I distinctly remember, as a little kid, hopping on the Red Line El train with my mother in Chicago, and there it was, life and civilization at its finest. People talked to each other and the quality of life was superb. The buses weren’t as exciting, but they were reliable, and they got me and others to school, downtown or wherever we needed to be.
That was the late nineties. Now fast-forward eight years, and here I am in Huntsville, Ala., where public transportation is a very intrinsic problem that needs to be addressed, especially with a city of its nascent size.
But before I attempt to down something, I have to experience it firsthand. After my last class I decided to take a ride on this short bus that drives around town so empty and desolate—the Huntsville Shuttle.
After the 20-minute wait off Holmes across from the library, with no bench or anything that encourages anyone to actually wait, I finally saw the bus come from across the bridge. The bus driver looked pretty surprised, with a stark look on his face. As I paid the 50 cents and looked inside, the bus was virtually empty—except for an old lady whose hair was literally as white as snow.
She had Wal-Mart bags in her brittle hands, with various fruits and vegetables and what looked like Arm and Hammer baking soda because of its distinct orange box. So I sat down across from her as she smiled. I then envisioned this same bus filled with college kids and 20-somethings, who might be going to work downtown or to Bridge Street.
Countless studies show that public transportation offers surprising benefits to our health, the environment and our local communities. Public transportation and walking increases social capital by promoting and encouraging face-to-face interaction with your neighbors. As obesity continues to plague our society, we must realize that there are alternatives—just not necessarily in Huntsville. Huntsville lacks density, which is a major factor because a bus or train can’t go everywhere in every neighborhood. Huntsville also isn’t very well-connected except for one neighborhood—Five Points. Its grid-like street network with a mix of residences and businesses built right next to each other is convenient to those who live there. It is also the only neighborhood that offers a diverse, mixed-income environment for everyone—young and old, singles and families, the rich and the poor.
So what can be done? Maybe write a letter to the mayor. But as for now, I’ll see you at the Kangaroo.