Monday, April 5, 2010

A Different Pothole Patch

It's the 21st Century, people.

I might have to start a lot of entries like that, but I feel like our frame of reference is so often the dark ages of our past that we don't stop and ever think about the amazing level to which our global society has ascended.

That said: why don't we have an efficient network of mass transit?

I'm not talking like, "oh why don't more people ride the Greyhound."

I mean like, why can't we ride from New York to Los Angeles on high speed commuter rail.

Or even Minneapolis to Milwaukee, for Christ's sake.

Just look at the potholes in your neighborhood. Just look at em. Those rifts in the concrete that you have to dodge around every day on your way to work, school, home? Those rough patches that throw off your alignment ever-so-slightly (or maybe it feels like it's going to snap your axle in half?) every time you run it over?

That is twentieth-century technology, man.

(The twentieth-century doesn't deserve to be put in caps. It doesn't deserve a numerical shorthand. The twentieth-century was a century of blood, sweat, and imperialism. The twentieth-century was ten decades of idiocy and madness. The twentieth-century was one fucking cop-out to corporations after another.)

Yet here we are, mending and patching and filling the infrastructure. What did we do when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis? We built a new, awesome bridge. Now, these potholes aren't killing anybody. (Yet. There's a nasty one in the alley next to my apartment, though. That fucker looks downright hungry.) Right? A pothole is relatively innocuous, right? An everyday little problem that we complain about when we want to point out how bad a job the local government is doing.

Well let's be honest. Minneapolis and Saint Paul do fix their potholes. You kind of have to in a region where the winters are so bad, the roads get severely damaged. But you know the recent budget woes will translate into worse streets. (The article's a little old now, sorry.) And bad streets translate into car repairs for the residents of the Twin Cities and suburbs. Car repairs we probably can't afford, considering we have other things to deal with. (You know, foreclosures, getting a job if we need one, health insurance bills, car insurance, the cost of child rearing, the outrageous cost of laundry in our apartment buildings ... that sort of thing.)

But then you have to think to yourself, isn't there a better way?

I mean, we're the most productive country in the history of the planet. We're such an innovative people that we can put men on the moon (and vaporize women and children in Hiroshima).

Isn't there some way to get around the potholes?

I imagine expanding the lightrail system here in the Twin Cities is a move applauded by the general population. But it isn't enough; in fact, it's hardly anything. It's like trying to set carbon dioxide emission cuts 50 years from now ... by the time it takes effect, it'll hardly even be adjusting to fit the situation. By the time the lightrail line in the Twin Cities gets implemented, we'll have god knows how many new commuters on the road. (All of them clogging the expanded 35W, of course.)

I say, quit dicking around. The mayor and the city council and most of all, the people of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, need to come out and say, rip up some streets. Rip up some freeway. Put in more rail. Put in enough rail that not one resident needs to set foot in a car to get where they need to go. Cut out these low-occupancy vehicles (we call them cars) and put in transit that will cut down on pollution. Hybrid trains, electric trains, magnetic trains, whatever.

That will put hundreds of people to work, if not thousands. And then we can decouple bus funding from new car sales. (Yes, your buses are funded by a tax on new car purchases - wrap your head around that one.) We can expand the bus coverage for the streets that are left and lower the fare.

We need to take the burden of transportation off the commuters. We can cover the cost with a low fare, a tax on the privilege of doing business here (for the big corporations), and subsidies from the federal government. (After all, they bailed out the banks and subsidize big business all the time, it's time to give a little kickback.)

While that's being done, we could add high-speed rail lines to connect to Chicago, Milwaukee, Iowa City, and anywhere else our intrepid little hearts desire.

Because this is the 21st Century.


1 comment:

JJR said...

Yes to all of the above, plus more "walkable communities" in the New Urbanist style, as advocated by James Howard Kunstler.