Thursday, December 20, 2007

Commuting in Connecticut

I remember how exciting it was to get my driver's license and my first car. I was 21 and had just moved to Connecticut after graduating from college. I had lived in New York City for four years and Dallas, TX before that, both of which have pretty good public transportation, and I had never before needed a car. It took many years for the novelty to wear off, but wear off it did, and I think it was primarily due to the interminable hours of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-84. The OPEC oil embargo of 1972 was my first clue that there might be something fundamentally unsustainable about the car culture I found myself in.

I'm sure I could come up with some ballpark estimates of just how many hours/days/months of my life I have spent in a car idling on I-84, but it would be too depressing, so I won't do it. I don't care what anyone says, no one enjoys driving to and from work. Anyone who thinks you do enjoy it, just give it 20 or 30 years and then get back to me.

Tell the truth now. Would you rather get to work after being in a traffic jam like that photo of I-95 above, or would you rather commute to work in a modern Japanese bullet train like this one?

It's probably too late for us to build a world-class rail system anywhere near as modern as anything in Japan or Europe—we've sunk our resources into the highway system as if we believed that gasoline would always be 36 cents a gallon, as it was in 1972, just before the embargo. (That's about $1.36 in today's currency, according to The Cato Institute.) But the existing Shoreline, Metro North, and Amtrak rail systems are pretty good. We could improve what we have, and we just might be able to restore some of what we used to have, such as rail service between Danbury, Waterbury, and Hartford.

Or not. It's a choice.


JJ said...

I agree. I would love to see a train that runs from Brewster to Danbury to Waterbury to Hartford.

I know that the tracks still exist between Waterbury and Hartford and they run freight trains. I'm not sure tracks exist between Danbury and Waterbury.

I really think that a project like this would make CT a very attractive place to do business and live.

Sharon said...

I think you're right about the Danbury to Waterbury link, JJ. So far I haven't been able to find any evidence that a rail line existed, although it seems perfectly reasonable that there would have been one. It was wishful thinking on my part.

As heavily traveled as the I-84 corridor is, it makes no sense to me that there are no mass transit options other than the commercial bus that currently costs $18 round trip between Danbury and Waterbury, and $26 rt between Danbury and Hartford. Meanwhile, residents along the Whitney Avenue route between Waterbury and New Haven can travel end to end for $1.25. What (or who) do they know that we don't know?