CHICAGOANS RECENTLY WON THE battle against major cuts to their mass transit system – and a good thing, too. Last Thursday I sat on a packed bus running down Division street and saw many anxious faces as an automated announcement informed riders that the bus route they were on, and many others around the city, would cease to exist if funding was rejected.
Yet the Chicago Tribune reports today that the fight, nationwide, is far from over. Officials released a report commissioned by Congress on the state of transit in the US and, unsurprisingly, things look pretty grim. The report calls for massive improvement; among the suggestions are the rebuilding of roads, the freight rail system and urban mass transit, and embarking on new efforts to lessen congestion. The catch? A $225 billion investment annually over the next half-century. Needless to say, tax opponents jumped on the issue.
Wired blogger Alexander Lew explains why ignoring mass transit options will degrade the quality of our cities – from a different approach. Lew says that, contrary to the perception of mass transit as the vehicle of the poor, access to transit actually drives up property values and has the potential to revitalize run-down neighborhoods. (In this vein he also argues, in a positive light, that mass transit has aided the gentrification process. Pick your side of that debate – I won’t do it in this post.)
Meanwhile in Los Angeles there is much talk of turning carpool lanes into toll lanes on 85 miles of three freeways as a way of encouraging citizens to use mass transit. The so-called “congestion pricing” will demand higher tolls when traffic is bad, and may even try to charge drivers more for each person in the car; it’s unclear how such a system would work. Critics say that would essentially punish people for carpooling. I have my own doubts about whether a toll system would make things better, but it’s an idea. (More info on LA mass transit here.)
As I blogged about here earlier, Seattle’s mass transit system is looking up – a trolley system serving the downtown area recently opened, and the light rail between Seatac International Airport and downtown will open in 2009. At the same time, King County Executive Ron Sims criticizes the area’s roads and transit package for its shortcomings, but then is short-sighted himself.
Beijing will run its subway system longer hours during the Olympic games, and may even run it 24 hours during the opening and closing ceremonies. But will they really ban all those cars? If they do, might Bejingers decide that they want to keep those blue skies and dust off their bicycles? We can hope.
And in Seoul, as part of President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s sweeping motions to create a tighter government, it was announced today that Seoul Metro will cut its payroll over 20 percent by 2010. The metro branch runs lines 1-4 of the Seoul subway system. Lee’s nickname, “the bulldozer,” given during his time at the Hyundai corporation, may take on a more negative connotation as his actions come to be viewed as increasingly brash.
Neil Fraser at the City of Johannesburg posts two articles on the walkability of cities written by Washington Post columnist Neal Pierce. Fraser says that in South Africa a pedestrian is struck by a motorist every 78 minutes, and that the nation drastically needs to reevaluate its transit options.
And finally, just for fun, Strange Maps posts a map drawn up by Sir Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928) showing what a “Slumless, Smokeless City” would look like.
Photo: metro woman, by Extra Medium. tokyo.