A recent poll in Rochester on high-speed rail (3/20/09 Rochester Business Journal ) showed Rochesterians favoring this flashy mode of travel. Proponents say it will create jobs, reduced air pollution, and get us around more quickly. There are other ideas floating around town as federal dollars float in, including funds to develop hydrogen fuel.
Realistically, most if not all that fed money will be used for fixing and updating our highway infrastructure. Road construction and bridge repair are shovel-ready; already in regional budgets, and they are going to create immediate jobs. For the time being, traveling around Rochester will not leap suddenly into the breath-taking fictional world of the Jetsons.
What will the future bring? Change will certainly occur in Rochester’s transportation. Indigenous peoples walked on well-work paths, then came horse and carriages, then ole Clinton’s Folly (which some are talking of resurrecting through the city), then train, bicycling, the automobile, and the airplane. Some modes make it, some don’t. A helicopter in every garage did not and probably will not ever happen.
Forces other than speed and cost are driving our future transportation. Back in the day, when the miracle of the horseless carriage fulfilled all our dreams of privacy and accessibility (not to mention one’s own music sound chamber) no one thought that the stuff coming out the tailpipe would question their viability. Anthropogenic climate change (get used to it, it’s real) and the horrendous cost of building and maintaining the seemingly endless growth of highways is going to force us to reconsider the private automobile as the dominate form of Rochester travel. Today’s transportation is not sustainable.
As a species seemingly at times capable of thinking and adapting, we can not only speculate on what getting around will look like in Rochester’s future, we can be the driving force of that change. Things don’t just occur; there is always a cause. If you want high speed rail in Rochester, you have to provide the people who maintain your highways and bridges the reason for billions of your dollars to go elsewhere. If you continue to buy large polluting vehicles to commute an hour to work and play, your government will have to put the majority of public transportation funds in that pot—until, of course, the gas-guzzling automobile fails economically and environmentally. By the way, that is happening now.
FDR supposedly said to A. Philip Randolph: “I agree with everything that you've said, including my capacity to be able to right many of these wrongs and to use my power and the bully pulpit. ... But I would ask one thing of you, Mr. Randolph, and that is go out and make me do it." We must demonstrate to our representatives that we want a sustainable future.
If we want our streets made easier for walking and bicycling, less money spent on highways, and more money spent on public transportation (maybe high-speed rail), then we must prove it our representatives. We must walk more, bike more, and use public transportation. We must demand that vehicles slow down on our streets, respect one’s right to bicycle on our streets, and always give way to pedestrians. Increase these free community-empowering modes of transportation and our representative will hear you. The biggest and most profound change we can make in Rochester’s transportation future is to change our attitude: Be a community that accommodates people instead of the car.