Hannah Scribbles

The Hypocrisy in Going Green

In The Great Outdoors on January 28, 2013 at 12:32 pm

There are two stop signs, seven roadways, 19 stoplights and 40 minutes separating me from my internship- if I take the fast way.

I know this because I think about it every Thursday and Friday morning as I get ready for my internship at The Green Economy, an e-magazine devoted to a growing section of the global economy that deals in clean technology, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Over my time working for the publication, I have come to understand the hypocrisy of driving my 2005 Pontiac Vibe 124 miles each week to write for a magazine promoting green technologies that make my weekly fuel-up on gasoline seem old-fashioned. I have one thing to say in self defense: it’s not my fault.

America is built around automobiles. The country’s vast network of paved roadways was built to reduce wear on tires, and a portion of land from each newly constructed building is designated for parking vehicles. Sidewalks, bike lanes and fast food restaurant chains were built based on an understanding that the average person depends on cars for transportation.

Since Henry Ford’s assembly line first mass produced the Model-T, automobiles have insinuated themselves into the American way of life and refused to let go. As more companies invested in and began lobbying for automobiles, rail travel fell to the fringes in favor of the personal freedom afforded by owning your own car.

Mpla streetcar, 1923

At its peak in the 1920s, the railroad industry, moved about 1.2 billion people. But once more people began traveling by car, many railroad companies gave up passenger service, decommissioned passenger rails and turned to freight hauling to make back their money. Where there used to be a thriving network of railway transportation linking smaller cities around the country, now there are fewer options to travel between large cities. Times have changed since the automobile industry started figuring more prominently into national infrastructure. The Communipaw Terminal linking New Jersey lines to my hometown in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania closed in the 1960s after being in action for 100 years.

Fast access to New York City? Who would ever want that?

Fast access to New York City? Who would ever want that?

Before I started my internship, I spent a frustrating afternoon calculating possible bus routes, train routes and hybrid routes to get me to and fro. An outsider in New Jersey, I expected the transportation system so close to New York City to be more connected than the buses at home, which ran only once per hour. I looked at the times and, where possible, the costs of each route.  It was important for me to take public transportation seriously when considering the best way to reduce my carbon footprint. But in the end I decided to just drive my car.

Why?

New Jersey’s public transport system can be impractical!  With four transfers – two buses, one light rail train and a mile of walking – public transportation would take more than the two hours and 53 minutes listed on the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s website.   If I wanted to take the train to Princeton, I’d have to leave an hour and 45 minutes for the train ride and an additional hour to walk to and from the terminal each way. At $20.50 roundtrip, taking the train would cost me $41 per week, more than the cost of a full tank of regular unleaded.

I think about all this as I decide which road is best to take to my internship. There’s the fast way, which takes me 11 miles north on 287 before dropping 25 miles south on Route 1. The fast way is dull, gray and repetitive – how many times can you drive past Dunkin’ Donuts before it becomes another faceless building you don’t have time to think about?

Monstrous Potholes

The short way, only 25 miles long, takes an additional 20 minutes as it twists southwest from my Laurence Harbor home across a swathe of tiny municipalities. It is full of stoplights and drivers obeying the speed limits, but it has enough character that I remember the horse farm, asphalt plant, kielbasa deli and farmer’s market I pass along the way. But while I remember the pleasant scenery, my car remembers the pot holes and asphalt patching that crop up on county and municipal roads.

While there are indications that transportation trends are changing – public transportation usage increased by 2.1 percent in key cities compared to 2011, according to results from the American Public Transportation Association’s 2012 report – the budget deficit threatens transportation funding across the country. I intern at The Green Economy because of the magazine’s focus on empowering green industry and sustainable practices. As people become more aware of climate change’s impacts on America’s coastline and interior, they start looking for an alternative way of living. One of the most important aspects to American culture is how we get where we go.

New Jersey’s Long Range Transportation Plan calls for road repairs and expansions in public transportation to make room for the 1 million new workers expected to enter the state by 2030. However, maintaining the current transportation system already challenges state resources, and much of the budget was thrown into question because of Superstorm Sandy, which is estimated to cost $29.4 billion in repairs.

It does not look like public transportation is going to see any attention in the immediate future, and it takes money to expand infrastructure to accommodate increasing ridership. So, no matter how sick of driving I get, I do not expect to find a better way of getting to my internship than by car any time soon.

While I’m not going to give up my mission of promoting sustainable living – just ask me about composting or dumpster diving – transportation is just one more thing I, like millions of other Americans, have to work on improving. I plan to keep writing about sustainability issues, but in the meantime I’ll try not to be too critical of my shortcomings when I sit down in the driver’s seat for another day on the road.

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