A case for light rail
By Omar Alansari-Kreger
Who wants to waste away idling in traffic after waiting through three traffic light cycles at a highway intersection?
Out on the roads, Minnesota nice turns to Minnesota ice. Year after year, more people take to the roads in cars that consume finite resources leaving behind nothing but non-renewable waste. Little is done to investigate and expand alternatives to the car culture. In the Twin Cities, outside the core inner city area, it becomes quite the challenge to have life without the car. The suburbs are a case in point. They were made and inspired by and for the car culture. It should be no surprise why to most Americans, convenience is measured in miles as opposed to blocks. We are generally inclined to accept the car culture as an unavoidable fact of life. Car ownership is best defined as costly arriving at a great economic burden to the average American. This is especially true to those of us living strictly on borrowed credit or from paycheck-to-paycheck.
The vast expense of car ownership is significantly downplayed. Tremendous resources are dumped into month-to-month cycles of car ownership. To its benefactors, there is a great deal of money to be made from each individual motorist. Insurance policies, parts, and services are aggressively marketed to ensure the upkeep of vehicle maintenance. A great deal of which offers nothing but a grand placebo effect on unsuspecting motorists for the sake of rendering an artificial peace of mind. It could be conservatively speculated that car ownership costs the average American 25% of their annual income. It is also something that does nothing but depreciate in value over time. The car culture as we know it today traces its origins to the post-World War Two era.
Consumption was regarded as a holistic virtue to be observed by patriotic Americans everywhere. The reality is that we can no longer afford to live in a world inspired by the illusion of infinite resources. Non-renewability is at the apex of the car culture no matter how much environmental hybridization goes into its manufacturing. Alloys made out of actual metal that make an automobile chassis possible are becoming increasingly scarce. This leads to the inspiration of a few inquiries that focus strictly on the automobile manufacturing process. Out of every chassis made, how many are recycled into the reproduction of new cars? Are scales of automobile recyclability proportional to manufactured output?
There once was a time when the Twin Cities was connected by an extensively comprehensive street car system connecting cities as far as Anoka to Stillwater. What ever happened to the long lost infrastructure of the old street car system? Paved over pockets of it can still be found scattered around downtown Minneapolis consisting of street car tracks re-emerging after decades of urban submersion. Through the emergence of light rail, the legacy of the street car has been reinvented all over again which confronts us with an existential query: how much different would the Twin Cities be if the streetcar system still existed? Subsequently, that leads to further curiosities which go on to ponder alternative histories centered on the streetcar.
How many communities and livelihoods were destroyed in the process of its aggressive dismantlement? The big auto, oil, and tire manufacturers formed a formidable post-World War Two socio-political lobby based squarely on the pursuit of the mighty dollar. It has made every possible effort since then to socially engineer the American psyche into accepting no other alternative for transit beyond the car. The best alternative to counteract the car culture rests not with the recreation of nostalgia. Highway lane expansions are temporary fixes that freeze problems prolonging gridlock inherent to the car culture. Mass transit achieved a great comeback with the arrival and expansion of light rail going back to the early 2000s.
The car culture has arrived as a necessity through decades of social engineering. It has gone on to serve as an ancillary edifice to the fragile egos that demand its absolute preservation through zero compromises. Who wants to waste away idling in traffic after waiting through three traffic light cycles at a highway intersection? A new experience is discovered when communities are brought together through shared transit. More time can be spent engaged in productive activities such as reading or doing work on table devices than festering in exclusionary space bubbles. An aggressive expansion of light rail is needed if the Twin Cities is to remain urbanely competitive.
Hopefully, this could inspire motorists to adopt bumper stickers on their cars reading: “I’d rather be on Light Rail!”
Omar Alansari-Kreger, of Minneapolis, is a Muslim-American, a writer, and a social activist.
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