Another installment in my continuing adventures and observations experienced abroad.
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Yet another cab drives by, filled with passengers. For close to 30 minutes now, my companion and I have tried to hail one of our own. All the taxis in the lower east side seem to be engaged. I wonder where the fares are grabbing these cabs. My companion drops their raised arm, dejected.
My business partner hates cars. When forced to, he drives his dutiful, late model blue Ford Focus. He asserts that [I’m paraphrasing] public transportation — especially light rail — is crucial to any successful, properly functioning society. And the most efficient form of travel. For him it’s rail or nothing.
I ponder that concept as I attempt to hail a cab in the freezing drizzle. From where I stand, any form of transportation would be an improvement over my current situation. Earlier this morning, I was informed that I might experience “an inconvenience” commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Spring repairs on some of the subway lines are taking place this weekend. And by afternoon, I fully absorb the magnitude of the inconvenience. Apparently, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has closed virtually every accessible train into and out of Manhattan … from almost every outer-lying borough for the entire weekend. This initiates a domino effect including a 45-minute hike across town, only to be greeted by more non-operating service lines. Culminating in my current half-hour, ran-soaked wait for a cab. It’s as if everyone in the world has a ride but us.
As I slowly walk in reverse up the street, eyeing the flow of traffic for a reciprocal acknowledgement from a passing cabbie, I begin to question the veracity of my business partner’s pro-rail assertion. Although cars are experiencing an economically challenged existence due to rising gas prices, it seems they are the ultimate fallback for all developed societies. Properly functioning or not.
While some groups might advocate the automobile going the way of its horse- drawn ancestors, I wonder if championing a complete dismissal is jumping the metaphoric gun. As one man I knew was fond of saying: perhaps it’s an “and” not an “or.” It might make more sense to focus, by region, on how to best utilize available transportation methods.
For example, what if the train systems were shut down, let’s say, for seasonal repair? Walking or biking from your home in Ypsilanti to your job in Ann Arbor in the dead of winter may not be an option. I guess you’d go to your garage and dust off your dutiful automobile, grumbling all the way to your destination — completely oblivious to the irony.
As I think about it, it’s not necessarily the method of transport, but rather the nature of it. Safe, efficient, cost-effective travel is the life-blood of any successful society. But there’s more at stake than simply providing environmentally friendly transportation. To be truly effective, it must allow people to move unencumbered between economic centers as they go about their daily lives.
Thoughts turn to reality as a cab pulls to a stop 10 feet away. My companion and I high-step the puddles using our best Olympic form, but are beaten by a group of middle-aged women who dive in, unaware that anyone else is competing for the ride. The gentleman in me decides not to challenge the photo-finish results.
It’s far colder than I expected and I have not dressed warmly enough for this trip. As I continue to wait, I pull my jacket collar up tightly around my neck and imagine the ideal Southeastern Michigan commuting system:
Next, a high-speed rail system: link the Detroit Metro Airport to key professional, entertainment, residential and retail locations in destinations like downtown Detroit, Royal Oak, Ann Arbor and Birmingham. Tie in outer lying areas over time.
Then, localized transportation system: within outlying urban areas where underground or elevated trains are not practical, provide alternate fuel and electric charter vehicle alternatives. Reduce the number of privately owned vehicles within the city limits.
- First, air travel: tear down the Smith and Berry terminals, and put up something on par with Heathrow’s Terminal 5 -- customer-focused, efficient and serene -- that adjoins McNamara . Stop penalizing the smaller airline fliers with a substandard experience.
I smirk as I consider the magnitude of such an execution. A development and synchronization this complex would seem unlikely in a state that is now gasping for air. I can’t imagine these are high on the list of priorities for the current powers that be. Though such topics should be. Even in partial execution, such a change would benefit the prevailing, disparaged economic landscape.
Another cab stops in front of us. People are climbing out. Perhaps this is the ride. As I climb in, the driver tells me he’s just ending his shift and returning to the garage. I climb back out to continue the hunt.
My companion swears in frustration as the umpteenth cab drives by, numbers dark, back seat filled with fares. A queue is forming on the curb beside us. We’re not the only ones trapped in Manhattan tonight.