Public transit: A hallmark of civilization
This week is I Love Transit Week, a celebration of public transportation hosted by TransLink’s The Buzzer blog. Join Buzzer blogger Jhenifer Pabillano and other transit-lovers Thursday, July 15 at The Heritage Grill in New Westminster for an evening meetup with food, games and fun! You can also enter to win a Summer Commuter Prize Pack from TransLink & Tenth to the Fraser.
Listen: A robust transit system is one of the hallmarks of civilization.
One of the things that the Ancient Romans gave to the Western world is a widespread way to get around the whole of their empire. Even then, one of the ways to draw their civilization together lay in a transit system to match the times, to suit the cultural paradigms and economic realities of the day, and to grow with a shifting population. They knew that it is the way to the future.
In the ancient world, it meant roads. And today, it means an affordable, accessible public transit system that runs on clean energy, and stands as a force to change the world for the better.
What? Change the world for the better? Isn’t that overstating things just a bit?
I don’t think it is, actually.
Now, it must be said that I’ve written about the need for public transit systems before elsewhere, particularly in public transit as a green building strategy. And sure, if more of us used public transit, there would be less automobile traffic, and therefore less carbon monoxide in the air, and less need to bore holes in the earth and risk our oceans and other natural habitats to keep those cars on the road.
Nothing against car travel in general, mind. But, what if we didn’t need it? What if our priorities informed by a new vision of the future allowed us to consider petroleum dependence and mandatory multiple automobile ownership to be the remnants of a century gone by? When I said that one of the hallmarks of civilization was a transit system to suit the cultural paradigms and economic realities of the day, and to grow with a shifting population, this is what I meant.
OK, so here’s something to consider. We need to think about how to re-define what it means to live in cities, and in suburbs too, in this 21st Century of ours. Simply put, I think we should leave traffic jams, enormous invisible clouds of exhaust fumes from millions of individual cars, and vast stretches of parking lots to hold those cars out of it as much as is humanly possible.
And again, as much as automobile traffic isn’t intrinsically bad per se, what if we could allow people to move all around their cities without cars, from more points of entry? What if we could do it more efficiently, with less overall cost, with less pollution, and with less dependence on fossil fuels which is becoming a dead end in the sustainable energy stakes?
Here’s something else.
What would happen if public and private sectors got together on this; companies, urban planners, community leaders, elected officials, academics, engineers, and more? What if these people enabled tracks and transportation hubs that could deliver you into the lobby of your building itself, because buildings, stations, and tracks have been entirely integrated into city planning? What if the money you spend on gas and insurance for your car could be split, with some of it supporting that system, and the rest supporting a better holiday, a home improvement project, or greater contributions to your child’s education fund with what’s left over?
Here’s what it comes down to.
When I was a kid, the 21st Century, which was the Future at the time, was imagined as a consumerist’s heaven, with food in pill form, robot maids (which I’d still love, if any scientist eggheads are reading this) and appliances that could grill the perfect steak just by asking it nicely. But, that was a vision imagined in a time where this was what people were thinking most about, to wit; affordable, labour-saving goods.
It was post World War Two during the fabled ‘Baby Boom‘. It was a boom period where consumer goods were concerned, too – like automobiles, folks – which were rolling off assembly lines. At that time, everyone could afford them, unlike during the Great Depression. And unlike now, in an age of increasing gas prices, and at a time of massive environmental damage related to unchecked industry.
The Future as it was imagined was a 20th Century vision of what the 21st Century would be. But, now we’re actually here in the 21st Century. And now that outmoded vision of the future has to change. Thinking about new ways to travel to our jobs, to see our families, to shop, to go on vacations, and to feed economies which are sustainable are the new flying car, folks.
Investment in the emerging technology in sustainable energy, and in turn made practical by a transit system that can support cities and suburbs that are planned around them are the keys to a new vision for what defines this epoch in history. To not invest in public transit is simply behind the times.
The Ancient Romans gave the Western world roads. And it changed the world. We’ve come a long way since all roads led to Rome. Let’s treat our public transit as a necessity, and maybe the road we’re on will lead us into a future we can count on for better communities, better cities, better lives.
TransLink BC is helping us to celebrate I Love Transit Week, July 12-16. Check out the posts to be found on TransLink’s the Buzzer Blog for more information.
5 Songs About Transit
- Trans-Europe Express – Kraftwerk
- IGY – Donald Fagen
- Riding on the Metro – Berlin
- Down in the Tube Station at Midnight – The Jam
- The Day We Caught The Train – Ocean Colour Scene