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The Institute of Transportation Engineers – Georgia Tech Student Chapter

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A teenager’s love of transit and his frustrations with his neighbors and friends.

When I was 14 my family moved to London, England for six months as my dad took a position in the Brigham Young University London Centre. I lived just north of Kensington Palace, a short walk from the Notting Hill Gate Underground station. Most Monday mornings I would walk to the tube and take the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road, walk to the British Museum, and complete one of the complimentary tours highlighting a different magnificent collection that Britain had acquired from its colonies. On other days I would take the Circle Line to South Kensington and spend the morning in the Science Museum, viewing specimens that Darwin himself had brought back from the Galapagos. These activities – combined with my mother’s spelling tests and my self-instruction from a US history book I borrowed from school – comprised my eighth-grade education. I also took the Tube by myself to go to my church youth activities on Wednesday nights (the chapel was conveniently nestled between the aforementioned Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Imperial College London). On Friday nights I would hang out with a friend who lived near the South Kensington station or we would both go to the home of a pair of girls who lived near Swiss Cottage. I would return home accompanied by my fellow tube passengers, and my dad would meet me at Notting Hill Gate for my walk home after dark.

Caroline and Me in Hyde Park, Spring 1999

My sister Caroline (4) and Me (14) in Hyde Park, January 1999

Probably about a year after that, my friend Peter Ririe and I (both 15) went to see a movie at a shopping mall about five miles from our homes in Provo. We had been taken there by his parents, riding in the back section of a Jeep Cherokee because the seats in the car were filled with his nieces. When the movie ended, we were stranded at the mall. It took us about an hour to connect with my mom (via payphone) so someone could come and collect us. I remember the sense of frustration and imprisonment that I was completely dependent on someone else to carry me around a town of about 120,000 people. About a year after that I got my driver’s license and my captivity was ended (at least when I could borrow my dad’s truck), but I never again experienced the joy and wonder of being independently mobile at such a young age.

Proposed "Option 4" BRT Alignment

Proposed “Option 4” BRT Alignment

As it so happens, the Utah Transit Authority has obtained a Federal TIGER grant and local matching funds to build a BRT line connecting the mall I was stuck at to the neighborhood I grew up in. Other destinations on the 10-mile alignment are Novel (remember Netscape?), the historic downtown Provo business district, BYU (30k undergraduates), LaVell Edwards Stadium (capacity 65k), University Mall, Utah Valley University (30k undergraduates), and two commuter rail stations. Should it be constructed, I believe it would be the nation’s premier BRT system.

Note the emphasis on the “should” in the previous sentence. The residents of the neighborhood I lived in for essentially my entire life (kindergarten through BS, no exaggeration) helped convince the Provo City Council to reject the preferred alignment. This alignment was the basis for the FTA TIGER grant and the EIS, meaning that to change it at this stage may jeopardize the federal money involved and could kill the project entirely. And it’s not like this alignment was a secret.

The arguments against the project are those you might expect, because those of us in the transportation community hear them all the time. The parents of children at Wasatch Elementary (Class of ’97, thank you very much) were concerned about the safety of having so many buses drive by in front of the school (never mind that a professional bus driver is going to be far more alert than the average motorist, and it’s not like 900 East is a neighborhood street anyway). There were also concerns about having “bus passengers” waiting at a stop so close to the school (again, never mind that almost everyone using the stop will be a BYU student or a 15 year old trying to get home from a movie theater he got to by riding in a car without a seat belt). Other opposing points were more surreal, such as the idea that BRT would undermine the integrity of the family (I’m not going to comment on this, but I’ve written before about the source of this concern and you can read my friend George Handley’s excellent response).

Having hoped for the day real transit would come to my neighborhood, and having worked for it as a travel demand modeler with the UTA, I feel I should be angry, but the only reaction I have to this affair is sadness. I feel sad for the teenagers who will grow up in that neighborhood being driven to the places they need to go, when they could have experienced the independence I had briefly as a 14 year old. I’m sorry for them.

Author: Greg Macfarlane

Greg Macfarlane is a recent Ph.D. graduate and a post-doctoral researcher under Dr. Guensler. He was the ITE webmaster from 2010-2013.

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