Tag Archives: Train

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.

High-Speed Rail in the USA: Why Hasn’t it Flourished?

Over two years ago, I wrote a post about high-speed rail in the USA. It was right around the time that the USA had announced that it was going to be improving its high-speed rail system. As someone who enjoys public transportation, it was pretty exciting to see that one would be able to travel from Montreal to San Diego by high-speed train!

While I wrote it over two years ago, it is consistently one of my most popular posts. It’s probably not fair to draw too strong a conclusion from that, but it’s reasonable to think that people are at least interested in high-speed rail in the USA. On that note, I came across a post on Mashable that offers a disheartening update to high-speed rail in the USA:

The not so good news is, if you live in the United States, you’re out of luck when it comes to HSR, thus far. High-speed rail in the U.S. is mired, for the most part, in opposing views about what’s best for the country’s travel infrastructure — and how we should pay for it.

As is the case with many ‘public goods,’ there’s always the question of who’s going to foot the bill. It seems to me, the USA, more than other countries, have a harder time coming to an agreement on who should pay for public transportation. As I mentioned in my post two years ago, most folks say that Europe is much smaller than the USA and that’s why it has public transportation galore and the USA doesn’t — incorrect. Would you believe that Europe actually has more land area than the USA? You should (Europe: 10,180,000 km²; USA: 9,826,675 km²).

After debunking the land area myth, the next logical progression is population. That is, are there enough people that even need to be transported by high-speed rail. Europe’s population is over 700 million, more than double the USA’s population. Of all the points against high-speed rail, this one seems like it’d be the most compelling. With that being said, it still stands to reason that there could be high-speed rail between the large urban centers, right?

At the beginning of the month, Business Insider created a map that showed that half of the United States lives in 146 counties. That is, half of the USA’s population is accounted for in these counties. In looking at the map, you’ll recognize many of the areas. So then why can’t the USA start its high-speed rail adventure by building between some of these urban areas? Well, we’re back at the political issue of who pays for it. Building a high-speed rail line between Chicago and Detroit crosses state lines, so who pays for it: Illinois or Michigan? And this, of course, reinvokes ideological differences.

Like the Mashable article foreshadows, the outlook for those who would find joy in the proliferation of high-speed rail doesn’t look good.

Maybe We Don’t Need to Workout At All

About a week ago, I wrote a post about the perfect exercise routine. My point was that there is no universal perfect exercise routine because there are so many different people on the planet, but that there may be some universal principles that could be applicable across peoples. It turns out that one of those “perfect” exercise routines might just be not exercising at all. Curious?

I recently came across a post from Harley Pasternak in, of all places, People. The post has a great opening illustrating just how sedentary our lives have become — amounting to the fact that we spend 45 minutes at the gym and the other 23 hours and 15 minutes sitting at our desks or sleeping. I really encourage you to read it because it paints quite a picture.

After I read it, I was reminded of the post I wrote a week ago that I referenced above (perfect routine), but also of the post I wrote about the obesity crisis. In that post, I focused on the neuromarketing aspect. That is, the idea that consumers may not have an *unbiased* choice to make when they reach for that bag of potato chips or for a second piece of chocolate cake. My main point in that post was that neuromarketing is having a large impact on the choices that are leading to the obesity epidemic. Pasternak argues that are innovation is also leading to obesity. Because we’ve worked so hard to make it easier to do things, we’ve cut out a lot of the time we spend getting from A to B or completing task A and completing task B:

They take leisurely daily walks, do their errands on foot, and walk, bicycle, or take public transportation to work. To make my case, consider this: the average European walks 237 miles every year and cycles 116 miles. The average American walks just 87 miles and cycles just 24 miles. No wonder Europeans are healthier – they’re three times as active!

It never occurred to me that public transportation would be linked to a country’s health, but I guess that just goes to show you the power of externalities and unintended consequences. This revelation makes me think that it’s even more important for the US to get on with advancing the infrastructure of the public transportation in the country.

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This brief bit about public transportation increasing a country’s health does remind me of something I read recently about the amount of time that patrons spend walking to and from public transportation. Something to the effect of it doubling the number of steps they take in a day. I couldn’t find that particular article, but I was able to find something from the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) that supports that finding:

Walking to and from public transportation can help physically inactive populations, especially low-income and minority groups, attain the recommended level of daily physical activity. Increased access to public transit may help promote and maintain active lifestyles.