When I heard that the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau & Sport Commission plans next month to launch a campaign to rebrand the region, I began to think, what’s Long Island’s biggest branding challenge?
The answer is easy. Traffic!
When I was growing up in Massapequa in the 1960s, my father’s relatives from Brooklyn would visit on occasion. Invariably, the first hour was spent talking about traffic. If they didn’t “hit any” on the way, we’d thank God for their good fortune. If they did, well, there were lamentations all around about how traffic had “gotten worse these days.”
Horror stories of sitting in bumper-to-bumper backups abounded, and there was a consensus that “The Belt” was a “nightmare” and, “Somebody should do something.”
Decades later, a college chum from another state told me after visiting here, “Mike, I love you. You and your family are welcome at our house anytime. But I can’t make this trip anymore because of the traffic.”
It’s not just my family and friends, either. For as long as I can remember, anytime any development plans for anywhere on Long Island have been announced, you can bet your last gallon of gas it draws objections about more traffic.
According to legend, Yogi Berra was once asked about whether he liked a certain restaurant. He famously replied, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
We know what he meant. In fact, it’s possible Long Island has become that restaurant. But if nobody wants to visit or live here because there’s so much traffic, then why is there so much traffic?
I’d like to suggest that we’re looking at the situation all wrong.
Instead of cursing the crowds, shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that Long Island is so special, 2.7 million people call it home? Ironically, much of Long Island’s traffic problems can be attributed to its beauty. When Robert Moses designed his parkways — literally, roads connecting his myriad parks in the region — he envisioned city folks taking leisurely Sunday drives to admire Long Island’s scenery. It seems unlikely that he ever thought the Northern and Southern State parkways would accommodate hundreds of thousands of commuters a day. Even if he had, a better road system most likely would have resulted in even more people moving here.
It would be one thing if Long Island’s traffic woes were tied to a long line of cars permanently exiting the Island. But really, our traffic jams every morning and evening, and other times, too, reflect a thriving, regional economy. Cars invading the Hamptons and North Fork represent tourists spending their dollars on Long Island, feeding the families of workers and business owners and contributing to the coffers of local governments. Crowded malls and busy downtowns around the holidays mean people have money to spend on gifts.
Chances are, the reason some regions of the country have minimal traffic is because fewer people want to call those places home. There’s no getting around the reality of our overflowing roads, so we should celebrate them instead of crying about it.
Granted, the slogan “Long Island, we’re so great it takes you an hour to get where you’re going” might not fit on a bumper sticker, but it certainly takes regional pride to a new dimension — and would give my relatives from Brooklyn something new to talk about.
Reader Michael Watt lives in Babylon.