Robert E. Stauffer: Lexington needs better transit connections in region, beyond

February 26, 2014 

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The Greyhound Bus Station on New Circle Road needs to be downtown to help solve the city's fractured transit system.

BRIAN TIETZ — Brian Tietz

A year or so ago I inquired about bus service linking Lexington and Louisville. Greyhound informed me that the only service linking these cities involved a round-about route and transfer in Cincinnati. Since then, a direct express service has been initiated, leaving Lexington at 9 a.m., 4 p.m., and 10:15 p.m., requiring 1 hour and 20 minutes and costing $25 one-way.

Or, you can contract for limousine service costing $181.75 one-way.

Despite evident improvements, these service options remain inadequate. I propose a better alternative, modeled on other states and involving a major university town and the principal commercial/political center of the state:

■ In a manner mimicking the "Park and Ride" commuter services adopted by numerous hub towns, augment existing Lextran service with expresses linking neighboring county seats with downtown Lexington. These important towns are currently stranded on account of Kentucky's fragmented political boundaries. Two principal axes suggest themselves, the north-south alignment connecting Danville, Nicholasville, Lexington and Georgetown, the second (SE-NW) connecting Berea, Richmond, Lexington and Frankfort.

■ Connect Lexington and Louisville with expresses, scheduled in Lexington to accommodate transfers off the commuter links, and designed to offer service at a "Park and Ride" facility near the junction of Interstate 64 and U.S 127 on the south side of Frankfort. This facility would also serve as the end point on the Frankfort commuter service. Louisville's downtown, namesake university and airport would be served on the route's west end.

■ Connect downtown Lexington with downtown Nashville, terminating at Nashville's International Airport, and offering intermediate stops at Bardstown, Elizabethtown and Bowling Green. Louisville is already well-connected to Nashville by bus with eight departures daily and a three-hour transit time. Nashville is a popular destination, and its airport serves as a major regional hub offering convenient, inexpensive, non-stop service to multiple destinations.

Public ground transportation in modern advanced economies is useful mainly if it connects focal points within a regional network and where transit times across the network are less than three hours.

Cities with a compact hub-and-spoke design are especially prone to congestion, particularly if they host a major university near downtown. Lexington is such a city. So, too, are Louisville, Nashville, Indianapolis and Madison, Wis.

The principal shortcomings of the existing Greyhound express service are easily enumerated:

■ It does not serve downtown Lexington. Instead, the bus station is a drop point along New Circle Road near its intersection with Russell Cave Road where, in the immortal words of Gertude Stein, "There is no there, there."

■ It fails to connect the Bluegrass hub with its important satellite towns, including the center of state government in Frankfort.

■ It ignores two critical destinations in Louisville (University of Louisville and Standiford Field).

Perhaps not surprisingly, few people on the south side of Lexington have used this service, or even heard of it.

What, then, has been achieved elsewhere?

Consider Madison-Milwaukee, a city pairing analogous in distance, transit times, populations and social significance to the Lexington-Louisville axis.

The privately run Badger Bus offers eight round-trips daily, with a one-way fare of $20 and a transit time of 90 minutes. The route involves several pickup points in each city, including the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Mitchell Airfield, the terminal destination in Milwaukee. Madison is also served by the Van Galder bus line directly linking its university to O'Hare airport in Chicago.

Neighboring Indiana offers a second illustrative pairing involving Indiana University from Bloomington and the major commercial-political hub of Indianapolis 50 miles away. Inexpensive ($15 one-way) and fast (one hour) bus service links these centers, with convenient departure times in Bloomington three times a day. A separate shuttle service, for the same fare, directly connects the IU campus with the Indianapolis airport.

When Lexington was a much smaller provincial town, it had two downtown train stations and a bus station linking it to neighboring cities at all points of the compass. Today, despite vast growth, the city and its region offer little in the way of viable public transportation options at the regional level and only limited, expensive and inconvenient air options to more distant points.

Other communities in the United States have done far better. Lexington and the surrounding Bluegrass region can do better as well, but such a development will require local leadership and civic commitment.

Robert E. Stauffer of Lexington is a geochemist/hydrologist consultant and retired professor.

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