Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fast rail, rapid transit, whatever you call it, consider the possibility you'll really like it when it arrives....

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I grew up in a city that opened a light rail system in 1955. I was twelve years old and instantly mobile, able to travel to all different parts of the city of Cleveland, including the suburbs which had seemed remote and unapproachable to a kid from the near west side (the equivalent of, perhaps, KK and Oklahoma in Milwaukee).

I could be out at night during high school, certain that I could get home using a reliable transit system that ran a train every half hour until midnight.

And during the past three years, I have spent a total of about five months (in 2-week chunks) in Boston. The "T"--that transit system in the mythic folk song on which "the man who never returned" rode the rails--was pure pleasure. I had to get all over town and was continually amazed at the interesting variety of people with whom I would share the T on those trips. Students--both high school and younger, professionals, professors reading student papers as they rode, families, people in work clothes, people headed downtown to entertainment and restaurants, people with enough to drink in them that they'd be a menace on the highway, but were just sleepy people getting home legally and safely.

Getting from my sister's house in Brookline to Logan airport was pure $25 dollar anguish in a taxi, a snap--for a buck and a quarter--on the T, even (especially) at rush hour.

Many riders carried a book or newspaper they were reading. Women often carried their dressy shoes and wore the kind that allowed them to walk eight or ten blocks to a stop/station. There was always lots of conversation--not all in a familiar language.

Call me out-of-step for not liking the tedium of driving to Milwaukee alone in my car. I'd love to go there oftener if I didn't have to put up with the isolation, the tension of dealing with lane-changing, tailgating and bird-flipping fellow happy motorists. All followed by parking meters, after cruising to find one that's available.

You have to experience fast rail, probably have to have experienced it from an early age to appreciate its most civilized aspects.

We will have it, but not on reasonable terms. Once the easy and cheap availability of energy/ oil declines and happy motoring becomes impossibly costly for most people, we'll build it. But we won't grow into it. Many will see it as a comedown. Most will grind their teeth over all the money we threw away on mostly useless freeways as we pay again to get a system that will work.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.