Let's Roll

Yes, it is an act of patriotism to support public transit. From sea to shining sea America the once beautiful is struggling under a pall of polluted air, polluted water and shrinking green spaces. The American Lung Association says that now 49% of Americans, 142 million, live in areas that puts them at risk and "75% of Americans who live in areas with monitors are breathing in unhealthy amounts of ozone, a powerful respiratory irritant. " That last category is us.

Where is this pollution coming from? Roughly 50% is coming from coal fired electric plants and industry and the other 50% is coming from mobile sources. Highway vehicles account for 56% of carbon monoxide pollution, 32% of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 30% of volatile organic compounds (VOC's). (Trends 1900-1998, EPA) NOx and VOC's are the building blocks of ozone pollution. According to the EPA's testing laboratories in Ann Arbor, Michigan, every year the average car (21.5 mpg) traveling 12,000 miles emits 11, 450 lbs. of carbon dioxide, 38.2 lbs of nitrogen oxides, and 575 lbs of carbon monoxide while the average light truck (17.2 mpg) traveling the same distance emits 16,035 pounds of carbon dioxide (the global warming gas), 55.8 lbs. of nitrogen oxides, and 854 lbs of carbon monoxide. No wonder we are not breathing so well up here.

So, what is the solution?

"Hop on the bus, Gus…Make a new plan, Stan…No need to be coy, Roy. Just get yourself free"…of that car. (Paul Simon)

And now it is easier than ever. On a bright sunny yellow alert June day amid fanfare and ceremony, the second year of fixed route public transportation departed. Among the tents, tables and brightly colored Apple Country Transportation signs there was no shortage of elected officials. Our NCDOT Board Member Conrad Burrell came along with division engineer Ron Watson. County Commission Chair Bill Moyer was there as master of ceremonies as well as Mayor Niehoff. Javonni Burchett, the mistress of Apple Country Transportation and her boss, David White couldn't seem to quit beaming. The drivers Richard Johnson, Nicky Roberts, Martin Holbert and Jim Hart were as courteous and solicitous as new ambassadors for Hendersonville should be. Yours truly was running around clicking pictures.

However, the day really belonged to two "ordinary" citizens-Mr. Public Transit, Paul Stepp and Mrs. Matealay McCloud. They both refused to take "no" for an answer and proved that the voices of ordinary citizens are indeed powerful. Last year we had one little cute huffing and puffing trolley and now, due to their citizenship, we have two new air conditioned buses running on hourly schedules.

And there were speeches. Commissioner Moyer was especially gallant when he moved the entire seating arrangement to a shadier spot. We listened appreciatively as dignitaries extolled the virtues of public transportation and thanked contributors and volunteers. Sometimes in the course of these types of events you do hear a stirring speech that seems to perfectly encapsulate the moment. City of Hendersonville Mayor Niehoff's presentation was such a speech. I asked him afterwards if I might include his words in this column and he cheerfully obliged by sending me the text. I believe all the citizens of Henderson County need to hear his words as we begin this important transportation endeavor that might help us once again become "O beautiful for halcyon skies."

Mayor Niehoff began: "Good morning everyone. I want to thank everyone who has played a part in getting us to where we are today. Bill Moyer has named all of these persons, so I won't do that. But I do want to thank those from DOT who have provided the funding. Without that, we would not be here today. We would still be talking about it.

There is no question that this step we are taking is controversial. There are a lot of critics and doubters who say it won't work. Even I have had my doubts. I am an engineer, and I like to plan things, but I looked at the challenge of planning a bus route in a community where everyone lives all over, and everyone drives in different directions all over the place, I said, "No way."

So this is controversial. But one thing that is not controversial is the fact that in our country, our state, and locally, the number of miles that we put on our automobiles is rising two or three times the rate of population growth. We are an automobile society. We love our cars. But this trend cannot continue. We are running out of room to build out in the country, and we aren't able to keep up with the highway needs.

So, we are going to have to start doing things differently if we want to reverse that trend. We will have to change the way we do our planning for growth. We are going to have to promote more high density mixed use neighborhoods to enable folks to walk, or bike, or drive short distances. And we are going to have to provide public transportation.

This will not be an overnight success. It will take years to achieve noticeable results. I am sure that this bus service will take time to build up ridership. But we have to start sometime, and now is that time.

Thank you again to all who have had the persistence to hang in there and make this day a reality."

Can you adjust your schedule to use the new bus system twice a week? Could you park at the Laurel Park Shopping Center and take the bus to our wonderful Downtown or to Walmart? Would you consider saving yourself a trip by letting the kids stretch their wings solo on one of our new buses? Whatever you can do, remember…

All Aboard, because America Rolls.

To my readers: If you ever wonder if I get comments on these columns, I do occasionally. What are your thoughts on the matter?
Email Eva

*The opinions stated in this page are those of Ms. Eva Ritchey and do not necessarily represent the views of CyTech Computers & Internet Solutions, Inc.
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