It's the Environment, Stupid.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Transportation issues at Solar1

I went to check out Saturday's outdoor film at Solar1. The topic was transportation - fitting considering the little solar building at Stuyvesant-Cove Park sits below FDR drive, and beside a gas station on Manhattan's East River.

I arrived late and missed the pre-film transportation discussion but I did catch the documentaries. The first movie, Contested Streets, had great stock footage (and historical narrative) of the arrival of cars in NYC, which displaced the smelly, dirty, problematic horses. And as cars came to rule the streets, more roads and highways were built to unlock the subsequent gridlock. Then transition to our current situation in NYC: congestion. Or, rather, an all out war: pedestrians vs. automobiles vs. bikes vs. buses.

The film attempts to find solutions to this never ending battle by visiting a few global counterparts to see how they've managed in an increasingly auto-dependent world. Copenhagen, Denmark, is ruled mainly by bikes; Paris, France has dedicated bike/bus lanes in its downtown core; London has recently implemented a congestion fee, where drivers coming into the city centre are charged a fee for doing so. This is intended to lessen congestion and increase the usage of public tranport options.

The film was good and got the point across loud and clear. Yet, it didn't really address part of the WHY behind NYC's traffic congestion (and perhaps it was beyond the scope of the film). Part of Manhattan's traffic problems stem from New Jersey, Long Island, and other outlying suburban areas that perhaps aren't as serviceable by public transporation, making the choice to drive cars a seemingly more convenient solution for commuters. NY city officials will need to come up with creative solutions to Manhattan's congestion problems, but there will also need to be a continuation of regional transportation planning, as well as land use/development planning in outlying areas to do more to increase density, and create more walkable communities and other types of actions to address the reliance on the automobile.

The second movie was a short produced by The Center for Urban Pedagogy about the waste stream in New York City. When you wash dishes, or flush the toilet where does that dirty water go? Shot and put together by a group of students, this film should be shown in schools around the city as it makes visible the invisible infrastructure known as our water/sewer system that no one really thinks about (except for the people who happen to live next to one of the treatment centers.)

Luckily the rain held off last night until the movies ended (it didn't start up again until my walk back along 23rd to the subway.)

Despite the rain this afternoon, I still might try to check out Princess Mononoke tonight - the last night of the Solar1 film series featuring a special introduction by Claire Daines. Chris Neidl, Educational and Outreach Coordinator at Solar1, says they'll wait to the absolute last minute to decide whether or not to call it off if rain happens to be a factor. (The show starts at 9).

But rain or not, the folks at Solar1 are gearing up for a great fall season of educational and other events. So be sure to visit www.solar1.org for updates on what's in store for the coming months.

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