What’s Your Dream For American Transit?

Gas costs have skyrocketed, and with them, the cost of flying.  This greenie isn’t 100% upset: with the cost of fuel increasing exponentially in the past few years, people are examining their transportation patterns and needs and trying to find cost- and fuel-effective methods of getting from Point A to Point B.  Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars are selling well, and ridership on public transit is up.  But for many Americans, particularly those in smaller cities and towns, public transit is non-existent.  For those living anywhere but the East Coast, Amtrak is slow, unreliable, or non-existent.   We’re a country for whom the cost of cheap fuel has promoted individual car use to the detriment of other forms of transportation.

Here in the Midwest, it’s incredibly frustrating how limited rail and bus is.  I frequently travel between St Louis and Minneapolis, and unless I have the luxury of a few days to travel, rail and bus are extremely inconvenient.  Don’t get me started about trying to get to Des Moines, where my parents live, from St Louis–it’s basically fly or drive.  Flying has become extremely expensive and unthinkably uncomfortable.  I find myself wedged in a coach seat longing for the relative space and comfort of Amtrak but knowing that my options from St Louis are limited.

Fortunately, change is bubbling.  Talk of expanding mass transit is everywhere.  California just greenlighted a high-speed bullet-style train from LA to San Francisco that will make the almost 400-mile trip in less than three hours.  Democratic Party Vice-Presidential Nominee Joe Biden is an Amtrak enthusiast who has used the rail system religiously during his time on Capitol Hill, and he and Barack Obama pledge to expand mass transit if elected.  Public transportation is experiencing record ridership as people abandon their cars for the cost-saving (and often time- and peace of mind-saving) bus or light rail in their cities.

I made a list in my head of the traits my dream transit system would embody.  It would include efficient, extensive bus systems like in Curitiba, Brazil.  It would include high-speed, intercity rail systems like those in Japan, and those systems would connect every state and all major cities.  Rail systems would offer sweet weekend deals for leisure travelers, like when I lived in Germany and five people could travel anywhere on Deutsche Bahn for 28€ total.  There would be an expansion of bike lanes and bike paths for two-wheeled transportation.  And, all these things would pay for themselves through fuel taxes or carbon taxes, and citizens would view transit as an efficient system that truly served them.  Car ownership would truly become an option for most Americans.

So what’s your dream for transit in America?

How can we implement infrastructures that will not only encourage mass transit, but make it affordable, convenient, reliable, and environmentally-friendly?  What models can we look to when planning?  What experiences abroad have you had that you wish we could have here?  Do you think these dreams can or will become a reality?  What obstacles are stopping us from extensive, efficient, affordable mass transit?

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  1. Jon

    Why is the bicycle not mentioned? I commute on my bike every day. Combination commuting using bicycle and train, or bicycle and bus should be much more widespread. Just prior to making my decision to cycle instead of drive to the train station it struck me how stupid driving to the station was when I then went to the gym to exercise. I was wasting time,gas, and polluting my children’s planet for no reason at all. Bicycle commuting saves both time and lots of money. I recently sold my car.

  2. Chris Taylor

    My dream is battery electric cars. Potentially zero pollution (with solar suppliment on each roof) Zero cost to drive Virtually Zero maintenance and Virtually Everlasting (compared to today’s cars)

    No more rust no more corrosion No more complicated moving parts to fail. Just cheap reliable solid state parts and a nearly everylasting Electric motor. Virtual eliminate of unemployment a new golden age for the lower 90% of the US population.

    Total complete driving freedom. All we need is for the gov to revoke the NIMH patent that chevron refuses to license which is the ONLY reason we are not driving electric cars today. You see GM made an electric car with 120-150 mile range over 10 years ago they crushed them (literally) and sold the patent to chevron via texaco and they REFUSE to license them. Go figure.

  3. nirad

    safe, grade-separated bike lines to take the place of street parking, which is basically a government subsidy for using a car. basic things like wider, cleaner, well-lit sidewalks that encourage people to walk. dedicated bus lanes on both arteries and freeways, because the entire public right-of-way doesn’t need to be given over to inefficient private automobiles.

  4. rockymtnway

    I agree, Kelli, and it’s not just the rising price of fuel. The slowing of the economy in the US will do more to save the planet than a million CFLs. If you compare the June 2008 gasoline demand to the June 2007 consumption, that $4.00/gallon gas cut usage by over 8%, saving over four million gallons of gasoline.

    Unfortunately, the shift in our economy, from petrolium based to some alternative(s) is going to be painful. The last few days have been just a taste of what’s to come. The good news is that people are motivated by pain and if that pain comes in the form of a $400 heating bill, they might find the time to replace that drafty back door on their house. If they find the pain of a $100/week visit to the gas station too much, they might start looking at an Accord to replace that Expedition. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy, but the motivations are finally falling into place.

  5. Karmalily

    I’m a student at a university in North Carolina, and last year one of my professors mentioned a plan that was being considered that would build a monorail type deal connecting all UNC colleges around the state. Similar plans in all states would yield great results.

  6. Derek

    The most efficient form of transportation on the planet is the bicycle.

    I think that the mass production of human-powered “cars” is the most viable option, as we already have the technology, and it’s safe and reliable.

    I would love to see something kinda like a pedicab, with room for a family and groceries, etc., and maybe a convertible top for wet/freezing conditions, that didn’t also cost as much as a car. The Rhodes car comes to mind, but I’m sure there are other designs out there.

  7. bob the mob

    Rail is too costly unless the infrastructure for passenger service was built a hundred years ago using near slave-labor wages and unsafe practices (see also: Dubai’s current construction boom). Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The passenger rail system in the US declined due to the overwhelming convenience of getting in your car and driving to where you were going, or getting in a plane and being several thousand miles away mere hours later. Rail did neither.

    Europe was lucky (sort of) by having all of their major population centers get the crap bombed out of them in WWII. When they rebuilt, they recognized the necessity of mass transit, and built accordingly.

    The interstate highway system goes within a few miles of nearly every town in the US. A subsidized (OH NOES COMMUNISM!!!) country wide bus system would be an ideal compromise between the clogging arteries of the passenger air travel network, and the freight-based infrastructure (and almost completely privately owned) of the current US rail network.

    @Chris Taylor

    Chevron holds no controlling patent on NiMH batteries. Stop regurgitating ignorant paranoid conspiracy theories from the loons on Wikipedia.

  8. Anna Dell´Era

    Greetings! And congratulations on info packed articles. Concerning transportation, we,(our daughter, husband, and I) live in the Alsacian town of Kembs(Cambete, roman), France which is part of the Dreilandereck(German translation) or Les Trois Frontieres(French translation) which means meeting point of the three countries Germany, France and Switzerland. Our village operates a Distribus system in which one must call, make a reservation, pay about 2.40 Euro, enter the bus and arrive at a destination point in France or Basel, Switzerland hassle-free. Once in Basel,Switzerland, connecting trams(electrically operated by overhead cables) get you from Point A to B. Also, a Dreilanderecke German/ French connection boasts a beautiful walking bridge over the Rhine River where villagers from St. Louis, France and Weil am Rhein, Germany can conveniently walk or bike over to their neighborhing countries. Tourists appear to love this bridge. Highways are less congested and oil costs are reduced.

    Good luck with your survey!

  9. Bobby B.

    My dream…a functioning transporter room that can beam me from home to work and back again. I could probably slam the snooze alarm at least three more times each morning with all that extra time. 😉

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