Price of Progress

Laundry time is radio time for me.  I try to choose a good hour (or three) and click on NPR, hoping for an uplifting tale to distract me from the interminable folding, folding, folding. 

Friday morning was no disappointment.  Morning Edition had a story on the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, with interviews of people who had been there, people who had been among the first to cross the bridge that first day.  Great stories. 

Courtesy Archive Americana. Click photo for link to original interview.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast; I enjoyed hearing the story and the voices telling it far more than just reading the article.  

The line that jumped out at me was this quote from George Klein, who was 20 when the Golden Gate Bridge opened and is now 95.  He was a former high school track star who ran across the bridge and back on opening day.  His words:

“I could take a train, then a ferry, and then take another ferry and then a train and make it to downtown Oakland in an hour and five minutes.  And I defy you to do that today with the bridges — that’s how things have changed.”  (His story begins at 3:10 in the recording.)

There’s the rub when we consider the transportation revolution we’ve seen in the past seventy-five years in our country with our wholesale conversion to the automobile.  On the surface, it’s a quintessential reflection of American individualism, traveling entirely on our own terms.  Digging a little deeper uncovers a multitude of issues, not the least of which is that owning and being able to operate a vehicle is the entry fee to get around.  That leaves out young people, many disabled people, elderly people, low-income people… a substantial chunk of our communities are left out of this equation.  Some of those interviewed may well have been unable to walk across the bridge without the transit infrastructure to get them there first – infrastructure we’ve now largely lost.

Lucky for us, the story isn’t over.  Have a great Memorial Day, everyone.