Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On the Move

As Americans we pride ourselves as being part of a nation “on the move.”  We’re always going – commuting to work, running errands, chaperoning our children, etc.  But we’re also “on the move” in the figurative sense, always advancing – as individuals, as communities, as a nation – or at least striving to (at least I hope so).  For this blog, I take “on the move” literally, and focus on how we move, i.e. our transportation.  No doubt the sense of advancing will come up too as I explore the impact of our transportation choices on our environment, energy consumption, and more personally, on the quality of our daily lives.  My goal is to share what I know about transportation from my planning experiences, travels and reading, to open a dialogue on the topic with people in the Capital District and explore the possibilities for our future.
Why the fascination with transportation?  As a child growing up in a Long Island suburb, I could walk to elementary school or bike to a friend’s house or to the park.  If destinations were farther away, like ballet or Brownies, I didn’t think twice about having my mom drive me.  But as I grew older, my transportation choices became more limited.  School was no longer within easy walking or biking distance and taking the school bus, acceptable in the lower grades was definitely “not cool” for upperclassmen.  I was dependent on family or friends to get where I wanted to go, just as I reached an age when I desired to be more independent.
Travel to urban centers opened my eyes to transportation possibilities.  Living just 30 miles outside of Manhattan, I could easily get into “the City” via the Long Island Railroad and then navigate my way around town by walking or taking the subway.  Spending a semester in Paris in the late ‘80s, I became fascinated by the Metro which I took to class daily.  The trains were so reliable and provided such great coverage that I became intrigued by the Metro’s efficiency as a system.  I also noted the quality of my trips – the trains and stations were always clean, there was ample seating both in the cars and on the platforms, and different design treatments made the stops unique and interesting.  (Most memorable was the Louvre station which had replicas of artwork on display.)
Though I’ve worked in different fields of urban and regional planning I always seem to gravitate back to transportation planning.  Why?  It is fundamental to every plan.  What good is a redeveloped waterfront if you can’t get to it?  How can a low income neighborhood revitalize if its residents can’t reach employment centers?  And how can you design vibrant neighborhood commercial districts to be pedestrian-friendly without also accommodating auto circulation and parking? 
I invite you to join me as I explore these and other transportation issues.  What transportation issues intrigue you the most?

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