Since 2009, I have commuted to work down 15-501 and Erwin Road on a GoTriangle bus. Though I advocate for public transit and its social justice and environmental benefits, my ride to work has been far from a sacrifice. In fact, it has been quite liberating. Door-to-door, it’s actually quicker than driving because I need not troll for a difficult to find parking space. I also save about $250 a month in car-related expenses. Taking transit to work gives me time I wouldn’t otherwise have, time I can devote to work or just devote to lowering my blood pressure; traffic congestion looks much better from the bus than from the driver’s seat of my car.
I have seen our transit capacity grow with the passage of the transit tax in Durham and Orange Counties. Thousands of hours of new bus service have been added. Many at Duke are catching on. Duke GoPasses are used for 400,000 trips per year. Yet, our roads are reaching capacity. Adding lanes to 15-501 just seems to invite more traffic that also snarls buses; travel times now exceed what they were before widening. Erwin Road is a choke point for patients and employees trying to reach the hospitals and clinics, only to then start the search for parking. We cannot hope to pave our way out of our growing congestion.
The Durham-Orange light rail project is the centerpiece of a regional transit network that will include expanded bus service, bus rapid transit, commuter rail, and intercity rail. The Durham-Orange light rail will serve the most travel-heavy corridor in the Triangle while linking three of the top ten employers in the state. It will connect 100,000 jobs, 55,000 university students, three major medical centers, and two rapidly growing urban areas. Light rail transit focuses land use with environmentally friendly economic development and creates access to jobs for those households with more workers than cars.
The Durham-Orange light rail and the Transit Plan will also greatly benefit Duke Medical Center by expanding access for both employees and patients. It will help Duke continue to recruit top notch faculty and staff. Efficient transit also saves Duke the cost of building even more parking at around $30,000 per above ground spot, allowing land around campus to be put to better use. Granted, there are concerns that need to be addressed such as interference with emergency vehicles. Yet, there are also solutions; GoTriangle has proposed elevating the tracks in front of Duke Hospital, absorbing the $90 million in extra costs to ensure access to the Emergency Room.
The Duke community faces an important decision. Are we going to fully support this transit plan and light rail corridor or let traffic congestion hinder a future of medical excellence? It is time to step up. Let’s not bury our heads in the asphalt.
Thomas Farmer is a Duke alum, Trinity ’85, School of Medicine ‘90.