60 Years of Poor Planning Coming Home to Roost
CNN is reporting that according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Americans reduced their number of miles driven year-over-year (that is, from March 2007 to March 2008) by the largest amount ever since records were started in 1942. The largest drop in miles driven by Americans ever in the 66 year history of these records, is combined with the highest usage of public transportation in 50 years, also according to the USDOT.
For the past 60 years, America has largely eschewed investing in public transport like commuter rail, light rail, and subways in favor of more and larger highways extending deeper out into the exurbs. We have eschewed land use planning in favor of allowing farmers to sell directly to developers without planning for transit infrastructure or overall city design. Mass transit is clustered in "older" cities that were built up before 1950 like Chicago, New York, and Boston, while "newer" cities like Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles are famously car dependent.
The reason the rising price of gasoline hurts so much is that, with it, 60 years of poor planning comes home to roost. 60 years of people like my former economics professor Bill Bogart driving the transportation conversation who never anticipated that the day would come when demand for transportation fuels would outstrip supply, and that energy-intensive methods of transport like cars and planes that are sexier than passenger rail would become unaffordable. 60 years of white flight and bigger McMansions further from work. 60 years of moving away from neighbors of a different color, rather than working together. 60 years of allowing inner cities to rot while tax dollars were funneled to build new roads, fire stations, water lines, and schools out where the wealthy developers were building new homes.
Of course it goes without saying that if it took us 60 years to get into this mess, its going to take more than a few months to get out.
Strap in, folks. We're in for a rough ride.