It was raining hard in London this morning, Friday, a work day. We left the hotel at 9:30. Taxis are always harder to find on rainy work days, but we found one quickly, and it made its way slowly through traffic to Paddington Station. We got there at 9:45. The express train to Heathrow left at 9:55. We were in Heathrow by 10:15. It was quick, easy, as pleasant as you’re going to get for getting from city center to airport. Wireless was available, had I wanted to try that in 20 minutes.
A taxi from our hotel to Heathrow would have taken probably more than an hour. Through traffic, in the rain, on the freeway.
London has several major airports. For each of them, there is an express train leaving from a central London station. And when you arrive, you can take that express train directly from the airport into the city center. The trains are quick, easy, clean, and they run often and on time. They go straight from city center to airport, without stopping; no changing trains, no lugging baggage.
What’s wrong with our major cities that don’t do the same thing from the downtown areas? Why isn’t there a pleasant express train from Manhattan — it could be Grand Central or Penn Station — to JFK, and another to La Guardia? And what about Boston, Chicago, and maybe Atlanta?
I realize that our West Coast cities are too spread out. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s too spread out for this kind of arrangement, as if it were one amorphous city from Santa Rosa on the north to San Jose on the south, and Concord or Walnut Creek on the east. BART helps for some areas, but it doesn’t work that well, because it doesn’t go to that many places.
Los Angeles is even more so, and Seattle as well. Those are auto-dependent cities. Disastrous for the long term. But at least New York, where the flow is between Manhattan and the two (maybe three, if we include Newark) airports. My son who lives in New York tells me trains do connect now to the airports, but not easily; there is lots of switching and lugging bags. Hardly an airport express.
I apologize to those of you for whom this is old hat. Actually, I come to London once or twice a year, Palo Alto Software has a subsidiary in London, I’ve used the airport express services before. However, this is today, and I’m here now.