The "Transportation Issue"

My friend and fellow MAST memeber Christian Milneil wrote a great Op-Ed for the Press Herald about MAST's new Zoom Proposal. The Press Herald wrote short editorial in support of the idea. Christian did a great job outlining a path to improved public transportation.

I think that building a stronger public transportation system must be a top priority in the future, and while strong proposals are important, so is a strong rational. I would like to share my own rational for promoting public transportation.

The reason we need public transportation is simply that not everyone can get around by car. For the last 70 years we (as Americans) have primarily been promoting car-centric development, but these development patterns leave out those too young to drive, those who can't afford to drive, and those who have disabilities that prevent them from driving.

Our communities invested in public transportation in that past but as cars grew in popularity, support for public transportation wained. In the 50s my mom and her brothers would take a bus from Main Street Cumberland into Portland to go to the movies. Now, my grandmother still lives in the same family house but cannot drive or take a bus anywhere. We need to get the old transportation systems back.

We all know the regular reasons to improve public transportation: reduced car emissions, reduced congestion in cities, improved health (if people walk or bike) and even reduced sprawl as development centralizes around transportation systems, but I see personal independence as the reason at the heart of the need for better public transportation. People need to feel self sufficient and able to meet their basic needs on their own, but it is hard to feel that way if there is no alternative to driving.

As the baby-boomers age more and more people will be prevented from driving because of age related disabilities. As my parents get older (and believe me, they are not there yet) they will at some point have to decide not to drive. The prospect of losing such an integral mode of independence can be paralyzing to even think about. We need to start thinking about how they will be getting around now.

In the Portland area we currently have a system to address this issue called RTP. This is a by-request-only pick-up service and people must apply to receive the service. While the RTP clearly helps many people, it does not not offer it's services to teens who are too young to drive, and it does not provide the personal independence that a frequent and dependable public transit system could provide.

It is time again to make public transportation improvements as an investment in our communities, just as the interstate system was made an investment in the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the railway system was made an investment in the Pacific Railway Act of 1862.

The car has played out its course as the "only way" to travel, and it is time for us to reintroduce the kinds of public transportation that used to be essential to our cities. Our current road infrastructure will be sufficient for a long time if we just focus on not having SO many cars.
The needs of our diverse populations are many, and we need a diverse transportation infrastructure to allow all of us personal independence in our modern world.

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