Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Carless in Ithaca

Maybe it's not true that the prevalent attitude among Americans about mass transportation is that it is an excellent way for poor people to get to work.

But certainly it is true that most people just don't think about mass transit very much, much less use it.

I've lived in Ithaca for a decade, and the only time I have used the bus is to get to Ithaca Festival at Stewart Park.

Until recently, that is, when my car died, and rather than replace it right away, I wondered how well I could do without it.

In general, carlessness has two strikes against it. One is the loser aspect. The other is the inconvenience. Neither of these needs much explanation.

But in Ithaca, we're lucky on both counts. Material goods and their associated status mean less here than in other places.

And, because of Cornell University and the number of people who commute to and from it, we are blessed with a bus system far bigger and much more convenient than most places our size.

The status thing might actually be reversing itself. With the price of gas so high, the S.U.V. owner goes from cool to fool. And with the environmental destructiveness of cars, mass transit becomes a saving thing, in more ways than one.

The extensiveness of the TCAT system in Tompkins County provides lots of options, and lots of breadth. The major hurdle to exploiting the system might be mental.

This is why I'm a good guinea pig for this project. I'm from Brooklyn and I don't like cars to begin with. I grew up using mass transit and I like it.

I like being able to read when commuting. I like thinking about something other than how badly people drive. I like to save my adrenaline for when I need it.

Of course, there is a certain amount of waiting with mass transit. But there is with driving, too. And traffic is not so annoying when you can do a crossword during it, instead of burning gas and patience while you glare out the windshield and wonder why.

More than half the people in New York City do not have access to a car. Not only don't own a car, but don't even have access to one.

Of course, Ithaca will never have the kind of transit system that could make that happen. But we do have one that we could use much better, to much better effect, for ourselves and the community, not to mention the planet.

It could be bad news for ExxonMobil. And, nothing against health clubs, but it could even be bad news for them - people shedding pounds while rediscovering the pleasures of walking and biking, and discovering the uses and pleasures of mass transit.

Next installment: the wheels of the bus go round and round.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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