Happy new years, friends and frenemies, loyal followers and first time perusers. This week, as we throw out the psychic garbage that was 2019 and usher in the roaring 20s, we wanted to reflect on a subject we both hold dear: public transit. Both of us are dedicated bikers and bus-riders that currently don’t own cars, just trying to make our daily commute in the (hot n’ sprawling) streets of central Texas cities. As listeners of all geographies know, Texas is not the most conducive environment to public transit use (more on that in the episode). So we’ve been united for several years in our quest to not only understand cities better, but to understand the role of public transit in making that happen–and to explore these possibilities even in tough urban environments.
In the episode below, we each discuss three commutes that changed our lives. Our observations follow three general themes. The first is the proverbial popping of our public transit cherry–when did we come to love public transit? What about that experience was so different from driving, and, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts, why was it so meaningful to the concept of ‘public space’ in cities? The second theme is vulnerability: when did we first learn that not everyone loves transit the way we do, and that the road is a scary and dangerous place for the lonely, non-motorized commuter? Being vulnerable in the road, we both agreed, radicalized us. Finally, our third theme is the dominance of car culture in everyday transit discourse. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways (from the current stigma associated with riding the public bus to the demonization of backpacks to the historical disassembling of the public trolley system) American cultural and political leaders have chosen to support car ownership and ridership over other modes.
Pushing against this trend is no simple matter. Psychological, shared values, and government policies are all vectors for change, but as they currently align around cars (and car manufacturers, and the tech that drives them) its a tall order to shift the dominant narrative in a meaningful and irreversible way. From MIT’s slightly sociopathic survey on decisions by AI cars to Elon Musk’s bizarre concern about sharing public transit with serial killers , autos are widely celebrated in the media, while public transit–with the exception of the indomitable, train-loving NUMTOTS–is ignored as a solution.
While we feel that a car is, alternatively, both a purse on wheels and a two-ton death machine, we understand its appeal. We admit the benefits and even (gasp) fun that can be had in a personal vehicle. Our beef is not with the existence of cars, but with the way that the cars existence dominates the roadway and pushes out other travel possibilities.
So, give it a listen. Perhaps even while you are commuting! And do as Spike Lee told you: Get on the Bus!