I started 2019 by calling for it to be The Year of the Train. Reflecting back, perhaps it was the year of the bus instead. As we look to the future, and confront deepening uncertainty and accelerating effects of the global climate crisis, we will be forced to make tough decisions and heartbreaking trade-offs. Retreat was one of Grist’s “words that defined our planet in 2019” – I hadn’t planned to start this year by calling for prevention of war with Iran, and as I cover in my first planned post of 2020, the 2020s must be the decade during which global action on the climate crisis finally becomes commensurate with the scale of the problem.
Still, perhaps it will prove untenable to defend our much-maligned subway system, with its immense underground (and hence flood-menaced) network of tunnels. I love the New York City Subway, and certainly hope not to see it be among the things from which we are forced to retreat, but in celebrating the victory on 14th Street and the model of the 14th Street Busway, we should be looking to a future free of personal automobiles in which buses, bikes, pedestrians, scooters, one-wheelers, and all the rest move freely, safely, (and ideally, respectfully!) through public space.
Contemporary New Yorkers inherit 150 years of automobile-centric infrastructure, and from the Brooklyn Bridge to the region’s vast network of roads, highways, and expressways, we should be looking to reimagine, repurpose, and dismantle as needed in service to a vision of a just and sustainable New York.
Postscript: For the sake of thoroughness, I think it’s worth noting that “Subways had best on-time performance in six years during 2019” while “NYC bus ridership fell for sixth straight year in 2019, hit lowest level in decades“, so calling 2019 The Year of the Bus would probably be a little optimistic. We should be working to turn the limited victories on 14th Street and elsewhere into a more coherent city-wide program of Bus Rapid Transit, protected bus lanes (entirely separated from traffic and/or camera-enforced), etc., etc.