Masters of Distance

Image Courtesy of Bart Everson.  Used under CC-2.

By: Yorgo Douramacos

Cars, highways, airplanes, buses, trains: we have defeated distance.

Time and space are ours to shape and utilize. Yet we have not expressed mastery over distance. Instead we are satisfied to merely dominate it. Mastery requires elegance, rational, and a sense of having chosen the best option rather than just the most immediate.

What might that look like?

Let me define what I mean. The state of Indiana has a population of roughly 6.6 million. According to the Bureau of Transportation statistics, as of 2012 it also had 5.95 million registered motor vehicles. Each of those vehicles runs daily to conquer the specter of distance. That is nearly a 1 to 1 ratio of solution to problem. That is what I mean by dominance. Each individual must overcome each individual distance and by means of an individualized solution each and every time the problem is encountered. There is no system, no forethought, no mastery.

Mastery means maximizing a solution’s effectiveness to reduce the problem’s impact on the individual. Lifting a weight with just your arms and hands shows dominance. Lifting it with the benefit of a lever and other hands shows mastery.

If highway transit as it is represents a daily reassertion of our dominance over distance, a sort of redundant and hubristic gloating over the body of our foe, integrated mass transit is dominance translated into mastery. Instead of a highway congested with thousands of individuals all lifting a 100% share of the same weight the system becomes a lever and fulcrum with a multitude of hands working to lift the weight together.

Car ownership is wonderful, freeing and destined to be part of any healthy and effective transit system. But the de facto requirement of car ownership is onerous and impractical. The risks of driving are sobering and pervasive. And for a culture that so long ago overcame distance as a barrier to daily life such a blunt and un-nuanced solution should strike us as antiquated and embarrassing.   

Yorgo Douramacos is a researcher and documentary director for the Indiana Crossrails project.