Ray Eliot is a VISTA volunteer who works with the Reno Bike Project and is quick to say he does not speak for the project. But biking is still the reason he attended an open house held by the Regional Transportation Commission on its new draft of a transportation plan for the whole area.
“It’s an important thing to be involved in,” Eliot said. “Obviously, I’m interested in whether there will be more planning around cycling.”
The open house was held at the Wells Discovery Museum. The final plan will be in effect until 2035. The last day to submit comments on the draft plan is April 19.
Saying transportation plan to members of the public is likely to make their eyes glaze over. The RTC’s Amy Cummings, asked how she would explain the plan to someone quickly, described it this way: “I would say that it sets the framework for the transportation investments we’re going to be making over the next 20 years, and it’s looking at roadways, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, with safety as one of the main criteria.”
She acknowledges the problem in getting people to pay attention.
“It’s always a challenge to … get people interested in something that’s very long term,” she said. “It’s a little bit easier to get people interested in a project that’s in their neighborhood and, you know, there’s a specific design that’s available for review. … We do recognize that a lot of people don’t have time to come to meetings in person but we want to make sure that it’s available on line also.”
Eliot said he attended to find out whether the plan contains an increase in emphasis on mode share—a bureaucratic term for the use of multiple forms of transportation. He said he thinks there are obstacles to multiple uses that officialdom can help break down. The obstacles, he said, are “mostly cultural.”
“Reno is a place that was developed around the automobile,” he said. “People don’t necessarily think you can get from place to place by bikes, buses.” (For more on the transportation plan and bicycles, see Green, page 11.)
Mark Miller is a businessperson who owns properties around the valley. He thinks what RTC is doing is a good idea. “We need better transportation access,” he said. “I used to live in Spanish Springs and boy, when you got on Disc Drive, you could have real problems.”
He also said the agency did a good job of informing people along affected routes of public meetings on the planning process. He said he got started in the transportation plan process early on because he received a notice from RTC of a workshop, and when he attended it he discovered that the plan as then drafted would take out some apartments that adjoined a convenience store/gas station he owns, which would remove an access curb he needs. “That could put me out of business,” he said. The early workshop gave him a chance to voice his concerns to people who could do something about it, and he wanted to follow up to see whether those concerns had been satisfied.
He had hoped to find out at the open house whether the problem had been addressed in the draft. But he learned that the event was being held more to give exposure to broad overview of the plan, not to what he calls “nuts and bolts.” He raised the issue and was told he would be contacted later with specific information on his concern.
Chicken and egg
One person looking over the large maps on display commented that little had improved in bus service to the Spanish Springs Valley, which is devoid of routes. But he also said he understood the financial limitations on RTC. “I think they do a very good job, given the restraints they’re under.”
Cummings said a route on the Pyramid Highway to the Galleria is being considered, but that does not include routes up into the neighborhoods on either side of the highway.
Getting people out of their cars and into buses is another challenge.
“One thing that we always want to keep in mind is having choices available for people,” Cummings said. “Obviously there are some areas that aren’t served … by bus routes, and that was one of the bigger questions we had [at the open house] was to extend services to those areas. But certainly an education campaign is important. We’re working with the schools, and that’s something that we would like to move forward with, is an education component for the schools, so that people learn now to ride the bus because that’s one of the other things that’s come up to us at some of these meetings is that people just aren’t familiar with the system and they don’t know how to start.”
It there’s already a bus route through a neighborhood, residents are more likely to use it. But a route is less likely to happen if there is not evidence of interest in riding the bus. Two of the least served areas are the wealthy southwest, where getting people out of their cars is an enormous challenge, and the Spanish Springs Valley.