Over the last 24 hours, snow has pummeled my home city of Rochester, New York, as well as Upstate in general. With 70 inches of snow to date this winter, Rochester is the snowiest city in the nation.
For me, it’s a lazy Saturday, one in which my wife and I have been sitting on the couch, reading books and watching TV. Sure, I had designs on going out, maybe taking a trip into downtown Rochester for a drink or some food, just to do something… but honestly, I don’t feel like trying to work through poorly plowed roads and paths on my bike, or find a city parking space in my car which I am quite sure will get stuck… maybe I could take a bus, but the one that runs by our apartment does so only every two hours.
Then I got to thinking about where my dad used to live in Chicago. The “El” train Red Line and Brown Line were just a few blocks from where my dad’s Halstead Street apartment. A short walk and we had easy access to anywhere that was anything in The Windy City.
The nearest commuter rail to me is about 65 miles west in Buffalo, New York. The 7-mile, single line streetcar and subway track runs from downtown’s Canalside district through downtown above ground, then dives below Main Street up to University of Buffalo’s South Campus. Honestly, sometimes I go to Buffalo just to ride the NFTA Metro, take some pictures and ride some more. Let me say that again… I go to Buffalo just to ride a 7-mile train, like a kid might ride a merry-go-round. I go up and down the line, stopping at businesses and neighborhoods that flank its route, enjoying the pleasure of good, convenient, frequent, blue collar transit.
Today, if I lived on Main Street in Buffalo, and a streetcar or a subway stopped anywhere near my apartment, I’d be in the city by now. I’d be spending money in my community. I’d be supporting local businesses and seeing my city on this snow-filled day. I might even stop in at a museum or two. Heck, if I could walk out to a bus stop near me and know that I could be in the city in a flash, and return home just the same, I’d be seeing it all by now.
There are generations of people that might see this as lazy… I assure you it’s not. I have a good job at The University of Rochester. I own my own photography business. Aaaaand somewhere in there I run a nationally-enjoyed urbanist blog and podcast. I travel to cities across the state just to share the message of change and revitalization nearly every weekend, all on my own dime. I assure you, lazy is not me.
I just love the idea of walking to a spot, waiting for a reasonable amount of time, and having some sort of large vehicle, preferably on rails, pick me up for a buck or two or three. Is that so much to ask? Well yes, I get it, in our America it is.
But seriously… why, in a society that has unequivocally chosen (ahem, prioritized and subsidized) the automobile as the ONLY reasonable transportation choice, do I and so many others like me just want to get on a train or a bus? Why, in a world where convenience and freedom is so often associated with the car, do I feel freedom in knowing I don’t have to use one? Why is good public transit the thing that might or might not make me want to go somewhere on a snowy day?
I don’t have answers to these questions. This generational propensity toward functional public transit probably has a lot to do with the fact that more of us are aware of what good transit can be thanks to social media. But for me, it’s just actually more fun. Sure, it’s better for our environment, better for our communities, better for equitable access to resources… but for me, I get on a train like other people get on a roller coaster… minus the hills and loops. I get on a bus like most people get on a tilt-a-whirl… well, minus the nausea. Usually.
I’m not writing this to find answers, I’m writing this because I truly believe there are so so many others out there like myself who don’t just prefer good public transit, they realize it’s actually just more fun to walk to a transit hub and be able to go almost anywhere in your community without having to turn a key. I live relatively near a couple of bus lines, and while the service isn’t spectacular, it’s not bad. If I, and people like me lived along a light rail line, I’m pretty sure I could rule the world… or at least that’s how it might feel. Here’s to the other people in the world that feel this way too.