America's public transportation failure

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by Ari Rutenberg

In most American cities public transportation is severely lacking.
Even New York,  with its fabled subway, has a system which is old,
crowded and dirty.  Though the regional trains are new, they are all-steel
and have no suspension which means you fell every tie in the track
rather than having a smooth and seamless ride as you do on the Accela
express trains and in Europe.  I live in Amsterdam, a very small and old city with dozens of canals and narrow roads.  Yet they manage to have extensive buses, light rail (street trams), a metro, regional and national trains and even bicycle taxis, which are private but encouraged by the city for short journeys.

There is only one reason America cannot properly develop its public transport systems: because of the politicians inability to tell difficult truths to the American people.  Truths which, now that the public cannot afford to buy gas, are becoming apparent out of necessity.  European politicians are not afraid to tell the truth.  They have effectively explained to their populations that in order to prevent future growth in traffic, we must undergo a little pain now for less pain later. 

If our politicians would suck it up and stop feeding the myth that it is a right to own a car and drive that might be good place to start.  If they started explaining to Americans that instead of $200 tax cuts, we can have fast trains and extensive subway systems so they wouldn't need to drive a car,  I'm sure many people would consider that a savings given that a single fill-up can easily cost $80.

The solution is not to pander or appease, but to do the painful and intelligent thing.  In Los Angeles, for example, there is a clean, efficient new metro.  However it does not serve 80% of the metropolitan  area, and so its use is limited.  Instead of allowing Beverly Hills to interfere with expansion of the metro, the needs of the other 20 million residents of Southern California should outweigh those of the  40,000 in Beverly Hills.

Rather than the current piecemeal system, much of which is owned and operated by
the notoriously corrupt MTA, we need an integrated t
transport systems where underground rail, light rail, monorail and
extensive bus and bike lanes are planned in a coordinated and
overlapping way.  There is plenty of room to put rail on most LA
freeways given the unused space next to the center dividers and on the
shoulders.  On the street two lanes of sacrificed space for light rail
would significantly reduce traffic for the other 4 or 6 lanes of
traffic on most main thoroughfares , thus making the streets themselves  more effective, if
smaller.  It is a sham that in a modern, spacious city like Los Angeles
with a gridded street system that has more empty streets than full
cannot seem to get it together to produce a worthy public transport network.

In London, a city with winding narrow roads which is massive and
virtually impossible to navigate, they manage to find space to create
bike lanes, bus lanes (which are filled to the brim with double decker
buses), street cars, automated street cars, the London underground
(subway), the London Overground (commuter rail), as well as normal
national rail, which stops all over London and its suburbs.  Now that
is not to say there is no traffic in London: it is absolutely
horrendous.  However the level of obvious effort that goes in the the
planning and construction, if not the operation, of public
transportation in London puts any American city to shame.   

It is unfortunate that we seem to have such difficulty with this
seemingly simple issue, and doubly so because rather than trying to
educate a poorly informed population, our leaders appease them in hope
of getting elected, thus perpetuating the proble rather than solving it.  This issue is fundamental to reducing gas prices, traffic, CO2 emissions, and even fair access to services and jobs.  Until we begin to address our transportation dysfunction, we will remain a dirty, wasteful, and gridlocked  nation.