On streetcars, more light rail and the state of Sacramento’s regional transit

Jeff vonKaenel

I am a newspaper publisher. This means I go to many events. While the subject matter differs—economic development, health care, youth issues—the formats are very similar. First, you mingle for about 30 minutes. Then, you go into a big room for a meal, where you talk to your tablemates, and then you hear a presentation or speech. Often there are awards. I have even received some of these awards.

Sometimes you are given a fair amount of dense information with no time to reflect on that information. After the breakfast, lunch or dinner, you are immediately returned back into your regular life. It is easy to forget whatever was presented at the event.

However, this was not the case at the sixth annual State of RT Breakfast held last Friday at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento. I had plenty of time to reflect on the importance of Regional Transit and its partners developing an effective transportation strategy while sitting in my car in the Hyatt parking structure. As my car moved ever so slowly toward the exit, RT’s vision of urban streetcars running every 10 minutes came into sharp focus for me.

If our streetcars ran every 10 minutes, then the average wait would be five minutes. As I waited to get out of the parking structure, I thought about cities I loved to visit—New York City; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and Portland, Ore.—all of which have great transportation systems. And cities I do not like to visit—Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta—all of which have crummy transportation systems. Part of what makes a city fun is the ease of getting around.

Finally, I reached the tollbooth, where the friendly Hyatt employee told me the cost for the privilege of my car visiting their parking structure for several hours. Sixteen dollars. For a person making minimum wage, this would represent one-fourth of their daily take-home pay. Luckily, I received a partial discount because I attended a Hyatt event. Nevertheless, this parking fee brought home the critical need for urban dwellers and urban visitors to be able to move around our city without a car.

And, fortunately, this is the plan. Sacramento Regional Transit District CEO and general manager Mike Wiley presented a vision for RT and for Sacramento that includes streetcars running from West Sacramento through downtown, an extension of the RT lines with links to the community colleges and the airport, a regional transit hub at the train station, and more. This vision would enable transit to be a viable option for nearly all of our residents and visitors. This plan looked very exciting, sitting with a full stomach in the Hyatt parking structure. And it looked very affordable when I paid my parking fee.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.