Friday, July 20, 2012

U.S. needs to rethink transportation

Transportation changes everything.

The steam engine freed human travel from limits determined by flesh and blood. Railroads spread one culture across an entire continent.

Superhighways transformed America and eventually the world, spawning commuting, suburbs, long-distance trucking, oil empires and, at least partially, global warming.

This month, President Obama signed a bipartisan $105 billion transportation bill for much-needed repairs to current roads and bridges for two years. Sadly, very little of this funding is about big changes.

Access to transportation affects everyone—urbanites, suburbanites, elderly, disabled, the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Life is significantly improved when people can actually get where they need to be or want to go.

Public transportation is the reality in most of the rest of the world. In the Third World, public transportation means packed, smelly, dangerous buses. In Japan, it means the bullet train. California recently approved $3 billion in state funding to begin construction of high-speed rail to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.

California's commitment to the kind of transportation common in other industrialized nations, and increasingly in China, is the exception in America, not the rule. This country has fallen decades behind in a segment of the public sector that once made us the envy of the world.

Gas taxes, by law, cannot be used for mass transit. In fact, 80 percent of all public transportation money goes to highways.

Transportation changes everything, but unless this country expands its vision beyond cars and concrete, it will continue along an unwise and narrow path, changing things for the worse.

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