Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thoughts on Transportation

Highways, historically, have a strange effect.  The more you build, the more cars there will be to fill them up.  NYC--and especially Manhattan--resists automobiles like no other city.  Not its residents, so much, but just the practicalities: parking is a nightmare or ridiculously expensive or so far from where you're going it's hardly worth it, traffic can be so bad you could get to your destination faster by walking, the huge number of pedestrians themselves (who have absolute right-of-way, always) cause traffic blockage.  But Robert Moses' highways and bridges did what they do, despite all that.

So why doesn't the same thing happen with mass transit systems?  So many cities build them and they end up being all but a complete failure.  Obviously a city like Los Angeles resists public transportation.  But that kind of resistance made no difference to car owners commuting to NYC.  "They don't go where the commuters need them to go" isn't exactly a valid reason, either, because in the early days of rail travel, whole towns grew up around where the rails were laid, not the other way around.  

Maybe that's the problem, though.  The trains may take you from where you live to where you work, but then you're stuck, in a city like LA (and plenty of others).  Work out at the gym before going to the office?  You have to drive there.  Need a carton of milk on the way home?  You have to drive there.  No PTS could realistically go to all those places.

It's kind of a Catch 22, in fact.  Businesses would have no reason to expect a PTS to be successful and provide a steady source of customers, so they don't group themselves around transit hubs.  Because there aren't conveniences grouped around transit hubs, the PTS remains useless to commuters.  I can't help thinking that cycle could be made to spin the other direction, though.  If all sorts of little businesses (gyms, dry cleaners, small groceries, newsstands, coffee shops and cafes, banks, cellphone dealers) were given tax breaks or whatever else to grow in those kind of areas, it could potentially work, I believe.

Ryan Witte

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