Friday, September 29, 2017

Spinning Plates

You may or may not be old enough to remember the man in the Ed Sullivan show who would come out and manage to keep an entire row of plates spinning atop long sticks. For some reason I found this hilarious as a child. Now it seems more like life. Keep everything going without anything falling. Steady one while another slows and wobbles. It almost seems to be the precise activity for which the phrase "teetering precariously" was invented.

The image of the spinning plates came to mind this morning as I was reading the news that Howard County intends to make a pitch for the new Amazon facility. Clearly having an Amazon facility is the new community fidget spinner. Everybody seems to want one. No matter that we're already spinning school redistricting, de facto segregation in our schools, a Downtown Plan, recovery from a flood, and APFO legislation. Let's add Amazon to the mix!

The catch, from what I can tell, is that Amazon is looking for a place with robust public transit. Howard County can boast of many strong points, but transit is hardly one of them. In fact, public transit seems to be at the bottom of the list when people talk about improving Columbia/HoCo. "Let's do all these other things, and then, um, we'll be able to look at transit."

Now, when I think of public transit in Columbia/HoCo, I'm thinking about making it easy, convenient, and appealing to get around town/county. On the other hand, most people I know think of transit as better ways to get to Baltimore and D.C.. What will Amazon be looking for? I don't know, but it's safe to say we don't have the best of either in place, nor are they in the top position for investment/improvement.

We certainly are making many improvements to our community and there has been a huge investment of effort in the Downtown Plan, for instance. And if reliable transit were solved by bicycles alone, the Open Streets people would have this thing clinched in a heartbeat. But we need to be honest that, when it comes to transit, we don't have what Amazon is looking for. And there's a reason they are looking for it.

Let's face it, Amazon understands the benefits of public transit better than we do. Will this be a game changer in how we look at transit? I'd be thrilled if it were, but I'm not counting on it.

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