The Elbert Files: Bike lanes and slow trains
Thursday, September 12, 2013 7:00 AM
When I caught up with my friend K.C., he was near the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, standing alongside Grand Avenue and staring at a freshly painted image of a bicycle and two arrows.
“Isn’t this great,” I said. “Des Moines is finally getting around to having bike lanes.”
“Yeah, but I’m puzzled,” K.C. said. “This lane starts on the north side of Grand, then switches to the south side and now it just ends, right up there,” he said, pointing to the west.
We walked a little more, and I saw that he was right. The bike lane disappeared when it reached 17th Street, leaving riders with the choice of cutting across three lanes of traffic or getting shuffled off to Fleur Drive.
“Ouch,” I said. “No good choices here.”
“If they had kept the lane on the north side of the street, they could just point the bikes up 17th Street and let them catch the bike lane on Ingersoll,” K.C. said.
“Go figure,” I said.
“The way it is now, it’s like they’re saying: ‘Good luck, Skippy. You’re on your own from here,’” he said.
“But that’s just the city,” K.C. said. “You want to see a real transportation screw-up, look at what the state is doing to passenger rail service.”
“What passenger rail service?” I said.
“That’s my point,” K.C. said. “There ain’t none, and there won’t be any as long as they have a lawyer for a trucking company running the Iowa House.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“The guy who’s the speaker of the Iowa House,” he said. “What’s his name?”
“You mean Kraig Paulsen?”
“Yeah. That’s the guy. You know what he does for a living, when he’s not making sausage up at the Statehouse? He’s a lawyer for CRST, the big trucking company over in Cedar Rapids.”
“So?” I said.
“So, he’s the guy who killed the train bill last May,” K.C. said.
“You know it really wasn’t much of a bill,” I said. “All it did was provide a little money for planning and some match for federal bucks for track upgrades.
“All it was really doing was keeping the hope alive that someday there might be decent train service between Chicago and Iowa City. And then if it got to Iowa City, maybe it could come on to Des Moines and go on across Iowa to Omaha.”
“Well, it ain’t going nowhere now, because Paulsen killed it,” K.C. said.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said. “Passenger rail is so much more efficient than cars or buses or airplanes.
“Plus, young people like it. They’re not into cars the way we are. They’d rather play with their tablets and iPhones than drive a car. And they’d be able to do that on the train, or they would have.”
“Why would Paulsen kill a bill that would help launch Iowans into 21st-century travel?” I asked.
“Because,” K.C. said, “the upgrades they would have made to the track to run passenger trains at a decent speed could also be used by freight trains.
“Paulsen works for a trucking company,” he said. “They’re the competition. Those upgrades won’t help his bottom line one bit.”
“I guess not,” I said.
“But it seemed like such a good idea. What’s going to happen now to all those Iowa students who were counting on taking the train to Chicago and back?”
“They can go to the Quad Cities,” K.C. said. “That fast train will still run between the Illinois Quad Cities and Chicago. They can catch it in Moline or Rock Island, or wherever.”
“Maybe they’ll put in a bike lane between Iowa City and Davenport to get ‘em there,” he said.
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