Fantasy Map: Seattle-Style Transit for Columbus

After my first fantasy map for a comprehensive subway and regional rail system in Columbus, I moved on to different, but still overly-ambitious, plans.  I created the following maps in May, 2004:

Regional Map

Downtown Detail Map

My plan included the following elements:

  • Relocate I-70 – One alternative considered for ODOT’s I-70/I-71 South Innerbelt Corridor Study was to relocate I-70 south to OH-104 on the south side.  ODOT dismissed this alternative, but I always liked it because of the opportunities it would create to improve the connection between downtown and German Village, and to use the existing right-of-way for something else.
  • Re-route I-71 – My plan called for a similar treatment for I-71 on the east side.  It would be reconnected to the neighborhood by re-routing the I-71 to the existing OH-315 on the west side and the relatively new I-670 on the north edge of downtown.  The obvious problem with this plan is that it creates a new split on the north side instead of the existing split on the south side.  As an alternative, I-71 (and I-70 for that matter) could be routed around the I-270 outerbelt.
  • Construct a downtown subway/busway in the existing I-70/I-71 trench – There are generally two ways to build a subway; cut and cover, or tunnel.  Cut and cover is usually less expensive for a shallow depth, but it is very disruptive to the residents and businesses on a street.  In the case of the downtown innerbelt though, the cut phase is already done.  I took advantage of this by drawing two short subway lines. The innerbelt line (green) connects from a freight track just north of Fort Hayes to Glenwood Avenue in Franklinton. The eastside line (red) along the old I-70 right of way allows transfers to the innerbelt line at 4th St. A new subway line tunneled underneath High Street would allow a connection to a new Arena District inter-city rail terminal.  Short subway lines like this usually aren’t very useful, but I planned to integrate the rail with a comprehensive express bus system from around the region that would use some of the same subway tunnels for transfers.  Stations for the subways would be double-platformed, with rail on the inside and two bus lanes on the outside “tracks.”  Exclusive ramps would allow busses to access the downtown busway tunnel from all connecting freeways.  This system was inspired by a trip to Seattle in August, 2003, where I saw how well their downtown busway tunnel was integrated with regional express buses.
  • Commuter Rail – My plan included four regional commuter rail lines going from downtown to Delaware, Newark, Lancaster, and Washington Courthouse
  • Morse-Bethel BRT – This is a carry-over from the first fantasy map.  I envisioned exclusive median lanes with a new tunnel or bridge to connect Morse and Bethel roads over the Olentangy River. Easton, Tuttle Crossing, and a transfer to the commuter rail would be served.
  • Streetcars – My downtown detail map shows free streetcars operating as one-way couplets on 3rd/4th, Spring/Long, and Town/Rich.  My goal was to stimulate development in Columbus’ inner neighborhoods.  This was inspired by a trip to Portland in May, 2004, where I observed their downtown streetcar.
  • New Subways – If all this stuff was really built, then you start to have some real economies of scale to extend the subway system, particularly to the north along High Street.  I included some dashed lines to show subway extension ideas.

All in all, it’s another unrealistic plan, but I think it really is about the appropriate scale system that a city the size of Columbus should have.  We’re just not investing that kind of money into transit in this country right now, so we have to get more creative to serve people with less money.


About John
John is a traffic engineer and transportation planner who likes talking about transportation issues in his hometown.

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