2010-06-04 / Columnists

Rock Solid

Gulf War II And Parking Restrictions - What Do We Value?
Commentary By Vivian Rattay Carter

What do you value? What do you care for so much that you’d give up your life for it?

This past weekend, Memorial Day (which began many decades ago as a tribute to Civil War veterans), reminded us that people in this country were once willing to kill, or be killed, for the right to own other human beings. In this day and age, it’s hard to fathom that the southern states seceded from the union to protect slavery (their “peculiar institution”) from being abolished. That aspect of the holiday’s history has certainly been de-emphasized over the years.

For the 2010 Rockaway Memorial Day parade, there was a bigger than usual effort to honor our peninsula’s World War II veterans.

Mike Honan of the American Legion is to be credited for his work in assembling the tribute during the parade and the publishing of the veterans’ impressive stories in The Wave.

I was disappointed that I could not attend the parade this year because I was moving. Boxing up and transporting all your belongings also makes you think hard about what you value. You often end up parting with many possessions and finding others stored away that you had forgotten about. As I accomplished this task that seemed sheer lunacy at best, or impossible, at worst, given my many family, work and community commitments, I reflected long and hard on why I decided to do it.

In my case, I decided that I could give up a drop-dead panoramic view of Jamaica Bay for the peace and quiet of a tree-lined block between Newport and Cronston. After several days, I have no regrets.

Though I already miss the gorgeous sunsets and crescent moons over the Bay, I don’t miss the traffic noise. If you’ve never tried to get a good night’s sleep in a home adjacent to Beach Channel Drive, take my word for it, it’s almost impossible to leave your windows open.

Since my move, I have the pleasure of awakening to the songs of the birds at sunrise.

That gets me to the point of this column. In my opinion, the automobile has really ruined a lot of great things in this country.

Most recently, The Gulf of Mexico.

The fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq are also clearly about the right to drive the cars of our choice. Lots of them. Personally, I’ve always been enamored of trains.

Sadly, we have allowed our railroads to deteriorate and failed to develop the high-speed rail that could have reduced traffic on the roads and at the airports.

Our government has always been in thrall to the lobbyists for Big Oil, Big Auto and the real estate developers who can’t seem to ever turn enough of America’s farm land into condos and sub-divisions.

It took awhile for many of us to realize it. I hope that “Gulf War II” (to coin a term for the one British Petroleum is presently fighting on our shores) is alerting even more people to the necessity of fighting to protect our remaining precious, irreplaceable, natural resources, like the marshes of Jamaica Bay.

I never got to visit the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to the spill, I never will. The habitat has been inexorably changed.

The upland communities that benefited from the oil jobs and money are now paying the price due to their proximity to this ecological disaster.

Decades ago, the west end communities here on the peninsula made an unusually vivid commitment to limit the number of cars on the streets with the controversial summer parking restrictions.

The rules have brought both good and bad. Biking and walking are a delight on summer weekends. But, on many blocks, the cars are lined up on the lawns and driveways, despoiling what may have been a front yard. The shopping block on Beach 129 Street is virtually non-navigable on Saturdays. It’s an issue that divides families—are you for or against the parking rules? What do you value? Easily accessible parking, or unbroken tree-lined vistas?

As we move into the future, it remains to be seen whether we will control the auto, or it will control us. Will we develop additional, wellplanned alternative modes of transportation like high-speed rail, ferries, jitneys, park-and-rides, express buses, water taxis and sensible bike lanes? Or will slap-dash efforts foil the chances of succeeding with these ideas?

Remember—bike lanes are not just for tourists.

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