Opinion: Columbus Needs to Aspire to Move Our People Better
It’s unfair to compare two cities like Chicago and Columbus: vastly different in size, population and other ways. But there are things I found in a recent visit to Chicago that Columbus (in its own context) should aspire to, not the least of which is to create a public transportation infrastructure that connects our city with other cities and connects Columbus with all of its neighborhoods and suburbs.
What we saw on the streets of Chicago was a city, county and region where one can easily live car-free if one chooses: trains and subways to almost everywhere, designated bike lanes and an extensive and well-used bike sharing system, and a city that is eminently walkable. We drove to Chicago, but only because there is no train service from Columbus and flying is far too much of a hassle. But when we got there, our Honda CRV sat in the parking garage. We went everywhere either on foot or using public transportation… two baseball games, three museums, restaurants and numerous other attractions (including walking the entire Miracle Mile).
Clearly, Chicago made decisions that created much of this infrastructure back in the late 19th Century and built it up over the ensuing decades. But Columbus had both a well-integrated streetcar, passenger rail and even an interurban trolley system up through the mid 20th Century. The difference is that we gave up on what we had and allowed it to all but disappear as we supposedly fell in love with the car and the so-called ‘freedom of the open road”.
Chicago faced the same choices, but it stubbornly and rightfully refused to give up on a major part of it’s deep and diverse transportation system. Instead, it invested in what it had and in innovations to make it even better.
Columbus is making strides in that direction with the City of Columbus Bikeways Plan, CoGo Bike Share, a re-energized Central Ohio Transit Authority and development of more walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly neighborhoods. But we need to commit to investing in moving more people by rail: off the highway/street grid.
Cleveland is currently the only city where Ohioans can choose to live car-free and connect to other neighborhoods and cities by rail. Cincinnati is building the first leg of a streetcar system and it’s newly hired Chamber of Commerce CEO is speaking out positively that the city should seek a connection with Chicago and other cities with fast, frequent passenger trains.
Columbus should be getting on track as well. For that matter, so should the rest of Ohio.