Give Me Tolls; Give Me Taxes

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Transit

February, 27, 2009, by Peter Eichenberger

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I haven’t ridden the thing yet, first, ‘cause I have this thing about busses, second, that unless one is incapacitated, like too drunk to walk, downtown Raleigh is as walkable as you’ll find, and finally, that free is really free via the bicycle. But forget me, the R bus line, by reducing the “necessity” of driving a car everywhere one must go, rain or shine, night or day, in a dense, urban grid, is the best, smartest idea Raleigh has had in, gee, I dunno, a generation.

But here’s the predicable Greek Chorus, “whaaah, whaaah, whaaah,” from the car set: “It’s not free! It costs me money and I don’t ride it.” Listen up, ya babies, let’s talk about “free.” How did it somehow become written in the sky and implicitly understood by every mother’s child that the motorist is exempt from some normal standards of responsibility with this century-long free ride to foul their path with zero or minimal responsibility to clean up the mess their fiendish contraptions leave? Every time I go anywhere, I have to breathe your exhaust fumes, dodge your oil spills and jagged heaps of broken car that litter nearly every intersection and never seem to get swept up – not to mention never getting a chance to relax from the mortal danger waiting at every turn via inattentive drivers futzing with their music, phones, hair, yada, yada. So tough tits.

In the face of endless whining by the automobilista, it is time to begin educating y’all and extracting from you the true, full cost of your filthy, lazy ways, for the purposes of justice, for the betterment of the world, to get you to abrogate the damage your habits cause—but mostly to simply silence the worst of the offenders with some pesky facts that seem to have been kept from them.

There are details that are impossible to miss: schmutzy air and smears of petroleum caused by shoddy maintenance. But there’s also details no one knows or at least wants to talk about, for instance, owing to the copper in semi-metallic brake linings and Raleigh’s refusal to deal with roadway run-off, our little Crabtree Creek, and Raleigh’s out-feed into the Neuse River are among the most jeopardized waters in the state. Copper is nasty stuff, a potent biological inhibitor, especially when it accumulates in waterways. Hey, why do you think Cupric Oxide is the active ingredient in toxic marine bottom paint? To dissuade barnacles from latching on to boats, capisce? Copper in the water is also partially why Raleigh pays a big, fat fine every year to the US EPA for our idle, blinkered refusal to clean up our waterways. Pay me now or pay me later.

Part of being a grownup is taking the initiative to make right that which your actions cause, even by accident. Not here, where the blithe disregard for personal behavior reaches past the local to the entire continent and the world. Look at the sides of roads, the ditches. North Carolinians are among the worst that you will find for tossing crap out of their cars. From the particular to the general.

Raleigh is years behind most leading urban areas when it comes to alternatives to the automobile. Most every region I’ve lived at least attempts mass transit. The “competition” hasn’t always succeeded but even the attempts are better than the anemic, unreliable services in this place. One morning trying to be a good citizen, my best effort to ride the TTA Red Line to RTP went awry. The driver inexplicably exited onto US1 South and would have taken us on an unplanned junket to Southern Pine had I not walked forward and queried her as to where exactly we were going.

“I don’t know,” she wailed, nearly weeping. When it happened a second time, I vowed to hitchhike if necessary.

So. ‘Bout damned time for an auto reduction policy via a leveled playing field. First of all, go ahead and install the tolls on 540. Toll roads are a fine, proven way to generate revenue for roads I don’t use, but they don’t spread the pain out where it will exact the greatest benefit. In addition, a gas tax, that’s right, a dime, a quarter, on each and every gallon of the oily, poisonous gick, the proceeds to go to mitigating the mess cars leave everywhere they go. The way it works now, revenue the city gets from me and others who refuse to drive (which ain’t much, I’ll admit—lifestyle choice) goes to paying for y’all’s mess and I am over it. Fair is fair. Level the costs and obliterate the free ride the car has had for too long. If fairness were to become the standard instead of the subsidized, ubiquitous hustle that has gone on so long as to be unrecognized, we might actually begin to see some substantive changes in how we get around and some actual environmental improvements, for the better of all.

What’s your preferred method of transit?

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Politics, Other posts by Peter Eichenberger.


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  • Matt
    02/27 04:11 PM

    I rarely—and I mean RARELY—agree with you, Peter. But you’re spot on. Nice work.

  • arthurb3
    02/27 06:04 PM

    Don’t toll roads just force people to use secondary road,thereby, making congestion worse on those roads?

  • Amy G.
    02/28 08:58 AM

    The R-Line-There are more serious wastes of money in NC.  This isn’t the one to complain about.

    Toll Roads-I agree with Arthur.  People will do anything to bypass the toll.  This isn’t going to help congestion at all.  The toll road will be a waste of money with very little in return.

  • m
    02/28 09:16 AM

    the r line will fail if they don’t start running a route counter to the current route. it’s great that it takes ten minutes to get from point A to B, but it takes twenty-five minutes to get back from B to A.

    in fairness to the city, the plan to start making parking harder to get for free downtown is sure to move the issue in the right direction. unlike any other city i’ve been to (downtown chicago parking is $20 or more an hour)it’s simply too easy to park for free 24/7 in downtown raleigh. couple that with the perceived (or real) hassle of public transportation and there’s really no impetus to not drive everywhere.

  • Micah
    02/28 02:44 PM

    Chicago is not Raleigh!  NYC is not Raleigh!  London is not Raleigh! Dubai is not Raleigh!  I somewhat agree with “m” though.  There should be a counter route, though I’m sure a lot of people would be completely confused by it, much like they are/were with the old “inner” and “outer” beltline designations.  I will not ride the “R” line unless it is pouring rain or I have broken legs.  It took me 23 minutes to walk from City Market to Glenwood South last week.  Biking takes about 10-15 if you don’t run traffic lights, and about 5 if you run them.  I’ll be on two wheels or two legs. Besides, it is much better for you.

  • m
    02/28 03:20 PM

    micah - my point wasn’t to compare raleigh to another big city, but to illustrate that raleigh is fooling itself if the belief is that the average person will take a bus or ride a bike if it’s easier to just drive and park. you might, peter eichenberger might, average joe won’t. same thing, in my opinion, with the r route. if it’s a hassle then people won’t use it. the biggest complaint i’ve heard is from people who use it during the week and can’t get to lunch and back in thirty minutes unless they skip using the r route. is walking better for your health? sure. so is biking, but we’re talking about a free “green” bus campaign the city is surely using to determine whether other similar measures would work downtown and my fear is that they’re going to get a skewed view (low ridership, waning interest, etc) because they bus only goes one way, thus making it way more inconvenient than driving or even walking. just my 2 cents.

  • f
    02/28 03:30 PM


    Please try to be part of the solution in transit talk and not share your isolated experiences riding the bus, as you claim to have ridden only twice.  In my 5.5 years riding public transit in the Triangle, CAT and Triangle Transit, specifically, I have yet to board a bus that travels off-route.  I estimate that I have ridden the bus well over 500 times and feel that my credibility as a frequent rider trumps your two-ride career high.  Not only do the buses run on-route, I have found them to run on-schedule (meaning that they are allowed to run either 5 minutes late or early, which is printed on each route brochure and on the website).  If we want to encourage a better transit experience in the Triangle, then we need to support and utilize the transit we already have.  Use it or lose it, really.  To the people who say, the bus doesn’t work for me, I say, tell the Raleigh Transit Authority or the Triangle Transit Authority what WOULD make the bus routes work for you so that your input can be put to use in planning future bus routes.  See, that is the beauty of rubber tire transit, it is FLEXIBLE and is constantly evolving and changing to accommodate changing needs and transit trends.  Unfortunately, Raleigh’s road network makes it very difficult to serve everyone well, since without a grid, transit lines will always fail to provide service within 1/4 mile of everyone who lives here.  That is why it is so important for everyone who wants to ride, to make transit a part of their life, to provide feedback.  If you are someone who has never ridden a bus here and you get caught up in blindly saying that the buses ‘suck’, then please try riding it once in a while to support your argument before these complaints are voiced.  If we aspire to have a successful rail transit system, we will all have to board buses (or walk, depending on where you are coming from or are going) because no transit station parking lot will be adequate in size to accommodate everyone’s motor vehicles, and the train lines will be FAR less flexible than buses, thus creating an even larger gap between people and service.  So, why don’t we take a new approach to transit talk and try to make positive changes with positive dialogue.  Peter, why is it that you are constantly complaining about everything?  Do you feel this is productive?  I think that positivity and CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is what fuels change and inspires people to agree, act, subscribe to particular ideas.  Trash talking transit in the triangle has some dangerous consequences because it prevents people from overcoming that first hurdle in boarding their first bus.  That is the last thing we need, quite frankly.  So there.  There is some constructive criticism for you.

  • g
    02/28 06:05 PM

    Make everyone pay a nominal fee to ride the bus, have some more lighted stops and change a few of the stops to be in more convenient places near downtown residents.  Then, I might ride it more frequently.  I personally think the time around town is fine.  If people have to pay, it may reduce the bums that ride it and make it more safe for locals at night.  Otherwise, I will continue to park my car in the “Free”, lighted parking decks, just like the rest of the outside the beltline crowd.  People that drive cars to Raleigh will likely never use the bus no matter if it is free or not.  Downtown residents should, if stops are more convenient and safe.

    You can complain to the RTA/TTA like f has suggested, but the bus is not all that convenient with the current stops and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance really knows how to waste our money.  Complain to the DRA if anyone; aren’t they the one’s who spent a lot of our money on a consultant to come and tell us how to operate it and where to locate all the stops?  DRA could have saved our money and chosen the stops with their eyes closed… or ask a few of their board members that happen to be developers downtown…. wait, I think that’s how they selected them anyway.

  • Micah
    02/28 06:41 PM

    Personally, I think the “R” line will have a short life.

  • BusRider
    03/02 12:08 AM

    I would love to ride the bus. I just can’t make sacrifices that effect my job in order to leave the car at home.  The bus system does a fantastic job with the resources given, but unfortunately, with the low density lifestyle that we experience in the Triangle, needing to be flexible, traveling to different areas in the Triangle on almost a daily basis, the bus is just inadequate for my needs.  I hope others are able to utilize it if they have a more structured work schedule though.

  • CJT
    03/02 11:18 AM

    Why the hell isn’t there a stop on Fayetteville St?  Is that not just moronic?  However, I agree with some of the comments above, walking/biking downtown Raleigh is NOT A PROBLEM especially in mild weather (which we have most of the time).  In Raleigh, a short run bus line should have ample stops but doesn’t need to run any more frequently than a half hour.

    The reason people do not want to live downtown is not transportation, it’s regionally RIDICULOUS housing costs.  And nothing will grow downtown unless we bring people in who don’t already live near it.  A bus line isn’t going to do it…a marketing campaign would be more effective!  This bus line will do nothing for Raleigh.  A line that brings people INTO downtown is more important than a line that just takes people around it. 

    Money needs to be generated and spent on traffic arteries not short run commuter buses.  Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill-RTP (and maybe GSO) would all benefit from a solid connection solution.  I love Downtown Raleigh, but culturally it is not diverse.  Chapel Hill and Durham offer something very different than Raleigh (as does Wilmington).  These cities are all so close they can all grow from intermingling.

    Peter, good message *wink*


  • RaleighRob
    03/02 12:36 PM

    ^CJT- There’s several stops only a block off from Fayetteville…a good few on Wilmington, one on Salisbury and one on South.  I don’t think Fayetteville’s layout is conducive to a big bus going up and down it anyways.  Plus, this is a downtown *Circulator* afterall…it’s mostly meant to take you from opposite ends of downtown, and allow you to walk or whatever to the closer spots.

    I do totally agree with you that the biggest thing keeping more people from living downtown is the ridiculous housing costs.  For every person I know who lives downtown, I probably know a good half-dozen who WANT to…but cannot afford it.  :-(

  • vm
    03/02 02:27 PM

    Raleigh wants to revive what was a comatose downtown.

    Raleigh ripped up a perfectly good walking mall to open it to street traffic, despite no evidence that the adjacent streets with traffic were doing any better. Had the big-time, out-of-state consultants they paid bothered to look at Indianapolis’ Circle Center example, they would have been in better shape. Had they tried to bring in elements of the faux Streets at Southpoint to the real Fayetteville Street, they would have been in better shape. Keep the walking mall, bring in the shops and bars etc. Oh well, opportunities wasted. Taxpayer money wasted. So it goes.

    Parking, free parking, is essential to bringing people back into downtown. One of the huge problems in the past was referred to as ‘predatory towing.’ where people who had parked legally were towed anyway. This caused many to resist going downtown unless they absolutely had to do so.

    I, like Eichenberger, abhor the bus. It’s smelly, dirty inside and out, and I don’t want to take it. The real shame of it all is this: There’s a green median running most of Glenwood from Crabtree down to Peace. Buried in that median are the tracks for the old Trolley.

    San Fran has trolleys and Raleigh did, too. I wish we’d resurrect that instead fooling around with buses.

    Tolls on 540? Don’t make Wake co. pay for DOT’s mistake. No thank you. I’ll have to leave Wake county if this nonsense continues. Between rising Federal, rising property evaluations and rising taxes on those higher evals, proposed punitive water use fees, and Mayor Meeker’s intention to find ways to take more money (because Raleigh shouldn’t have to find a way to make do with less like the rest of us are? Really?) it’s just getting to be entirely too much. Meeker will have to worry about a declining Raleigh, not just trying to revive a declining downtown. Granville and Franklin counties are looking pretty good.

    Lastly, the trash on the roads in NC are not nearly among the worst in the country. Please, never go to Tennessee or New Jersey. North Carolina does a pretty good job in that it has fewer litterers and visible cleanup, both by inmates and volunteers. Take some pride in one of the areas where NC gets it right.

  • highjoeltage
    03/02 04:12 PM

    I have to argue with people that think living downtown or within walking distance of it is too expensive. 1)Living close enough to walk to work reduces your need for a car which saves you a lot of money over the course of a year. Also, recreation is close by as well. 2)You can’t compare a three bedroom house/townhouse in north hills or elseware to an equivalently sized house downtown. You don’t need a giant house when you live downtown, in my opinion you don’t need a giant house in general but that’s just me. To each their own.

    The downtown circulator bus has some issues I agree but anything that the city does to improve downtown life and reduces the need for cars is a good plan and a good investment in the future of the city as well as the environment.

  • RaleighRob
    03/03 02:55 PM

    ^highjoetage’s points:

    1—Even most downtowners need a car, seeing many basic amenities are just not there.  (Ie, no grocery store.)

    2—No one here has said they want a North Raleigh McMansion downtown.  But I’m a college graduate in a professional career for almost 10 years and even still cannot afford to buy anything downtown (in half-decent condition).
    Rent, yes.  And that’s what I’ve been doing all my adult life and would like to finally move up from that.  Ain’t gonna happen downtown!

  • Ken Metzger
    03/03 03:17 PM

    What do you mean you cannot afford to buy a house that is within walking distance from downtown?

    It may not be an enjoyable or safe walk, but walkable it is.

  • highjoeltage
    03/03 03:35 PM

    The bus goes to the grocery store dude but I see your point.

  • JT
    03/03 06:24 PM

    There are affordable options downtown, and people should walk more.  It takes about 10 min to walk to Fayetteville from Glenwood, and less than 5 on bike.

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