Monday, August 15, 2011

Public Transportation

I'm in Lake Charles.  At the end of July, I took a week-long trip to Memphis.  It was a nice trip, but too hot.  It's too hot in Lake Charles too.  Really it's just miserable everywhere in the South right now.  I had the air-conditioner blasting during my drive back, and I think poor little Zeus still may have gotten over-heated.

Since my move to Lake Charles, going back home always brings up one major frustration: Travel Time.  Lake Charles may be a frustrating place in many ways, but I absolutely love the fact that I can get just about anywhere in less than 15 minutes, usually less than 10.  In the greater Memphis area, I usually have to allot at least 30 minutes to get most places, and I hate it.  Living in a small city has ruined any desire for a long car trip.  And there's something just awfully tiring about driving a car, especially in temperatures of 90 and higher.  Not to mention Memphis drivers are rude, aggressive, and careless; they drive huge SUVs and tailgate like all hell.  Basically, after a day of running around town, I have to go back to my parents' house and sit and be quiet to de-stress from the day.  

This has a point: why don't Southern cities invest in decent public transport?  Yes Memphis has the MATA buses, which are as about as efficient as walking.  I realize that Memphis may be more spread out than the typical large city and probably doesn't have enough tax revenue to keep the city from sliding into anarchy, much less build something as exotic as an underground metro system.  But let's dream a little.  
You may remember my love affair with the bus drivers of Angers.  The system just worked so well.  Rarely do commuters have to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus, and the bus drivers were just so damn nice.  (Unless you were riding without a ticket -- I am ashamed to say I was caught riding dirty exactly once.)
Why don't many American cities have the super-efficient, awesome, and mostly friendly bus system like their European counterparts?  Yeah, it is super annoying when people idealize Europe like it's some model of high civilization while America is dismissed as some kind of flailing barbarian of a nation.  And there are plenty of things America does very well, but, man, wouldn't it be nice to have decent public transport in places other than NY and DC?

This post is mostly a complaint; I apologize for the lack of reasonable analysis.  

In other news, I have obsessively listening to the Freakonomics Podcast.  A while ago they had an interesting episode about Why Cities Rock.  Essentially, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser explains why (according to his data) city-living makes people "richer, smarter, greener, healthier, and happier."

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