Every week, five days out of seven, I load up my car and drive two and a half miles from my home in Poughkeepsie to Vassar College. I drop my son off at the Vassar Infant Toddler Center, and I park on Raymond Avenue, normally next to Chicago Hall. Roughly once a week I wish that I didn’t have to drive. The Arterial is an annoyance; I always get stuck at the same two red lights and the bicyclists genuinely have me concerned for their safety as they carelessly zip around ongoing traffic. I wish I could just ride my bike or take the bus. It’s more environmentally friendly and would save me roughly $60 to $80 in gas every month. Unfortunately, there is no direct bus line from my house to Vassar. Instead, my options are limited to a 20-minute bike ride along streets with zero bike lanes, walking for 45 minutes or driving for eight. The choice is easy for me. I am privileged enough to own a car and even more privileged that the price of gas doesn’t break my wallet. But what about everyone else?
There are roughly 30,000 people living in Poughkeepsie. According to Point2homes, Poughkeepsie’s top three means of transportation are car, bus and walking. Approximately 1,000 people walk and another 1,000rely on the bus and train system for transportation. If 2,000 people are either relying on public transportation or walking, then why are both the City and Town of Poughkeepsie failing them? I’ve started counting bus stops when I see them. So far I’ve seen two by Vassar, one by a middle school on Hooker Avenue, one at Adams and another at Stop & Shop. Every single bus stop I have seen is on the Arlington side of Poughkeepsie. For those that don’t know, Arlington is the area surrounding Vassar College. According to DataUSA, the median income in Arlington is $65,850 compared to the median income of Poughkeepsie residents, at $47,000.
I figured that surely I was mistaken on where the bus stops were. I spend a lot of time at Vassar, so logically it makes sense that I would see the most bus stops in this area. So I hopped on the Dutchess County Public Transportation website. Poughkeepsie has 13 bus lines, each with eight to 15 stops, depending on the line. That is a decent number of stops, but as I started to actually look at each route, I realized something strange. Every bus line, with the exception of three, moves in a straight line with huge gaps between stops. Some lines stop once per town as they move through Dutchess County. Poughkeepsie actually only has a few stops on each bus line. There are three lines dedicated to the community of Poughkeepsie. All have stops in Arlington, but none cross the Arterial toward the community between Marist and Dutchess community. I never realized it, but I live in a dead zone. There are no bus stops or grocery stores. The closest are both a mile away, newly built in close proximity to Marist College.
The bus stops have another built-in issue. Accessibility isn’t just a matter of distance, but a matter of location. Over half of the bus stops that I’ve seen have been a singular sign planted in a grassy medium between the curb and maybe a sidewalk. There is no bench to sit on or shelter to wait under. With some not even having a sidewalk leading to the stops, they are effectively islands in a void. We live in the Northeast. Snow, ice and rain are all common occurrences. Summers can get hot, especially in the sunshine for extended periods. In times when we are reminded to bring in our pets to avoid hot or cold weather injuries, we are also expecting our neighbors to wait for a bus with no protection from the elements. Add all of that to the lack of proper sidewalks, and our bus system is only truly accessible to the healthiest, most mobile citizens for the majority of the time.
The Vassar community cares about the environment. Vassar’s students have led campaigns for carbon neutrality, composting, sustainable agriculture, etc. We are a community of tree-huggers, if you will. A subpar public transportation system means that people in our community are being denied access to more than just environmental justice. They are being denied access to better food, to better jobs, to better healthcare. A better public transportation system benefits us all. It’s time we demand it.