Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cultural Benefits of Light Rail Travel

The practical and public benefits of light rail travel have been well-documented. Light rail travel eases highway congestion, reduces gas expenses, and provides affordable transportation for low-income workers. Groups such as Citizens for Modern Transit have noted additional light rail benefits relating to the environment, economic concerns, and health related issues.

But there are some intrinsic cultural benefits, that is, some internal advantages to how we perceive and experience the world that light rail travel might also influence. These benefits hardly appear in the quantifiable data important to public officials and number-crunchers.

The cultural advantages of light rail travel that we have in mind require different methods of recognition and measurement.

Traveling along the light rail route allows riders to consider the interconnections between diverse groups of people. A trip from the Shiloh-Scott stop to Lambert scarcely constitutes a class on diversity. Yet, traveling together with people of different races, socio-economic statuses, ages, and origins can prompt expanded considerations of the various cultures that reside within our region.

Imagine what it means to observe multiple fashion sensibilities, different language styles, and varied social habits and interactions in daily commutes. Light rail travel can elevate cultural awareness.

Traveling along the light rail also gives riders the chance to consider the connections between Belleville, Fairview Heights, East St. Louis, Downtown St. Louis, and Clayton, to name a few stops on the route for example, in more tangible ways. Regular commuters can gain subtle yet enduring lessons in the local geography.

The light rail’s most prevalent service--that of getting workers to and from their places of employment--provides commuters with opportunities to witness fellow passengers on the pathways to earning a living.

Image: courtesy of H.R. for Along the Light Rail

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