Keohane: Transit Woes

1218038020In 2001, James Howard Kunstler wrote a great book, The City in Mind, which was basically a ferocious takedown of cities he fears (Mexico City) and hates (Atlanta, Las Vegas), and a paean to the ones he loves. Of the latter category, Boston was one of the most prominent. Given its compact size, Kunstler wrote, Boston should be able to get through the coming energy crisis with relatively little pain.

Well, the energy crisis has now gotten its teeth marks all over us, and, by the looks of things, Boston will fare better than most other cities (hello, Phoenix). But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Right now, the T is at a tipping point in terms of riders. Finally, the cost of driving has outweighed the emotional toll of taking the T. More and more people are finding themselves alternately marveling at the view afforded as the Red Line goes from Kendall to Charles, while white-knuckling the bars and furtively eyeing possible escape routes in the event the Longfellow finally takes a long plunge into the icy waters of the Charles. In an irony fit for the times, the river is no longer thick and sludgy enough to support the weight of a subway train. A potential tragedy in the making.

On top of all that, the dreaded word “receivership” is being uttered more and more often among transit advocates and State House insiders as an indicator of just how bad things have gotten. Dan Grabauskas has become more and more vocal about how dire the situation is, doing everything short of grabbing people by the lapels and screaming into their faces—as he should. This leads some to worry that he’s become a political liability for Deval Patrick, and may soon find himself out of a job. Patrick has gone a little while without making any incredibly damaging political gaffes, but hopefully, this won’t end up being one of them. The guy’s doing about as well as anyone could under the circumstances.

Things are grim, but I personally am sticking to my happy delusion that state government will find a way to bail out the T—which it basically screwed as it gets piled with additional debt and expansion requirements and then sees its budget slashed. This is less because I have faith in the state government (nope), and more because a Boston without a functional T exceeds the limits of my imagination.

That said, if a conductor got up a good enough head of steam to jump the shattered middle portion of the Longfellow landing with a horrific crash at Charles/MGH, and overnight the station had been converted to luxury condos, I can’t say I’d be terribly surprised. A lifetime on the T makes you especially resilient like that.

Which brings us to bikes. This week, the mayor unveiled the next stage of his bike plan. More bike racks mean not having to walk five blocks looking for a tree skinny enough to get your U-lock around. More bike lanes mean, hopefully, a refreshing decline in the volume of death and maiming on the road. And the bike sharing program, freshly stolen from newbie City Councilor John Connolly (welcome to City Hall, John!), may work, though I’m not sure Bostonians are really into sharing.

One thing is sure, while fundamentally altering the way we go from Point A to Point B in Boston is a positive thing, there are already some growing pains. A friend of mine has taken to complaining incessantly about how the new riders on the T don’t know how to ride, and how all these suburbanites are making the morning commute even harder by violating Rule One of city living: “Don’t get in the way.”

Perhaps the T could launch a series of audio announcements in the stations:

“This is Dan Grabauskas, general manager of the MBTA. Don’t be an asshole. Move in to the middle of the cars. And for Christ’s sake, take off your gigantic backback before the natives are forced to stuff you inside it and throw you off the Longfellow Bridge, which will reopen in six weeks.”

Finally, as a frequent bicyclist, I have noticed a considerable rise in the number of people riding in the city. This too is good, or would be, if these new riders had the slightest clue how to ride in a city without endangering themselves and literally everyone else around them. Natural Selection should take care of this problem in short order, but if you don’t want to be harvested by your own carelessness, take one of MassBike’s invaluable classes.

This will do you, at least until the state converts the Red, Green, Orange and Blue Lines to bike trails.

Joe Keohane’s column for Boston Daily will run every Wednesday, unless said columnist finds himself stranded in Michigan.