Go ahead — try it

It sounds like such a good idea: Try transit.

That's the goal of the coming few days in an event organized by Rogue Valley Transportation District, to have every one of us try alternative transportation, whether it be bus service, ride sharing, hopping on a bike or even walking.

Gas continues to bounce around the $4-a-gallon mark. Everything, in fact, costs more than it used to. Trying something that gets us out of the car every day sounds like a swell idea.

But can it become a habit?

We have our doubts that the Rogue Valley is there, at least in 2008.

It's still fairly easy to get from most points A to points B in a car and fairly easy to find parking once we're there. It's hazardous at the very least to navigate downtown Medford on a bicycle. Bike lanes aren't where they need to be. Many streets still lack sidewalks. And bus service? RVTD has all of six routes, the most frequent of which runs on the half hour. That's unless it's the weekend, when there's no service at all.

This isn't a jab at the district, which has sweated away to promote transit — surviving, even — for many, many years. The biggest reason it doesn't have much bus service is because it can't get people to ride, which means it can't find financial support, which means it offers less service, and on and on.

When gas was $1 or $1.50 a gallon, it was easy enough to look at the Medford area's lack of options in this area and lay it to our relatively small population. We just weren't big enough to need lots of bike lanes, lots of sidewalks or regular bus service, we told ourselves.

But now, as costs squeeze everything, that view looks pretty shortsighted. Consistent bus service would allow more commuters to leave their cars at home. Bike lanes on more of Medford's thoroughfares would create safe passage to and through busy parts of the city.

Yes, we know the common refrain to both of those ideas: But nobody uses them!

Here's what we ought to be asking: How can anybody ever use them if they don't exist? Can you use something that's not there? Don't you instead continue to do things in a way that doesn't make sense just because they're possible? How can bus service be essential or riding a bike or walking become a habit if there's no easy way to make it happen?

Kudos should go to RVTD this week, not for fixing what ails our alternative transportation system but just for putting the issue before the public.

For the rest of us, the challenge should be this: not just to try alternative transportation, but to think about how it can work better here, and then support changes that allow that to happen.

Try Transit Week details: www.rvtd.org.

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