Evolving Peace

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Monday, June 25, 2007

TRAINing from History

“How Vermonters get there from here,” was the theme this past weekend of the Vermont Historical Society’s annual History Expo in Tunbridge. Exhibits were structured around the theme of transportation. There were antique cars, old style bicycles, the horse and buggy and dominating the majority of exhibits were trains and street cars. Unfortunately, a lost mode of transportation within American society, however with the lingering concerns of global warming hopefully its memory is still strong amongst our consciousness.

The railways and streetcars of the past have been given away to the dominance of highways and automobiles. Roads and highways are one of the most highly subsidized elements of society today. Most states receive millions of federal tax dollars for highways, even within the Hawaiian Islands. Roads and parking lots in America cover over sixty thousand square miles which is ten percent of arable land (that could be suitable for agriculture purposes instead). Preposterously, at the same time American’s politicians deny funding for rail networks and other alternate transportation they continue to expand subsidizing oil exploration, highway construction and maintenance. Highlighting the abuses of the system was last year’s Congressional budget in which there was a proposal to build a twenty million bridge to a sparsely populated island in Alaska.

So, while there are many of individuals like myself who have invested in hybrid, bio-diesel, or fully electric vehicles the truth of the matter is that we need to further investments into public transportation systems. The public is unobliged to change on their own accord and truth be told that is why we need a shift in transportation policy. As I walk through the streets of Montpelier on any given day I will see at least three hybrid vehicles, but in contrast while on a recent trip to New Jersey I saw a three to one ratio of hummers to hybrids. Society as a whole does not want to do any effort to change and that is why a wholesale shift in governmental policy is needed.

The symbol of the automobile has become the identity of America, but it hasn’t always been that way. Humans have only lived within the last one-hundred years subservient to automobiles. I have been told stories of how my grandmother used to take public transportation from the city of Paterson, NJ to virtually anywhere in New Jersey at relative ease. Likewise, I attempted that for a few years in NJ but soon was distraught on the impracticality of it in modern society. I once attempted to travel by train and bus to William Paterson College while I was a student from my hometown of Mahwah, New Jersey. The ride by car is just under a half hour; however by using the train and bus (excluding waiting time) the trip took about four hours.

Here in Vermont, a ninety-five year old gentleman told me that from the small town of Jericho, he used to be able to take the train to Burlington, Montpelier, and St. Johnsbury with little effort. The towns of Montpelier and Barre were connected by trolley car, Waterbury and Stowe had an electric train connecting the towns and likewise many towns and cities throughout America did as well; however with the advent of automobiles the railways and streetcars were removed and transportation policies favored automobiles and oil production. Tracks were ripped up or left to decay and the development of highways began to uproot whole communities. Highway routes were established based on the decisions of who had clout. Town’s could be merely bypassed while others destroyed such as the town of Lewiston, Vermont (incorporated into Norwich). American society had been transformed into the cult of cars and as a result our environment and towns have suffered.

The debate advances further away from whether global warming is happening and towards what can be done to help prevent it. Glances at our recent history can help obtain those goals. It was not too long ago that the railroad transported us to and from our homes and with the advances of technology and government support we can become a much more environmentally society. Money towards public transportation is an investment in our future, while money towards highways and bridges is just another anachronistic subsidy of the oil companies and automobile industry. So, how did we get here?

Robb Kidd

“We are the first nation in the history of the world to go to the poorhouse in an automobile.” Will Rogers


At June 27, 2007 7:49 AM, Anonymous pippi said...

The lack of public transport is my biggest (only?) Real Complaint about living here in VT.
Being a rural, one car family with two kids is kind of a pain. I suppose I just take it on the chin. Kind of a give and take for the great place we hang our hats.
I really do wish one day, as Vermonters we will get hip to the fact that we can have better infrastructure without the highways.


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