Most Garner residents at the Wake Transit information session here a few weeks ago said they wanted a commuter rail to come through Garner.
After all, the 2012 draft plan of the transit options had a commuter rail going through the town.
Transit leaders reminded council members that Garner still had the possibility to have a commuter rail go through the town, at Tuesday night’s town council work session, during a round table discussion with area professionals.
It just won’t happen in the first 10 years of the plans implementation. The money just isn’t there nor the demand for ridership, transit officials say.
Before the latest options came out, the technical team, a group of transit planners, sat down with a consultant team and flushed out the four scenarios, said Tim Maloney, director of the county planning, development and inspections.
He said there were scenarios early on that depicted rail similar to the 2012 draft plan that went through Greenfield Parkway.
“You start looking at the financial realities and the ridership of that corridor and a decision needed to be made among that team that day about what needed to go to get within constraints of our revenues,” Maloney said. “And what was taken off at that time was the extension from Raleigh to Greenfield Parkway.”
No commuter rail
The new options are not how the plans will look. They are scenarios. The different scenarios offer a bus that would come to Garner more often – one that would come each hour and run a loop around the middle of the town, and one that would come every 30 minutes and take a linear route into the town.
But what disappointed residents was that the commuter rail option going through Garner was taken off the table.
In the 2012 draft plan, Garner residents could catch a commuter rail from Greenfield Parkway in 30-minute intervals from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and be in downtown Raleigh in 15 minutes or less. They could get to RTP, in 36 minutes and downtown Durham in 47 minutes.
And vice versa. Those needing to get from those areas could get to Garner in the same amount of time.
Lack of demand
John Tallmadge, director of regional services development for Go Triangle, said the goal is to help meet the needs of the people – so they can get to where they want to go when they want to go. He said if the town wants to have it’s residents have easier access to downtown Raleigh or Cary or RTP, then you have to think about the best connection at the moment.
“And you might have a vision that one day that is going to be something else, but you want to start it with something that is easy to do,” Tallmadge said. “And bus service is easier.”
He also said that saves money.
Council member Buck Kennedy said he understands the demand for transit isn’t high in Garner, but encouraged transit leaders to consider making the town one of its main thoroughfares for transit. He said transit planners should think beyond county lines, particularly those who live in rural areas in Johnston County and work in Raleigh.
He said getting inside the beltline is a headache for them.
“When I get to the expressway, I’m stopping there, and getting on the train to let someone take me there,” Kennedy said.
He also emphasized that Garner has the potential to continue to grow and said to keep them in their plans.
“I think if you extended your horizon and had some of that inclusion, folks are not going to mind if they are 15 years out as long as they could work toward that goal,” Kennedy said.
Ken Marshburn said ridership is a big issue in the town.
“I’d love to see the coverage, and I think we need it, but ridership is a big issue,” he said. “There’s a segment of our population that it is our livelihood.”
Gra Singleton echoed Marshburn’s sentiments.
“A lot of people out here need the bus,” Singleton said. “Not they want the bus. They need the bus. It’s a big difference between want and need. When you’re looking at coverage and ridership, coverage is important but ridership...they are what’s sustaining the program as it is today.”
There are three entities – Wake County commissioners, CAMPO and the Go Triangle board – that will each have to approve the plan before it becomes the official guide for mass transit. That means there are three bodies town officials can lobby to ensure rail in Garner is part of the plan.
There’s one other thing the town should think about when advocating for options, said Deborah Ross, the general counsel for the Triangle Transit.
She said transit not only brings people to places but it creates place.
“So people will invest in businesses and condos and things that are near transit hubs and transit locations,” she said. “So while you’re proving yourself for your ridership, you can also make an argument if you think that downtown Garner could be a more vibrant place if it had a commuter rail stop or a particular bus stop or a connection.
“It’s not just that people are getting on and off the transit,” she continued. “It’s also about what happens around those areas. Those are things you need to think about for the future.”