I was pleased to see the Journal Star editorial board write about the need for a new downtown terminal and transfer point for StarTran ("New StarTran hub needed in downtown," July 5). It is vital for the future of Lincoln that we consider public transit as well as simply building streets and roads.
Omaha is experiencing increased traffic congestion and longer commute times. Its leadership has concluded that the only solution is to beef up public transit since most of the city's streets cannot be further widened. Lincoln is also seeing increased traffic and drive times, and we need to improve alternate ways to get around town.
A new downtown facility for StarTran is needed, without a doubt. But, before that issue is addressed, there is a basic question as to the form of the StarTran bus routes in the future.
Currently, Lincoln has a hub-and-spoke system, with all routes converging at 11th and N streets. This system made sense when the downtown area was the place were everyone went to shop, work or see downtown doctors and dentists. Today, there is minimal retail downtown, and doctors and dentists have moved to outlying areas. Lots of people no longer work downtown; some of them live in the south part of town and work in the north or vice versa.
The current hub-and-spoke system forces people riding StarTran to come downtown or go crosstown, resulting in a time penalty that discourages bus use.
Other cities have abandoned hub-and-spoke systems and instead use a grid system. With a grid system, it is easy to ride a bus from any quadrant of the city to any other without having to go downtown. Lincoln has some quasi-crosstown routes, but they are poorly designed and meander rather than going directly across town.
True crosstown routes are needed on 27th, 48th, 56th, 70th and 84th streets that run from the north side of town to the south side. These routes, intersecting the hub-and-spoke routes, would provide convenient route transfers without having to go a roundabout way through downtown.
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The hub-and-spoke system also presents problems to StarTran in terms of keeping buses on time. The O Street route constantly fights on time service, and other routes have similar problems. StarTran would ideally like its routes to go from 11th and N to the endpoint and return in one hour. As Lincoln spreads out in geographic area, this becomes more and more difficult.
A smart solution is to have transportation nodes outside the downtown area. Buses hubbed out of Gateway Mall could service the growth area to the east and return within an hour. The same could be done out of SouthPointe for south Lincoln and the North 27th Street Walmart for north Lincoln.
All of this will affect the size and location for a downtown StarTran terminal and transfer facility. If a grid system is implemented, transfers will occur outside the downtown area to a greater extent, and a smaller facility may do.
Once a huge terminal and transfer facility is built downtown, there will be resistance to moving from a hub-and-spoke system to a grid system -- which is clearly the smarter way to handle public transit in Lincoln.
An example of how the current hub-and-spoke system doesn't work well: I live on South 80th Street near Old Cheney Road. I often buy food items at Trader Joe's in SouthPointe. To go there using StarTran, I go to a designated bus stop for Route 40 at the Nebraska Heart Hospital. At this point, the route makes a large loop south past Moore Middle School and the southeast Walmart before heading downtown.
To reach Trader Joe's, I have to transfer to Route 53 at SouthPointe. I might make the transfer at 48th and South streets, but the times are very close. The safest choice would be to ride my inbound Route 40 downtown and transfer at Gold's, then go outbound on Route 53. What would be a 20-minute, one-way trip by car turns into a one-hour trip.
The time penalty of a hub-and-spoke system is unreasonable. By converting to a grid system, StarTran riders would save a lot of time, which would encourage more bus ridership. Better transfers downtown through a grid system would prevent many riders from going to 11th and N for a transfer.
The net result would be that a smaller, less costly terminal and transfer point downtown would be sufficient, saving taxpayers the cost of a mammoth installation that would be surplus to StarTran needs when the system is converted to a more user-friendly grid system.
Now is the time to look at this threshold question about a downtown terminal. We need to think ahead and plan carefully. As Lincoln continues to expand, we need a healthy, modern bus system based on a grid system -- not something obsolete because not everyone wants to go downtown in today's modern Lincoln.
Ralph W. Hayden is vice president of Citizens for Improved Transit. He lives in Lincoln.