The Midlands Subway System

Taking off on the subject of this recent post, I thought I’d hark back to a column I wrote in 1998, way before this blog was ever thought of. In it, I set forth my vision of what it might be like if the Midlands had the mass transit amenities of New York or Washington or even Atlanta:

    Imagine: Say it’s a few years from now, and you live in Lexington and work in Columbia. You drive the mile or so to the station and leave your car in a parking lot. You take your seat and ride the old Southern line that parallels Highway 1 into the city. Call it the A line.
    Despite all the stops, you get downtown in less time than it takes to drive, while getting ahead on work or (better yet) reading the paper. You change trains at the Vista Center station near the new arena and conference center.
    Say you work where I do, near Williams-Brice Stadium (and why wouldn’t you; this is my dream, after all). You take the C line down one of the very tracks that used to frustrate you in your driving days (if you can’t beat the trains, join them). You get off within a block of work.
    A few hours later, when you have a lunch appointment in Five Points, you take a quick ride back up to Vista Center, then through the underground stretch beneath the State House complex and the USC campus on the eastern reach of the A line.
    Need to shop after work? Take the C all the way out to Columbiana, or the D along Two-Notch to Columbia Mall. (Where does the B line go? Out toward Lake Murray, which means it runs between 378 and the Saluda River, right by my house.)

Now that there’s so much more growth out to the northeast I suppose we could extend the D farther out. The C would be longer, too. And the A might need a spur that would run out Garners Ferry. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yeah, I was dreaming then and I’m dreaming now — like the guy in that movie "Singles," who kept talking about his mass transit dream (in Seattle, I think it was), and anyone he told it to would say, "Yeah, but I love my car."

But it’s a nice dream. Here’s the rest of that column, by the way — but I already gave you the relevant part.

10 thoughts on “The Midlands Subway System

  1. Lee Muller

    If these light rail trains made any economic sense, a business would build them.
    Look at Charlotte and Raleigh, where the trains are costing 300% more than predicted, and still no end in sight. The riders, who aren’t paying a fraction of the real cost, are happy with their free ride.
    It turns out the taxes were also being diverted to subsidize another losing GovCo project: city busses.
    Bad ideas + power + kickbacks + mismanagement = another rotten program
    The taxpayers are angry but the rail cabal threatened to raise property taxes on the elderly and working poor if they didn’t vote for renewing the sales tax surcharge.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Thanks for the ideological explanation.
    No mass transit system makes money. To say that therefore they are not worthwhile is just crazy. By Lee’s logic, the only person to whom sex would be worthwhile would be “Kristen” and her associates.
    The logical explanation is population density — we just don’t have enough of it here in the Midlands, and we won’t as long as we keep encouraging development to spread out the way we have. There’s no question that without mass transit New York would grind to a halt — which would be bad for business, Lee. But the only way to provide it for the benefit of all businesses and individuals is to levy taxes and build it. You can’t have everybody digging an independent subway to his business, leading to what — the almost infinite combination of places that the business’ employees and customers come from?
    The private sector isn’t going to build the roads we need for society to function. And mass transit is the same as more roads — only smarter.

  3. Yahoo

    Columbia will be lucky to have a bus system in 18 months…so stop dreaming of something better.
    Bob Coble screwed evey person in the two counties with his “deal” with SCE&G …and the City of Cola’s lack of financial involvment in the present system is unacceptable.

  4. Bob C.

    They can’t even get people to ride the bus system, what makes you think they’ll ride a train with even more limited stops. Maybe you can talk Mayor Bob into running the trolley system again.

  5. Karen McLeod

    We need good, convienient, mass transit. Of course no one rides the busses if they have a choice. They are not convienient–they don’t go where you want, when you want. So no one rides them. They might get more riders when gas hits $4-$5 a gallon, but the inconvienience factor is high. But a good system does attract riders. If you get enough whatever– busses, trolleys (by the way, those gas trolleys were inefficient and uncomfortable), light rail, electric streetcar–so that they go enough places often enough your riders will increase. And smog may decrease.

  6. Kiki

    My neighborhood’s website chronicles how it grew as the street car lines were laid further into what is now Shandon (; sorry, don’t know how to link). It says that in 1901 six street cars traveled to Shandon per hour. When I’m sitting in morning traffic on my way to work (it takes me 20 minutes just to get downtown), I wonder what happened to those rail lines, which, if they still existed, would enable me to walk a block or two and catch the street car into town, reading a book, paper or work-related document and NOT wasting 40 minutes of my day driving.
    My 40-minute round trip commute is relatively short since I live in town, but over a 30-year career a Columbian might spend 7 months of her life just driving to work. Imagine how many years are spent by a Lexington or Blythewood resident. If we could calculate how much those hours of our lives our worth, maybe that’s the sum we’d be willing to put toward mass transit.

  7. Hubert

    Subway system?? Ha HA..many in Columbia and the midlands buy big SUV’s and Pickups trucks, and they are not going to park them to ride any kind of mass transportation.
    They won’t use the local bus system or car pool. This is “South Carolina.”

  8. Lee Muller

    Many roads, bridges and railroads were built with private money, made a profit and had lower fares and better service than the socialist mass transit. I am not against trains. Heck, I am in the transportation business, currently evaluating and designing a 120-mile PRIVATE rail line on the West Coast.
    Look how poorly the busses and Amtrak are run.

  9. Susanna

    It’s a nice dream, and one I share. I just moved to Aiken, which doesn’t even have bus service. For all the publicity about how you can ride horses anywhere around here, I have yet to see one outside the track. Truth is, unless you live in downtown Aiken, you have to drive everywhere.
    I did see in the paper, though, that Atlas Rd. in Columbia is *finally* getting a sidewalk. About time! Maybe someday, they’ll even extend it down Garners Ferry so the people who live in the apartments next to the strip malls can walk to the stores without risking death.
    Oh, and my rail dream? A train that goes from Chattanooga to Charleston with stops in Atlanta and Columbia for the fast trains and in-between towns for the slow trains.

  10. Lee Muller

    We used to have trains that ran from small towns in Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, all the way to small towns in South Carolina.
    You could ride from Columbia to New York City after work on Friday and arrive Saturday morning for a weekend of shopping, galleries and theater. They were private.
    But the seizure of the railroads by that great socialist, FDR, left them in a sad state of neglect from which they never recovered. Then Amtrak took over the great private lines and finished off train travel with a new definition of “poor service”.


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