Walking towards the stop, the man sees a bus pull up and drive away within secondsof hisreaching the sign. A 15-minute walk later, he finds himself at the next stop along the way; after waiting 20 minutes, he is left disappointed again. Even after waving and locking eyes with the driver, he is ignored, stranded once again. “I wasn’t worth the stop,” he sarcastically thinks to himself. He decides to take a taxi home.
This story was told to me by a friend who has lived in Harrisburg for most of his life. Though public transportation should be the heart of any city hoping to avoid being cut off from itself, many find personal vehicles necessary to get around the Harrisburg area. Transportation does not need to be that way. Harrisburg used to have trolleys—the proof, their tracks, is buried by asphalt. Though companies who own and operate the bus system might say otherwise, trolleys are the most efficient way to move people.
Not only would a trolley system be more fuel efficient than both buses and privately owned vehicles, it would also cut back on many traffic problems. According to a study implemented by the Central European Programme, trolleys, running on electricity, would demand fewer variable costs than buses running on petroleum, which varies greatly in price. Citizens would enjoy less noise and fewer emissions. Because they cannot move from their tracks, these streetcars would need to run on a very regular schedule; buses remain subverted by traffic and the whims of their drivers. A trolley can’t cut anyone off, nor would it take up two lanes of traffic making awkward turns. They would cut down on the need for privately owned cars, which take up highly prized parking spaces and cause damage to frequently traveled roads. Commuters often drive through the city to their place of work then promptly leave at five. Many don’t live within the city limits, so the community is not compensated by their earnings.
A trolley system could improve both the traffic and carbon footprint of the city, as well as interpersonal relationships in the community. Rather than driving from destination to destination, isolated from the other drivers and pedestrians, trolley riders would be forced to travel with each other through the city. It would reinforce the notion that Harrisburg is the center of commerce and recreation and make travelers interact with each other.
Many cities such as Portland, Cincinnati and Charlotte have brought public transportation and environmental issues into the spotlight by investing in an ultimately successful streetcar system. I stayed in Toronto for a week and a half with a class, and, while I was there, I was shocked by how easy it was to navigate the city, how safe I felt doing so when using the user-friendly streetcar system. Toronto still had buses, bike lanes and even some personal cars, but the trolleys were what we used most frequently. I never once felt crowded, stressed or worn out by my travels there. The abundance of public transportation made me feel immediately connected to the city because my desire for exploration was not only easily satiated, but encouraged.
A streetcar system would simplify some of the complications of city life: being on tracks makes trolley travel more dependable than buses, and, as such, trolley-riding would become more appealing than driving. Fewer cars on the road mean fewer repairs, more community spirit andsmaller environmental impact. Shouldn’t Harrisburg, as the capital city, set the example for the rest of the state?
Mary Imgrund is a senior English major at Penn State Harrisburg.