Why American public transport is so bad

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/10/23/why-american-public-transport-is-so-bad.html


If I remember my L.A. history correctly most of that region’s transit problems can be traced to the time when Judge Doom dismantled the Red Car and destroyed ToonTown so he could build a freeway.


For a few years I was flying weekly for work, and I lamented the inability to take a train home and relax. All it would take is a train line which connected other train lines. Ideally a grid of train lines connecting the suburbs.

Well. Eventually I learned we used to have something like that where I live.

The old Interurban railways when the Car era hit in the late 40’s and 50’s were converted to bike paths. Frustrating.


This is so true. I live on a bus line, I would take it every day to my job downtown, but what takes me 10 minutes to drive is a 1.5 hour, two transfer nightmare on my cities public transit.


Enter AI…

Eminent domain lawyer not included.


7 miles is a biking distance that is both strenuous and unsafe…

…said the man in the video, without providing any evidence. Safety depends on what sort of roads are used and strenuous depends on who you are, but most fit adults ought to be able to cycle 7 miles in 30-40 mins, which is probably what it takes them to drive in many places. And then there’s e-bikes…


Torontonian here and yeah, no; buses do NOT RUN EVERY 5 MINUTES IN EVERY NEIGHBHOURHOOD!!! Geez louise, this guy is talking out of his … hat.

The SUBWAY runs about every 5 minutes, and sometimes less, but buses? No.


Give people secure, reliable, efficient, frequent and predictable public transit service and they will take it over a car. I’ll always remember watching the movie Her, set in a future L.A., where the L.A. audience cheered when the protagonist took a subway from downtown to the beach in Santa Monica. If that hunger is there in the capital of American car culture, it’s there elsewhere in the country.

It’s long past time that the toxic urban design philosophy of Robert Moses is retired, and with it the equally toxic idea that owning a depreciating asset that’s expensive to buy and maintain and that sits idle 90% of the time is some kind of signifier of rugged individualism.


Planning Commission: Why do all the residential zones have one-way transport lines to something called “organic energy harvesting?”

AI algorithm: Uh… technical reasons. Don’t worry about it.


Racism, final answer.


i believe the big 3 in Detroit had something to do with where we are today.


It seems this topic really needs to start with the historical answer that tranportation was designed by white men with the goal of maintaining and increasing their social dominance. The american dream was a house in the suburbs that could only be reached by car. The man would drive his car to work leaving the wife stranded in the safe, isolated suburb. Having public transport would mean that minorities from the city could go to the burbs and the man had to worry about where the womenfolk might go during the day. The setup is one where car ownership grants social control, built by white men at a time when car ownership was almost completely limited to them. Like most US social problems, its not an accident, its by design


Amazing how the next expressway or toll road just happens to always run thru minority neighborhoods isn’t it?


I know you’re joking, but that plot line has a basis in real history.


The US is absolutely chock full of “failed” public transport projects that can’t pay for themselves…when competing against automobiles running on taxpayer funded roads. If every road was a toll road Americans would take mass transit a lot more. It’s insane that we insist that the public transport options fund themselves.

It should be noted that the one form of public transport that does usually manage to stay afloat in the US is busses, because busses use the taxpayer funded infrastructure and aren’t saddled with those maintenance costs.


Indeed. A lot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an homage of sorts to Chinatown—which similarly took a real chapter of Los Angeles history (William Mullholland’s aqueduct project) and fictionalized it into a gritty neo-noir detective story.


I’m not getting back on corona cans until we get the pandemic sorted.


Around here, the rails got buried under road pavement.


There’s a great SF short story about an alternate history where the interurbans won out.

Also, “streetcar suburbs” are still far more pleasant to live in than the car-centric ones. Transit-oriented development is a kind of return to that concept.

For those interested in how their current or future address stacks up, this site is a great resource:


This is a great YouTube channel about bike (and public transport):

Apparently we’re doing something right in the Nederlands. Nice thing is, most of these could incrementally be added to each city given time and effort. And even some streets set up in this way would improve a city.