What 'The Great Gatsby' Says About Our Antiquated Transportation System

06/14/2013 12:07 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2013

I forgot that The Great Gatsby was about Long Islanders commuting into New York City. It made me think of my own long commute into the city from New Jersey. And that really ruined things.

The Great Gatsby showed me how the cars and outfits have changed, but commuting into and out of the city has not been updated much since the 1920s. Yes, bridges and roads have been improved, but it is still faster to get to certain places via car than train.

But some significant change is on its way. The New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority is developing another option, called the East Side Access Project (ESA), to be completed in 2015. The project, which has been in the works since 1998, will create new rails and develop an existing tunnel that will reduce auto travel by more than 500,000 miles and shorten some commutes by 30-40 minutes.

For our environment, health and culture, this is good. We need better mass transit systems like ESA to reduce the harmful effects of low density living outside of large cities, better known as urban sprawl.

Families like mine might have sought suburban life outside of NYC to make it easier to raise children. But being stuck in the suburbs means cars are the most efficient way to get anywhere. I am no environmental or public health expert, but I think health would improve if we reduced dependence on cars. Even if you disregard all the air pollution, motor accidents, and pedestrian injuries associated with vehicles, there are still other problems. For example, the sheer volume of vehicles on the road slows emergency vehicles from responding to an emergency.

Still not convinced? Consider your mental health. I always plan my commutes into the city around when I think rush hour traffic will happen that day. It is a complex, scientific equation using the variables of time, weather, nimbleness of vehicle, and luck. And when that equation gets miscalculated and I get stuck in traffic, I get a little impatient (read: Road Rage).

Those cars need roads. So the government has to allot money to build and maintain roads. According to Dr. Howard Frumkin's article, "Urban Sprawl and Public Health", the more pavement that we put down, the more we expand the heat island effect. This is when the warm air is absorbed on black pavement, and then radiates back to the environment causing significant changes in the temperature. In addition, Frumkin describes the increase in roads also affects the water quantity. Rainfall does not effectively re-absorb in developed areas and therefore depletes our ground water, which is a major source of drinking water.

But that's not all--we can also consider the segregation and homogeneity that occurs in these suburban communities, the effects of driving on obesity, and the list goes on.

In expanding cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles, sprawl is becoming a large issue. I am not suggesting we get rid of cars, but I am suggesting that we develop faster rail systems to give commuters the option of public transportation to their place of work/business. These rail systems must offer incentives in time and cost. With improved transportation systems like the ESA, people like me can hope to continue mooching off of NYC in the most efficient way possible.