Tag Archives: Europe

What’s in an American City: Historically, Cars

Last fall, I came across a post on Vox about high-speed rail. If you’ve read some of the things I published when I first started writing, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of it. This post on Vox was meant to talk about some of the things that Americans can learn from Europeans when it comes to high-speed rail. In particular, California from Germany. The the part I want to focus on, though, is a paragraph with an historical perspective:

Europeans’ cities were more built up before the car, and they didn’t then tear their cities apart to accommodate cars and facilitate sprawl, as we did. The US is so vast that we could pave everything within 200 miles of New York City and still have more than enough land for our corn and cows. But if Europeans wanted to preserve rural areas, they would have to use urban space more efficiently, and so they have. A much greater share of the typical European metro area’s population is concentrated in its inner city. So you get dense, transit-rich cities with countryside in between.

When I first started writing about high-speed rail and even in that post I linked to in the second sentence of this post, I didn’t take into account the historical perspective. I did talk about land area, but the composition of that land area might be more important than the land area itself. If there isn’t the space “in the city” to put the high-speed rail, it’s going to take a yeomen’s effort and a healthy serving of political capital to create that space. The unfortunate part is, as time moves forward, the necessity (and gains!) of high-speed rail increase. The population of some of the biggest cities in the US (that would be served by better public transportation) is increasing and while I’m not sure the best way to measure it, I suspect that the business between cities (i.e. the necessity to travel between cities where high-speed rail would be beneficial) is probably increasing.

So, where does that leave high-speed rail proponents, aside from considering an extended trip to Europe? That’s a great question. It seems that there’s still going to be those organizations that lobby Congress, but if I had to hazard a guess (or a forecast, if you will), I suspect that the most likely way for there to be an improvement in high-speed rail in the US is some sort of catalyzing event. You might even call it a tipping point. One such way could be an increase in the cost of oil (i.e. jet fuel), skyrocketing the price of flying and forcing people to consider other modes of transportation from Chicago to New York. It might also be that a presidential candidate takes up the issue of public transportation and rides it as their “thing” to the White House (and then implements the plan within the first 100 days of office). Both of those scenarios aren’t very likely, but this pie-in-the-sky thinking is where high-speed rail proponents find themselves.

Does the Middle East Today Look Like Europe Before WWI?

I recently saw a tweet that was rather intriguing:

If you care about international relations, this probably was rather intriguing to you, too. The part that got me interested was the comparison between what Europe looked like before WWI and what the Middle East looks like today. There’s been plenty written about the Middle East with things happening in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc. So, I thought this post from Foreign Policy would make some interesting parallels between what Europe looked like then and what the Middle East looks like now.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case. It seemed that this brief article was more about what the strategy should be for the US in the region. While that’s probably important, I was more interested in looking at things from a historical perspective. As far as I can tell, history often repeats itself and as a result, it is one of our greatest teachers. So, if we could learn something about what happened in Europe before WWI, that might give us some indication of how things are going to proceed in the Middle East. Of course, it’d be purely speculative, but it might be enlightening.

I don’t know enough about what Europe looked like before WWI nor do I know enough about what the Middle East looks like now to make informed guesses. If I did, you can be sure that the rest of this post would have been a comparison of those two topics. The one thing I will say, though, is that I bet that if conflict does bubble over like the Admiral is *kind of* predicting might happen, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some parallels to what happened before WWI.

Advancing America’s Public Transportation System: High-Speed Rail in the USA

When it was first announced that the US was going to work on , I was very excited! Growing up in the , I am very familiar with the value of public transportation. I often rode a bus to and from school. As I matured and wanted to explore downtown with my friends, we’d ride the to get there from the suburban area we lived. Beyond that, when I needed to make trips between Detroit and Toronto, I would ride the between Toronto and Windsor instead of taking the 45 minute flight. Public transportation is a great way, in my opinion, to feel better about reducing one’s .

Don’t get me wrong, I love flying just as much as the next person and I’d much prefer it for travel to/from Europe to/from North America — who’d want to take a passenger ferry across the Atlantic given how much longer it would be? When I look at what the current high-speed rail map in the US looks like and then I look at the current high-speed rail map of Europe… it’s flabbergasting!   I’ve hyperlinked the two maps to bigger versions of themselves, so you can really get an idea for how much more advanced Europe is than the US when it comes to their rail system. It’s almost a little embarrassing just how much farther ahead Europe is in this regard.

Some people try to argue that Europe is much smaller, so a rail system makes more sense there. Well, as we can see from the image to the right (), Europe is not actually that much smaller than the USA. In fact, they’re pretty comparable in size. One of the reasons that Europe can sometimes be perceived as smaller than the USA is a function of . Regardless, from my perspective, there really aren’t any good reasons as to why the US hasn’t adopted a high-speed rail system. Even adds his two cents to the debate. In all my time watching Bill Nye as a kid (and in the classroom), I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak so blatantly negative about anything! He must really feel passionate about this particular circumstance.

Not everything surrounding the high-speed rail system in the US has to be about negativity. In taking a closer look at what the network of rail systems will look like when the projected plan is completed (in 2030), is kind of exciting. Passengers will be able to go from Vancouver, BC, to Miami, FL — all by high-speed rail! They could go from San Diego, CA, to Montreal, QC, again — all by high-speed rail! For me, someone who cherishes the value of public transportation, this is really exciting.

As the plans and the work for this public transportation system continue, I wonder what Europe (and Asia) will come up with next in the way of public transportation. Many areas on these continents already have high-speed rail systems, so, it is logical to think that they will be busy thinking up the next great transportation revolution. Regardless, I’m very excited to see the progress being made in the world with regard to public transportation.