Wednesday, November 19, 2008

East Coast Envy

PZ Meyers posted this post about transportation in Philadelphia, PA. He's not normally a transit blogger, but the fact that this issue came up in an entirely unrelated forum highlights its importance. There is a concentrated urban core of cities in the Northeast, stretching roughly from DC north to Boston and east to Philadelphia, that is well-served by both intracity and intercity public transportation. Out here in the west, in the largest city on the west coast, LA, we have a whole one subway line. ONE LINE of rail rapid transit. We have between two and three trains each day, each way that actually leave the region. (Two on days when the Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle isn't running, three when it is.) Our system of suburban rail is one of the largest in the nation, but reverse-commute service is poor at best. You can get from the suburbs to LA during rush hour very well. Other trips? Meh. And the primary north-south rail corridor here in California, the San Joaquins that travel from Sacramento and Oakland to points south? Yeah. It stops in Bakersfield. It doesn't even quite reach L.A. proper. Not to disparage Amtrak California's bus service unnecessarily, but as the most populous state in the nation, we have to be able to figure out some way to get trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles. (Go Prop. 1A, Go!)

Seriously though. I'm a city person. I love big cities. I love to travel to other cities around the country and the world, and to see their sights, meet their people, eat their food, drink their liquor, and generally have a good time. If I lived in New York, not only could I get around the city car-free (only 50% of NYC households even own a car), but I could day trip to any of a number of cities quickly and easily. Hell, I could probably pull off all three meals of the day in a different urban area, if I were quick enough and a bit flexible. (Early breakfast, late dinner. :D) Here on the West Coast, a trip to San Francisco is an all-day ordeal, whether it be on a 10 or 11-hour bus or train trip, or a trip through the wringer that is a modern airport. Even in Los Angeles, I don't feel that wide open feeling that PZ got in 30th Street Station. LA Union is a poor substitute.

Furthermore, PZ hits the nail on the head with his comments about public space. Public space is nearly nonexistent here in SoCal. We drive, park, drive, park, drive, park, endlessly all day. The world outside is simply a backdrop to our travels. The people around us are more threats to our safety and promptness than people. I like to quote the opening to "Crash", because it's so precisely LA:
It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.
I want to see less people shut up inside the metal and glass boxes that are choking our freeways and streets. I want to bump in to people. I want to feel that wide-open feeling of "Hey, I could go pop over to San Diego or San Francisco or Vegas fer lunch if I wanted to, just for the hell of it." I want to get from point A to point B without having to worry whether or not my shampoo bottle is in a clear plastic friggin' baggie or not. Left coasters, we are lagging behind. We are slaves to our cars and our sprawling metroplexes that stretch for hundreds of miles. Something is wrong here. Let's fix it.

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