One day, I want to be able to use a public transportation system that has evolved to meet the flexible schedule of a truly mobile freelance worker in the technological age. As someone who lives outside the urban core, I want to be able to easily access downtown in a timely fashion at all hours of the day or night.
I want to be able to travel from Mount Washington to Clifton to Newport and then head back home, departing at 2 p.m. and safely arriving in my neighborhood by 11 p.m.
I want that system to be able to stop on a dime, or at least provide me with real-time options on my touch-screen mobile device when life throws a wrinkle into my plan. I want to be able dash out to Ikea with my list of supplies for that weekend party my wife and I are planning before I have to attend a press screening in the evening at the Kenwood Theater. I want…
I know what this sounds like. It’s all about me … except it’s not just about me. The things I want and expect from a public transit system may seem more trivial than those of people who use the buses day in and day out to get to and from work, trust it to deliver their children to and from school, wouldn’t be able to get to the doctor’s office economically when there’s no other way. I understand the difference between my wants and real needs.
But I also have lived in cities where public transit went much further in bridging the gap between my wants and those urgent needs across a large metropolitan region.
I’ve written about growing up in Asheville, N.C., and riding the bus there, but that was long ago in what, despite all the stories devoted to perpetuating the myth of Asheville becoming a progressive haven on par with Austin or Seattle, remains a town nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Asheville is not a city in the ways that we conceive of and define our urban centers.
What I’m really thinking about, though, are my years in Philadelphia, the decade-plus that I spent there before settling in the Queen City. I had a car during my last two years of college through my first couple of years as a working professional.
I lived first in West Philly before moving into Center City, right smack dab in the middle of the action, and after about a year and a half I sold the car and fully embraced the challenges and joys of city living.
Working in the social service arena, I needed to bounce all over the region — among various parts of the city-proper out to suburban communities and sometimes beyond. And that was just for work.
During my off-hours, I ventured out to museums, theaters of all types, clubs, bars and the homes of friends and co-workers who hosted parties and events.
I never worried about being able to get anywhere. “Have transit pass, will travel.” That was my motto and the unspoken motto of millions of public transit users in the City of Brotherly Love.
When I needed to come to Cincinnati to visit my parents, I got on a train three blocks from my apartment that took me to the airport in approximately 20 minutes. On the trains, subways and buses, people came together, making the large diverse metro region smaller and more manageable. Thanks to such a system a city has the potential to feel like a community coming together.
I want that here; I daresay I need that here. I need it. We all do.
Yet, because of this vision of mine, I can’t just settle for getting on any old bus, so that I can check it off my bucket list. I want a ride with purpose, a ride that will help me to accomplish some vital and meaningful task, not a one-time trip but a daily or weekly excursion that will continue to crop up in my life.
And I want a dependable system that will journey with me into a future that’s not so uncertain because it will be there every mile along the way.
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