This post got long... I've been sitting on it for a while, hoping to get it better organized, but I think this says most of what I wanted to say, and soon I won't have the time to organize this. I'm not paid to write essays on transportation.
Transportation is yet another one of those complex systems that I enjoy from time to time thinking about. I had been thinking about it some during my vacation in San Francisco. We stayed about 45 minutes outside of San Francisco in the "east bay" area and most of the days of the trip we drove to the near BART station, commuting into Metropolitan San Francisco via the train. Once in the city it was then a combination of walking, cable cars, ferries, and the MUNI light rail/bus lines. (We didn't make use of MUNI's subway lines, however.)
One of the striking things to me was how much less cohesive San Francisco's transportation systems were in comparison to NYC's MTA, particularly the integrated MetroCard system, which greatly simplified transportation (I had a lot of fun with an "unlimited ride" MetroCard on my trip to NYC).
Then there is my hometown's transportation systems. The city is a transportation town, and wouldn't exist if not for early transport needs (it sits on the only natural obstacle in navigating the Ohio River). However, where commercial transport continues to flourish, public transportation is somewhat overlooked. A good overview, for those who live here, of Louisville transportation news is provided by (fellow Speed Computer Engineering student) Darren S. Embry's Louisville transportation page. However, let me provide my own rough outline: Louisville transportation is heavily dependent on cars and the local Interstates (as is our rival to the northeast, Cincinatti). Louisville has three Interstates passing through the city, and two expressways (bypasses). The local traffic agency is TRIMARC. The local mass transit authority is TARC which runs a selection of bus routes (and only bus routes). The regional transportation authority is KIPDA.
At this time, TARC doesn't run any 24-hour bus routes. TARC routing is best figured out by calling a TARC representative and let them map it for you. If you want to do it manually, here is the (prettily colored) route map, and you'll need the route list, which you can also get as a convienient (cough) pile of dead tree brochures. No one has yet taken the time to put together a good searchable system online. Admittedly, with such a large system of routes the search heuristics between two addresses could get complex, but other agencies have done it (ex: Bay Area 511 TripPlanner). People have done it for other systems, this one should be no different. If I could get decent geocode data for the routes I would be tempted to plug the routes in the Google Maps API, creating a more configurable display than the complete route map. I think TARC and LOJIC should approach Speed's Computer Engineering department about doing just that and putting together the route search heuristics to get between two addresses using TARC and foot/bike. (Or vice versa, I guess... maybe I should find an interested Professor to suggest the project to.)
The lesson here is that you need either a lot of planning or good luck to get a reasonable transport between two points in this city without a car.
If you have a car, the fun is just about to get started as the city is just short of some serious traffic problems (as seen in Cincinatti). Of particular interest to me lately, has been the Louisville "Central Corridor". This corridor includes the Downtown (including the Convention Center and many of the major Hospitals), Old Louisville, University of Louisville Belknap (primary) Campus, UofL's stadia, the Kentucky Fair & Expo Center (the Larger Convention Center), Churchill Downs (tourist blackhole), the Airport, and the UPS and Ford facilities. Sound busy enough? The primary conduit for the central corridor is I-65. In addition to carrying all of this intra-city traffic, you should keep in mind that I-65 also serves as the primary Mobile—Chicago corridor (via Nashville, Louisville, Indianopolis, Gary, to name a few). I-65, if I recall correctly, is the third most travelled Interstate. The most travelled Interstate is I-75 (Florida—Canada via Cincinatti among others). It's quite obvious that in a few years I-65 through Louisville will be just as congested as I-75 through Cincinatti. (It also has just as little room to grow. Among other factors, Old Louisville is the third largest american historical preservation district.) I hope that now you can see part of why Kentucky's early Interstate architect admitted that his biggest mistake was kowtowing to commercial interests and letting I-65 run through central Louisville.
Louisville's light rail plan to connect the central corridor with a modern mass transit system was supposed to be completed in 2007. Due partly to land acquisition problems, but mostly to the funds being cut for other projects, the plan was scrapped recently. To me, this is truly amazing. TARC and KIPDA said "we absolutely need this project for the future of the city's transportation", and the project was shot down, blown up, and left to die by the politicians. TARC and KIPDA rolled over. Where's the outrage? The shock?
More importantly, where's the city's mass transit? You can't rely on 88% car ownership forever.
(Apparently nearly the exact same happened in Cincinatti... Cinci came up with a light rail design (albeit crazier and more ambitious than Louisville's, I assume due to their (laughable) Olympic bid) and then killed the whole project.)
The real amazing thing about all of this is that our country once had an envied public mass transit system. Then we fell in love with the automobile, let the system fallow, and sold it as scrap to commercial interests. Near the same time that Louisville lost its light rail plan, it also lost its last remaining AmTrak route. The route was a 12 hour ordeal to Chicago... restricted to 30 mph, having to deal with poorly serviced tracks and compete with commercial trains for those tracks. It's no wonder not enough people rode it.
Here's the stumper: why did we do this to ourselves? The railroad tracks were, should be, but are not currently common public property. Commercial freight was given priority over transporting us, the descendants of the taxpayers who paid for all of this in the first place. It would be great if we could manage to get this land back, upgrade the tracks to support high speed trains (like, say, the Japanese have done), and give passenger trains track priority over commercial freight trains. Hey, Louisville's central corridor just happens to be bounded by existing rail tracks... isn't that interesting?