I grew up on the upper west side of Manhattan. Neither of my parents drove and we were a happy mass transit family. Beginning at age 10, I was able to ride the subways and buses with my friends and I was especially happy to be able to take a short train ride and visit the Museum of Natural History on a regular basis. To this day the dinosaurs still hold a special fascination for me.
My education was also facilitated by mass transit. High school was either a long walk or one subway stop away on the number 1 train. College was a half dozen stops away and graduate school was slightly more than a dozen stops away. But when I started working at Hofstra, life changed. Traveling to Hofstra from Manhattan via mass transit was a subway, train and bus ride away. If everything worked well, the commute was two hours each way; I quickly switched to traveling to and from campus by car. On most days, traveling by car cut my commute by 50%, though finding a legal parking space in Manhattan was sometimes a challenge. Some years later I moved to Long Island. By car, I live 18 minutes away from the campus in the morning and 25 minutes in the evening. Yes, there are rare days when it takes longer but even on those days, a commute of more than 30 minutes is unusual. By mass transit (bus) it would likely take me closer to 2 hours each way.
Traveling in Europe, I marvel at the convenience of the trains. The transportation is fast, reasonable, and the trains are usually clean and comfortable. High speed trains in China are also impressive. Traveling any distance by train in the US is often a challenge and the fleet is slow and the convenience is limited. However, the Acela is the exception that shows the potential that still exists for mass transit between points that are substantially far from each other. I needed to attend a two day meeting in Washington, D.C. and decided that I didn’t want to fly and didn’t want to drive; train was the only viable alternative. At Penn Station I boarded the Acela and 2 hours and 45 minutes later, I arrived at Washington’s Union Station on time and fully caught up on my email since there was free wifi on the train. The trip back was also exactly on time, just as relaxing and just as convenient.
A totally renovated and modernized Nassau Coliseum will rise on Long Island in a few years. It is Long Island’s major indoor entertainment and sports venue. The operator of the Coliseum in a talk today to the Long Island business community indicated that for the Coliseum to maximize its potential, there needs to be mass transit to the site so that New York City residents as well as Long Islanders will be able to easily get to what promises to be a superior venue. I completely agree and hope this can be accomplished using existing tracks and right of ways. Throughout this country there are train tracks conveniently located between as well as in the heart of many major cities. Those tracks can be upgraded; modern trains are available and trains can be a much more significant factor in moving people from place to place. Yes it is likely we will need to subsidize the railroads until the usage hopefully increases to where it is economically viable. But we can do a better job in transporting people and more options in transportation can increase overall satisfaction.