Trains and Buses to Nowhere: The Futility of Our Self-Defeating Rhetoric and Plans for Mass Transit

{the near-200MPH Shinkansen Bullet Train and Mount Fuji}

So what if we build a Midwest high-speed rail system? How would one get from their home in Carmel, IN to a train station and then from a suburban train station in Cincinnati to a meeting downtown? Well, they won’t. And this is why much, much more is needed to provide honest mass transit options in our country. Having returned from a recent trip to Japan, David Lazarus at the LA Times covers why public transit projects here will be a tough sell.

The problem is summarized by Brian Taylor, director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, “If we don’t put (the correct) policies in place here, people will look at our current investment in public transportation 10 years down the line and say what a waste it was,” Taylor said. “And then we’ll start investing again in roads.”

This same reasoning is why I think our city’s Loop Trolley is a bad project. If we are going to build mass transit it must be the right project in the right place for the right cost. And even that will meet with great resistance (see Cincinnati streetcar).

Lazarus gets the usual quotes about “increasing incentives to get Americans out of their cars” but then bizarrely concludes, “Specifically, it won’t be enough to just lay down lots of track and hope people will leap aboard trains and subways. You also have to discourage the use of cars — which most Americans won’t stand for — and make our cities considerably less comfortable.”

No. With rhetoric like this the hope for increased density and a true mass transit system dies. Exactly what’s uncomfortable about a dense city where you’re not required to drive your car to every meeting, to run every errand? Or maybe he thinks that only by making cities “considerably less comfortable” can we convince people to fund mass transit and then move to the city.


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