Get On Your Feet
Twentieth century culture has imagined lots of sci-fi forms of transportation: Disneyesque monorails, the supersonic slot cars from Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, the personal helicopters in Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City. Worried about road rage? Imagine sky rage. But to answer the transit question, don't go high-tech—or even low-tech. Go no-tech.
A 2005 Washington Post survey shows that while a large majority of commuters praise the convenience of transit systems such as the Washington Metro, they rarely use them. People love their independence. The problem is not traffic, it's commuting—not the form of it, but the fact of it.
In that same survey, one obvious form of transportation never came up: walking. Given the choice, wouldn't you rather stroll 15 minutes than sit bumper-to-bumper for 25? The challenge of public transportation is an opportunity for public health. The World Health Organization reports that a billion people are overweight because of fatty diets and inactivity, and suburban sprawl contributes to this because it limits casual exercise.
Let's invest in the infrastructure of the human body. To get people out of their cars and onto their feet, the means are simple: more mixed-use zoning; more medium-scale, high-density development; more trails and sidewalks; incentives for businesses to locate near residential areas and for individuals to work close to home; better public education about the health benefits of being active. We can solve the traffic problem and make better communities and healthier people at the same time.
We need Jane Jacobs, not George Jetson— less Buck Rogers and more Mr. Rogers.
Director, William McDonough + Partners, Charlottesville, Va.
Make Mass Transit More Convenient
I would increase the funding for large-scale intercity and intracity mass transit projects to increase mobility of people at a smaller cost to the environment. Creating public-private partnerships with transit-product manufacturers to engineer a more evolved product is important as well. Ultimately, the biggest barrier to wider use of public transit is the convenience factor; increased funding for existing programs could expand capacity, frequency, and routes, which would promote their use.
Public transportation will become one of the most important components of our world as the population and its environmental awareness grow. We should fund decision making that will create available, convenient, environmentally responsible, and efficient transportation for all users and types.
Chair of the Student Representative Council, American Planning Association, and graduate student, the University of Colorado, Denver
What to Fix and What Not to Build
I don't understand how we've let this country fall into disrepair. We've barely started to rebuild New Orleans. Amtrak has been hanging together by a thread for years. That bridge that fell down in Minnesota isn't being rebuilt yet.
How did this happen?
There are two things I wouldn't do with $1.6 trillion. I wouldn't build a toll road and sell it to foreign investors. And I wouldn't build a NAFTA superhighway. Americans should be the ones who benefit from the roads, bridges, railroads, airspace, and waterways they pay for.
Our roads are choking in traffic. We need to fix them and build more.
Amtrak is falling apart. We need to invest enough money to bring it into a state of good repair. Some of our ports are jammed. We need to expand them so port drivers don't wait in line for five hours to pick up a shipping container. Our biggest airports are overwhelmed by air traffic. We need to bring the airspace into the 21st century.
We need to make sure bridges don't fall down and airplanes don't crash. We must pay for people to inspect bridges and railroad tracks and airplane maintenance hangars.
—James P. Hoffa
General president, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Invest in Government
Our nation has not invested as we must in roads, bridges, and transit—and our lack of investment has serious consequences. I say this as the mayor of a city recovering from a tragedy that was not an act of God, but a failure of man.
We should take this core lesson from the tragedy of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis: When you invest in quality government, you get quality results. When you don't invest, there are consequences. Our country's highest priorities for investment include repairing our critical bridges, dramatically increasing and expanding transit options, and—as Minneapolis has done—offering high-quality public drinking water to residents.
Mayor of Minneapolis
Bolster Manufacturing, Sustainably
If I had a trillion dollars, to paraphrase the Barenaked Ladies, I'd first and foremost invest in the manufacturing base that has driven our nation's economy for more than a century. America has the technological know-how to produce thousands of consumer goods—including safe, efficient, high-quality cars and trucks—that equal or surpass the world's best. Our nation's factories need investment dollars to enable them to produce those goods and bring them to market in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable.
Coupled with manufacturing investment, we must invest in the infrastructure that will bring alternative fuels to our neighborhoods. We can produce vehicles today that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce our nation's carbon footprint. To make them practical and desirable, we must be able to plug in, refuel, or recharge in a safe and convenient manner.
Americans want to do the right thing environmentally and will put their transportation dollars where their hearts are as soon as it becomes practical for them to do so. We should do all we can to make that possible.
Group vice president, global manufacturing, Ford Motor Co.
Urban Wish List
My wish list for modes of transportation, as an urban dweller and not so much as an architect:
- In the city, an extensive, high-frequency subway system (if not this, the bus is a good alternative): “extensive” meaning at any given point in the city you can find a station within 500 feet in any direction; “high-frequency” meaning a train comes every two minutes—and it ought to be on time.
- Continuous pedestrian and bicycle paths. It is best to have a Strida (a well-designed folding bike that I have) so you can take it on the subway. Maybe Segways can share the bicycle paths.
- A fast intercity railway that runs something like the bullet train in Japan or the TGV in France or the proposed Beijing–Shanghai maglev. Anyway, it should not take more than two hours to get to New York City from Boston. I will be happy to see the Amtrak trains in a museum somewhere.
- It's OK to drive after all, as long as it's in a Prius. One to three are the areas where money should be spent.
—Yung Ho Chang, professor and head of the Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Redefine The Federal Strategy
The federal surface transportation programs have morphed from a major focus on building the interstate system to having almost no purpose other than doling out money to states and transit agencies. With the dual threats of climate change and rising energy costs, it is time to define the federal interest in transportation to incorporate these issues along with several others, such as our aging population and the globalization of trade.
Upcoming congressional authorizations for passenger rail, highway, and transit offer the chance to define a new transportation mission for intercity corridors, metropolitan areas, and the most vulnerable of our society: the elderly, disabled, and working families.
Anne P. Canby
President, Surface Transportation Policy Partnership