Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: Light rail on Maryland Parkway would boost accessibility and enjoyment

Downtown bound: Sure, light rail is pricey, but it looks (and feels) so much cooler than the bus.
Illustration: Corlene Byrd

There’s just something about Maryland Parkway.

Only the new and unsuspecting try to drive on the Strip, which is so congested most locals know better. People drive too fast on the streets of Summerlin, showing off their BMWs and SUVs, and the same goes for Henderson. Maryland Parkway, though, just has the right feel.

“I’ve always been drawn to Maryland Parkway,” says local businessman Nicholas Akiona.

I’ve seen Akiona so often at coffee places on Maryland over the years that I know he’s telling the truth. Cafe Roma 13 years ago; then the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf when it became one of the first local places with reliable, free Wi-Fi. Later, at various Starbucks outposts up and down the street.

Soon, Akiona will bring his own contribution to the thoroughfare. He has crews building a new restaurant at the old strip mall at Maryland and East Fremont. He hopes to have it open in October.

His restaurant, PublicUs, will be a good five miles from the UNLV campus—five miles bedeviled by 19 stoplights, about one every third of a mile. Three pedestrian lights also cross the road. It’s neither a fun nor efficient drive.

Maryland is an artery of the city. I take it to UNLV, to Fremont, to the airport and, until a grocery store opens Downtown, to Albertsons or Smith’s on Charleston. Weird stuff happens on the road. A guy on a motorcycle once swung a heavy iron chain at me. I was once compelled to stop and talk to a woman and two little kids begging for money around Christmas in front of the Boulevard Mall. The kids asked if I was a cop.

Now, the historic Huntridge Theatre, at Maryland and Charleston, is on the rise. If plans for its revival into a music, movie and food and beverage venue come to fruition, I’ll walk there from my house. Many more will drive. So how perfect would it be for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to figure out a Maryland Parkway transportation system that ties UNLV to Downtown?

Weeks ago, RTC staff put tentative plans on poster boards for consultants at Boulevard Mall. The proposals included rapid transit buses, light rail, a trolley system.

Personally, I wouldn’t take the bus, no matter how much they try to sell it as a sorta light rail on rubber wheels. I’ve ridden the buses here. They don’t have the same feel as rail. Late or not, they always feel late. A bus doesn’t have that permanence and security. Riding a train is also just more fun.

Charts at the Boulevard Mall exhibit estimated travel times of rail vs. other systems at roughly the same, but with a threefold decrease in carbon dioxide emissions and thousands of potential riders for rail.

Rail costs much more than buses, unfortunately, more than three times as much to construct and about 60 percent more to operate annually. A local lobbyist told me that cost will likely kill any plans for light rail, as it has in the past when considered for different avenues throughout the Valley.

I hope not. I hope the people on whatever committee or group is assigned to make preliminary recommendations to the RTC argue forcefully for light rail.

Someday, I’d like to take the train to UNLV, then back to the Huntridge for a show, then walk home without ever having to deal with my car, swinging chains or anything beyond watching the urban landscape pass by.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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