Given the mess that is rush-hour traffic on Route 422 toward Pottstown, Rob Henry can envision a day when it'll be actually faster to bicycle on the bike trail that runs next to it. "What we’re seeing is a huge tremendous growth in trail networks – it’s changing a culture and a mindset," said Henry, who heads the Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management Association.
To him, the current pattern of transit, with ever-longer commutes is unsustainable. Part of the solution is to make it easier for people to abandon their cars in favor of some forms of public transportation, including car pools. Another part of the solution is to make it more attractive for people to live near where they work.
Some office communities, including a strip along City Avenue, "are working very actively to build more livable communities," Henry said. "For example, in King of Prussia, you have 56,000 people commuting into this area every day, yet it’s only a residential population in the 20,000s. You have to start trying to keep these people here. These young professionals ask, where can I live? It doesn't exist right now.
"We took a group to Tysons Corner in Virginia," Henry said, during our interview for the Leadership Agenda, which was published in Monday's Inquirer. "There's a lot of symmetry between the two and they are actually having the DC Metro extended out to Tysons right now. They have 100,000 employees commuting into Tysons and their population is only 10,000, so almost no one lives there."
On the transit front, the GVFTMA is operating a shuttle service that runs between the Wayne and Norristown rail stations and serves some offices in the King of Prussia area. What will make the use of that service more attractive to commuters? Amenities, Henry said.
In Norristown, there are none. "You can’t get a cup of coffee there," Henry said. "We're talking to SEPTA about it.
"If you go to Wayne, there’s a little coffee shop," he said. "They bring in traveling musicians to play. I can go in there, have my breakfast, get a cup of coffee. I can listen to a cellist playing at 7:30 in the morning and then take the train in and can read.
"In a lot of ways, we’ve treated public transit like it’s a secondary mode and we need to elevate that. The reason that people are willing to pay for high-speed rail in other parts of the country is that all those amenities are there," he said. "They have WiFi. They have cafeé cars. They have full bathrooms. They have all the things that make it seem like it’s a civilized way to travel and make it competitive with a car."