What Columbus Needs: Transportation

Moving people, not cars

From the 05/06/2009 edition

Respondents to the What Columbus Needs survey agreed that the city needs to improve public transportation, with nearly 60 percent saying the system in Columbus is much worse than networks in other cities.

What they didn't agree on is how to do it.

User-generated comments clashed on whether Columbus needs more bike paths, intercity passenger rail, streetcars or suburban trolleys. But nearly all agreed that car-centric Central Ohio needs to adopt the sort of multimodal system seen in larger, flourishing metropolises.

The state of the Central Ohio Transit Authority was a hot-button issue.

Many of those who ride the bus insisted COTA needs to be easier to navigate and available more often, later and at more locations. Issues concerning cleanliness, safety and efficiency were also raised by a number of respondents, the bulk of whom never ride the bus or only do so occasionally.

"I use COTA to go from my house just off High Street to work just off High Street," said one frustrated male, 25-34, living in the central neighborhoods. "Trying to get anywhere else is an exercise in wasted time."

As part of its service expansion, COTA implements service changes three times a year, fine-tuning routes and timetables to better meet community needs, spokeswoman Elizabeth Berkemer said.

"We have our planning department constantly taking in data of who we're picking up and when," she added. "We have to respond in a way that we serve the most needs."

Though plans aren't certain, one major short-term change being considered by COTA is a late-night circulator that would run past 2:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Campus, the Short North, the Arena District and Downtown, Berkemer said.

Along with the bus system, various forms of rail-based transit were the most common topics for survey respondents, with many debating Mayor Michael Coleman's attempt to design and build a streetcar line from Downtown to Ohio State.

"Let's face it," wrote one male, 25-34, who lives in the suburbs, "the best systems in the world are the subway in New York, the Metro in Washington D.C., the BART in San Francisco. We do need a rail option that is cost-effective versus cars for the user."

Most regional planning experts insist that Central Ohio will survive only by adopting some type of transportation infrastructure that doesn't rely on cars.

"We've forgotten that transportation is about moving people, not moving cars," said Gene Krebs, co-director of Greater Ohio, a land-use think tank.

Krebs pointed out that major improvements to automotive infrastructure can't be supported in the long term, especially considering Central Ohio is expected to grow by about 500,000 people in the next 25 years.

"Smart growth is really about smart spending," Krebs said. "To make Central Ohio competitive, you have to drive down the cost of transportation."

How do you compare Columbus' public transportation system to other cities'?

58% much worse

25% a little worse

14% about the same

2% a little better

1% much better

How often do you use the COTA bus system?

8% every day

6% once a week

6% once a month

28% occasionally

52% never

If you don't use COTA, what improvements would entice you to ride the bus system?

"Keep more buses running after midnight! How do you think people get home after hitting the bars?"

"A better route to the airport."

"Real-time bus schedules in shelters."

"A 'fast pass' payment option."

Is Columbus accessible for bike riders?

59% yes

41% no

What other transportation initiatives would you like to see here?

"Amtrak service. It's embarrassing we have no long-distance rail options."

"More serious integrated bicycle infrastructure, rather than random paths and occasional street signage."

"Carpool lanes on the freeway."