On a cross country road trip a few years ago from South Carolina to Idaho, I took a detour north of Denver on I-25. The skyline of the Rocky Mountains a magnificent backdrop on the western horizon until I rolled into Cheyenne, Wyoming. The first thing I noticed about the city was the train station – the Cheyenne Union Pacific Depot. One of the last great passenger rail stations constructed by UP, it’s a majestic building and claimed to be the finest station between Nebraska and California. The building has since been converted into a museum and learning center.
The second thing I noticed was that pretty much everyone was driving a truck. I spent a little time walking around Capital Ave. The city seemed like a bustling Western outpost. Now that I’m car free, I wonder how difficult it would be to live in a place like Cheyenne without one. The city’s new master plan, PlanCheyenne, seems to take complete streets, mixed use development, and increased density seriously. A few demographic facts are also encouraging:
From Cheyenne’s Master Plan,
Approximately 70% of Cheyenne Area households are within a quarter mile of a transit line. Similarly, over 85% of jobs in the region are within a quarter mile of a transit line. With the current system, transit is an available mode for a large majority of Cheyenne residents.
With a transit mode share of 0.5%, I doubt many people take advantage of widespread bus coverage. The winters probably discourage ridership even more. Carpool share is at 11%, a bit better – this could probably be increased with city rideshare promotion.
While Baltimore is 80 sq. miles, Cheyenne is a fraction of that surrounded by vast open space, cattle ranches, and huge multi-acre single family residential. There really are no other employment centers competing with Cheyenne, unless you count Fort Collins/Loveland, CO – but with winter weather often closing interstates in this part of the country, I would imagine working in Cheyenne would be the preferable option for residents. This is a huge opportunity. If a larger percentage of our region’s jobs were located in downtown Baltimore, it would increase our alternate mode share dramatically, but unfortunately we have to compete with places like Columbia and Towson. Cheyenne doesn’t have this problem.
I also noticed that Cheyenne received FTA ARRA money for a massive bus stop upgrade program. While looking at the list, I saw 90% of the upgrades include full shelters, which is great. Maybe they can be heated, too? Cheyenne’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is also one of the first in the country to do a Safety Management Plan – a coordinated effort to identify safety hot spots and come up with solutions to reduce roadway injuries and fatalities.
Regional transportation is always an issue for people living without a car. For trips under 150 miles, the hassles of an airport just aren’t worth it. In Baltimore, I can take trains to NYC or DC. Out west, you’ll have to rent a car to get anywhere outside of the city. This would probably be frustrating and costly after awhile. AMTRAK is doing a feasibility study to re-introduce passenger rail service from Seattle to Denver via Cheyenne – and traveling by train out west is a journey within itself.
So, Cheyenne isn’t Manhattan, but it was never meant to be. I would definitely have a car if I lived there, but if PlanCheyenne’s goals are achieved and Amtrak service introduced, I might change my mind.