Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Myopia Is An Island

The Machine That Helped Create Suburbia Will, In The End, Destroy Community

Congestion pricing, as a means of reducing traffic, clearing the air, and raising much-needed revenues for mass transit, died in Albany last night.

No surprises. Never mind that congestion pricing works. Let it work somewhere else!

Sheldon Silver, the one man show that thinks and speaks for the Assembly, wouldn't let the issue -- a matter of home rule, really, but who cares what they want back home? -- come to the floor for a vote.
Democrats opposed it. [So much for their concerns about the environment.] Republicans opposed it. [Where were the advocates of mass transit as an alternative to reliance on the automobile?] Suburbanites -- and even those in the outer boroughs -- opposed it, calling congestion pricing no more than a regressive tax (which, in essence, it is), unable, or simply unwilling, to see short-term pain (at $8 a pop) as long-term-gain (millions, initially, and billions, ultimately, for public transportation, cleaner air, and a more sustainable city).

Environmental groups (damn liberals) and mass transit advocates (never learned how to drive) favored congestion pricing. Maybe they saw the forest for the trees. Or perhaps they saw a future, where the streets are impassable, the parking impossible, and the air unbreakable -- a landscape upon which there will be no trees.

Long Islanders, for their part, were either critical of the plan -- as they are of most initiatives calling for even the slightest change to the status quo -- or ambivalent -- as they often are when they are not saying no to everything else.

You can't even blame what happened in Albany -- or what did not happen -- on legislative dysfunction alone, or on an autocracy where three men (four, if the Senate's Minority Leader is invited into the room) decide all. After all, the sense among the general populace was that the price to be paid -- and the hassle of leaving the car at home -- was simply too high.

Legislators heard the voices of the people. Sure, NOW they listen to their constituents!

Look, none of us -- this blogger included -- likes to pay more or to be inconvenienced, but it is woefully -- and dangerously -- shortsighted to do nothing, and, in the not so long run, decidedly more costly.

And its not only the environment and mass transit that are the losers in this game. True, today the feds begin handing out that $450+ million in mass transit money to other metropolitan regions, as New York's carbon footprint grows larger and more encompassing. Suffer not only the city, however, but that very sense of community that was the consummate vision of suburbia.

Instead of raging against the machine -- in this case, the car, the idol (idle?) of the suburbs -- we've embraced it (and let those tree huggers go to hell).

The almighty automobile, creator of suburban life; enabler of a day at the beach and an evening at the mall.

Suburbanites -- and Long Islanders in particular -- love their cars. Everyone in the family has one. Sometimes two or three.

To banish the automobile would be akin to pulling out our hearts, for if we can't drive there, we needn't go there.

Take the train? A bus? Call for light rail? Are you crazy?

No, we'd rather burn that fossil fuel, no matter how many dollars per gallon, feeding our addiction to automania as we line the pockets of terrorist-friendly foreign potentates.

We don't want to be among the masses, elbow to elbow with our fellow suburbanites. Such proximity may give rise, after all, to discourse, or, perish the thought, actual give and take with our neighbors.

Uh, uh. Give us the insular isolation of the automobile, where we feel empowered by that V-8 under the hood, and safe from the world at large behind a ton of steel and impenetrable safety glass.

Like the old Simon & Garfunkel tune, we are a rock, we are an island. We touch no one, and no one touches us.

Instead of raging against this machine that pumps every last dollar out of our wallets, puts huge holes in the ozone layer, and segregates us -- literally -- from humanity itself, we embrace the automobile, clinging to it as a Polio victim would to an iron lung.

What makes community community is the ability to interact, to exchange thoughts (other than road rage), to develop a bond that can only be shared by neighbors.

The automobile, for all of its virtues, has taken all of this away. We are left alone -- as hermit crabs on the sandy beach -- to "enjoy" the solitude.

Change, although inevitable, comes slowly, if at all, to our Long Island.

We are resistant, adopting as our credo, "Just Say No!" to anything which might have the potential to usher in progress. Nancy Reagan would be proud.

It is a resounding NO to congestion pricing. So what if its been a boon to other urban centers, such as most of western Europe. NO.

It is NO to consolidation of water districts, school districts, or dare we say, fire districts that cover areas no larger than a single square mile. If one can do it well, many, if inherently more wasteful and unwieldy, can certainly do it better -- or, at least, at greater cost to the taxpayer.

It is NO to reasonable measures that would lower the property tax, end the proliferation of illegal accessory apartments, and bring affordable workforce housing to downtown.

NO. NO. NO. Whatever it may be, count on LIers to be against it.

While even the lowly virus changes, altering its form, adapting to survive, here on Long Island, we are of the mindset that form triumphs over substance, and that change or transformation, of any kind, can't possibly be for the better.

Best to put off the challenges -- to defeat them by avoidance -- rather than to meet them head on.

No, the problem, whether on the matter of congestion pricing, or any other concern that impacts upon our quality of life, is not solely one of legislative dysfunction -- or hubris. Our failures to gain any significant ground, seemingly in any area of community resolve, is not entirely the result of the foibles of others.

As the comic strip character Pogo put it, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Pogo was right on the money. We wonder what he would say about congestion pricing.

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