Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Most Unreasonable Option

by Tibor R. Machan

Not being an expert in the field of public transportation, I chime in with some trepidation here. However, the issue I wish to discuss is very much in the public domain, being debated by amateurs throughout the community. And since I've done my share of travel around the globe, with all kinds of methods evident in how people deal with congestion, I thought I could add my two cents worth. Especially since one local paper has asserted in no uncertain terms that the most reasonable option for solving the congestion that exists on the Riverside Freeway to Orange County route would be a people-mover such as being used at Disneyland and other amusement parks.

Of course, this option is a joke but those who propose it don't seem to know that. They are those among us who at any cost want to remove the automobile as a part of our lives and force us all to go back to an era where its conveniences would be renounced as too bourgeois and environmentally unfriendly. In the essay where this idea was proposed, the fact that Disneyland and some other amusement parks and recreation (skiing) regions make use of people-movers served as proof of their suitability for moving commuters from Riverside County into Orange County and back, during workdays, instead of some other approach to reducing the congestion on Routes 91, 55 and 57, the current roads linking the two areas.

Now people-movers are fine for those interested in being carted around from one attraction to another at an amusement park, from the parking area to the slopes at a skiing resort, from the parking era to the museum at the new Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and so forth. These places are attended for very specific purposes, for just a little while, after which people go back to their lives of picking up or dropping off their kids at school, little league or ballet, grocery shopping, visiting the mall or the local DMV, grabbing a bite of lunch, etc., and so forth. In other words, most people do their commuting while also taking care of business, which tends to require innumerable stops.

Anyone who believes that folks ought to be regimented into using people-movers hasn't a clue about what most people do while driving their cars to and from work. They do a lot besides getting to work and returning home. Even if the bulk of the driving occurs on reasonably long stretches of freeway or highway, once close to work or home they are very likely to pick up laundry, buy some milk and the like. This cannot be done when using a people mover -- or, it would be rather complicated since all such errands would have to occur right by the points of embarkation. Actually there is an option being considered, namely, a tunnel through the Santa Ana Mountain range, that makes much better sense (given that the alternative of private solutions, based on market forces, is not in the cards hereabouts). I have lived in Switzerland and traveled all around it, as well as Italy, where tunnels for trains and highways are ubiquitous. And they are not only highly efficient, able to accommodate private automobile use as well as public transport, but seem to be fully harmonious with a plush and abundant wilderness.

I am no expert at estimating the respective costs associated with various alternative solutions to the Southern California traffic congestion, one that takes up several hours of commuters' lives every day during which they are caught in massive tie-ups and waste horrendous amounts of gasoline. But it seems to me that the people-mover idea is a deal-breaker from the get-go. Unless one is willing to live in a country that is fully top-down regimented by some technocrats, wherein the agendas of individuals are of no significance at all and only some elite's goals matter, the people-mover idea simply should not be an option. The fact that some people believe that it is bodes badly for a culture in which individual rights and the pursuit of the happiness of these individuals are supposed to be an outstanding factor.

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