In Transit: What Are the City Streets For?

An upcoming documentary examines the history and future of American transportation, and the complicated ways in which it impacts our lives.

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“I think a lot of people don’t consider how important transportation is in their life. It’s just something that you do. You get up and drive to work or you get up and bike or take the train, but you don’t really think about how much that affects your life.” These are the words of filmmaker Todd Drezner, discussing the motivation behind the making of his upcoming documentary, In Transit. “Transportation is not about getting from point A to point B,” he said, “It’s about access to employment and entertainment and food – it’s sort of at the centre of everything when you start thinking about it. And I don’t think most people recognize that. So that’s why this film can hopefully bring some attention to the issue.”

A few years ago, Drezner didn’t give a lot of thought to transportation either. But on a trip back from Boston to his home in New York City, Drezner got stuck in traffic. When the 109 mile drive from Boston, MA, to Westchester County, NY, took the same amount of time as the remaining 40 miles into Brooklyn, Drezner got to thinking about the future of transportation in rapidly densifying cities, and what was being done about it. As it turns out, the question was a lot more complicated than he initially thought.

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The history of US transportation is inextricable from the history of racist and classist policy-making. When the suburban project began in earnest in the 1950s, urban highways were built to enable suburban residents to quickly and easily access the city when they needed to, but return home at night. To construct infrastructure on this scale, entire neighborhoods were demolished. Almost uniformly, it was African-American neighborhoods or low-income neighborhoods that were torn down.

In Transit examines both this history, and the future of American transportation policy at a pivotal moment. For decades, American roads have been designed solely to move cars, and for decades those decisions have created or exacerbated many of the social issues urban residents now struggle with. The tide seems finally to be changing, and there is an emerging consensus among urban planners and advocates that we need to build cities for people, not just for cars. But how do we tear down the city of the automobile while simultaneously tearing down its legacy of discrimination?

In Transit explores these issues through the telling of three interconnected stories: a community struggling with the legacy of an elevated highway that destroyed an African-American neighborhood in Syracuse, NY; an African-American activist using community bike rides to build social equity in Chicago; and the controversial ride-sharing service Uber battling taxi drivers to replace the private car in New York City.

The documentary raises important questions about the future of transportation. What is the relationship between cycling and gentrification? How does Uber further marginalize recent newcomers who struggle to find work? How do we implement change quickly when the culture isn’t ready for it?

“I don’t know that I’ve discovered a bunch of answers,” admitted Drezner. “But I think I’ve discovered a bunch of questions that people need to ask before they can develop ways to make cities better or transportation more equitable.”

In Transit is currently in production. If you’d like to support the project, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.

1 Comment

  • Jeff Aicher

    Got a problem with the title. There’s already a film on Netflix with that name, by Albert Maysles. Oops. I’d love to see this one, though.

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