Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This is How Things Usually Work

Owing to personal events, I'm spending the next two weeks trapped without a car in the middle of a city of 150,000 people. Yesterday I borrowed a neighbor's car, and mindful of my checking account, drove to the supermarket and attempted to buy enough food to survive should a James Cameron movie suddenly break out.

Today was this week's opportunity fresh veggies. On my way to the farmers' market, I braved streets that largely serve as on-ramps for the two highways that bisect downtown Syracuse. I crossed at lights that didn't have pedestrian signals, stepping onto uneven sidewalk ramps. Because I'm currently able-bodied, young, athletic, and it's not winter (people here don't really shovel sidewalks), I was able to make the trip in about twenty minutes. As an added bonus, I didn't get sent to jail after watching my child get hit by a car.

After walking through a stretch of my route where the sidewalk inexplicably gave way to dirt, I encountered the site where a group of environmental consultants and entrepreneurs is rehabilitating a long-abandoned building, complete with a row of shiny new charging stations for electric cars.

In fairness, Syracuse isn't unaware of the difficulty of getting around town sans cars. The city recently released a master plan of hypothetical bike routes. It was also involved in recent discussions about the future of one of our two interstates.

However, the charging stations were the first sign of the newer, greener Syracuse that I keep hearing about.

In reality, during these times of austerity, it's gotten harder to get around town. There are fewer, more expensive buses. Sidewalks are going unrepaired and yes, unshoveled.

So it's with bitter irony that I welcome these new charging stations. I'm not particularly impressed by a future in which some of the cars I'll be dodging will presumably be powered by the local nuclear plant.

This is what tends to happen. Too often, the solutions to environmental problems tend to reinforce a broken status quo.

In the case of Syracuse's newest electrical outlets, I believe most of them will be used to charge vehicles for a community car sharing service. I can certainly think of worse uses.

However, I'm not entirely sure how some people are supposed to get to the nearest car share location. I'm also not sure how some folks are going to pay to rent these wonderful green cars.

Don't get me wrong, I actually think a green car share program is a great idea, and a welcome initiative. However, I'm frustrated and unsurprised that the movers and shakers in my city have the capital to invest in putting more cars on the road, while efforts to improve things for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders flounder.