodes, and blanket 3k ppsm elsewhere.

Too much density for density sake will lead to gridlock, deforestation, etc. A density that maximizes existing street infrastructure (but doesn't overburden it) is ideal until the day we can afford the $50B or more to provide reliable and efficient transit coverage too all 250 sq mi. of Charlotte.

Also consider if we insist on hyperdensity, that a large share of the population simply will not tolerate it, and will relocate to further flung suburbs, so at the truly macro level, I still think it would be hard to prove that density for density sake will have a net benefit....nothing short of a federal mandate on development boundaries, and THAT will never happen.

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^ We could go for the traditional balance of rural and urban, mainly limiting the in-between, which hopefully appeases those that as you mention that can't tolerate high density. Our older cities seem to prove that the urban experience is also a thing of conditioning. Those who cannot handle the close quarters live rurally but not suburbanly, which could be accomplished by cities refusing to extend services like waste and water, basically creating a price to pay for wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Or by extending the "true" cost to those who want the benefits of both.

I know I'm in la-la land here, but the thing I fear is that we DO quickly solve the issue of alternative fuels and suburbia as a way of life is validated once more, everyone is oblivious and happy and status quo, but we still haven't solved the problems of population gain versus arable land, or simply preserving nature (or the subtle loss of sense of community that the burbs seem to cause).

Point taken on transit coverage and it's insane cost.

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In response to my "refund request and customer complaint," from the original entry:

Dear Mr. [The Escapists],

Thank you for being a customer of the Lynx Blue Line. We are seeing more and more customers every day and we hope that you will keep riding in spite of the full trains. With $4 gas prices, the Lynx Blue Line is surely one of the most economical ways to get around right now.

We have considered your request for a refund, but unfortunately we will not be able to accommodate your request. With the increase in ridership we expect the trains to be full, and our fare entitles you the opportunity to get on the train. If you chose not to ride because there are a lot of people on the train already, of course you have that right, but we cannot offer a refund.

I sincerely hope that you continue to ride with us. You might also explore our bus route options at www.ridetransit.org. Thank you for your comments.

Sincerely,

[GATS Guy]

Charlotte Area Transit System

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[The Escapists] to [CATS Guy]

show details 3:55 PM (0 minutes ago)

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Mr. [CATS Guy]

This is not about $2.80. This is about accountability.

I am a huge advocate for alternative transportation. I was on the very first train that left 7th Street station. I have the t-shirt and passport to prove it. I was active with Vote Against Repeal. I contribute actively to transit blogs. I contribute to wikiplanning.org (your own website). I am an active member of the Noda neighborhood association, in which CATS soliciting involvement in the preliminary engineering phase of the NE Extension. More than anything, I am a daily user, who lives in the city, walks, uses my bicycle, LYNX and CATS buses out of civic responsibility, and not necessity.

Sir, I am requesting more attention than the stock response which I received from you.

Sincerely,

[The Escapists]

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^I think you are trying to boil the ocean. In the vast scheme of things it's not going to make any difference to anyone except for you.

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^ Not true, when no one speaks up is exactly when organizations (and people) become complacent, sloppy and step on others without consideration, or often awareness, of the harm done. The form letter returned doesn't even make logical sense either (offensive in it's own right). If they expect the trains to be full then they obviously expect to profit from those who cannot ride, and could be sued. Not only that, but how do they expect him to "keep riding in spite of the full trains"?

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