Monday, November 14, 2011

Response to a Response

The following was the response to the previous post, written by two professors who reviewed it for my grade:

This student does an excellent job of acknowledging both the conceptual and
practical sides of this issue, though we think the blog itself skews toward the
practical side. The student narrates the history of Jamaica Plain in a
compelling, readable way, and his review of the options for revision to the
transportation system is levelheaded and philosophically interesting. Overall,
this is strong, engaging work -- it's strong enough that we would have liked to
see this student suggest something totally new for Jamaica Plain, which he seems
to approach doing with the penultimate paragraph about "leveling the cost" of
the subway system; however, he begins this paragraph with "It is suggested," and
the passive voice here makes it hard to tell if the student is suggesting this
as an original solution to the problem, or if this idea comes from research.
Overall, excellent!

This is my response to the critique:

I see three main criticisms of my essay, all valid: First, that I focused more on the practical problem rather than the former; second, that I did not offer my own alternative to Jamaica Plain's situation; and third, that I was passive and inexact with my discussion of leveling the subway fare.

Transit for Jamaica Plain is a conceptual problem made up of a series of practical problems. Many of the choices - including which mode of future service to implement and when - are merely judgement calls, with answers reachable by logic and study. And when such a decision is made, how to implement it will be merely an engineering problem how to run streetcar service in mixed traffic or to tunnel under a crowded neighborhood. However, all those practical problems must factor in the major conceptual element: what is, strictly speaking, best for the neighborhood may not always be the absolute best, because a major factor in the success or failure of Jamaica Plain's transportation system is public acceptance and willingness to use.

Unfortunately, this is an angle I cannot fully understand. I have never lived in Jamaica Plain, and only once have I even spent more than a few minutes there. As with any of the unique neighborhood of Boston, it has both a zeitgeist and a history that are only truly accessible to those who have become part of the place.

I would like to be able to look further into the conceptual framework of the problem, and I briefly considered it for my video for my Honors seminar before settling on a different transit-as-social-justice issue, the Green Line Extension.

I intended this as a short essay, rather than a full-blown research paper (although it's longer than all I've previously written save semester papers), and even the stripped-bare history took 900 words. Thus, I was not able to delve fully into all corners of the issue; in particular, I avoided going into too much detail of the various transit options so as to not focus too heavily on the practical angle. A huge amount of research has been done into what exactly is the best transit solution for Jamaica Plain; at the State Transportation Library downtown I found several linear feet of studies about the corridor. I only had a chance to briefly look through the most important of the batch: the 1987 study that recommended an immediate return of the previously terminated street-running service. I was uncomfortable with that conclusion for two reasons. First, it focused solely on practical issues and more or less ignored the sentiments of the group of residents who opposed the trolleys. Second, it recommended a return of service without correcting the issues that led to its cancellation (including double-parked cars blocking service, difficulty of maintaining track, and the nearby Orange Line judged to be siphoning ridership); thus, there was no suggestion of permanence. So I cannot make a truly fair judgement, and certainly without a deeper look into the literature. My personal feelings are for the return of streetcar service, but that is more a sensibility than a thoughtful judgement. I don’t believe I have a truly original solution to add merely to due the depth of the MBTA’s previous studies; however, I believe that I can add the idea that any discussion of the E branch and the 39 bus should take place in the frame of this broader conceptual view.

Discussions of the incoming fare increase are commonplace, and I have no specific source to cite for discussions of leveling the fare, although I have heard it multiple times in private discussion. I don't think that level fares would solve Jamaica Plain's situation and it fact they might make it worse by increasing the price of the #39 bus; the level fare discussion is more related to the general idea of transit equity, which certainly springs from an analysis of Jamaica Plain.

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