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Opening Arguments

World weary

A lot of administration critics have complained that under George Bush, America has had too much of a "Get lost!" attitude about the rest of the world. I suspect that the rest of the world would be too much with us under an Obama administration. This snippet from an Obama speech has gotten a lot of comment:

We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times," and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK. That's not leadership."

That's looking the world for approval, which doesn't seem like a good way to set national policy, let alone tell me what temperature I should keep my home at. There is also looking to the rest of the world for examples of how to live, which might or might not be a good idea, depending on the example. Here's New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who really ought to consider asking for a job as Obama's economic adviser, on looking to Germany for how to cope with fuel and transportation cost worries:

To see what I'm talking about, consider where I am at the moment: in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood consisting mainly of four- or five-story apartment buildings, with easy access to public transit and plenty of local shopping.

It's the kind of neighborhood in which people don't have to drive a lot, but it's also a kind of neighborhood that barely exists in America, even in big metropolitan areas. Greater Atlanta has roughly the same population as Greater Berlin — but Berlin is a city of trains, buses and bikes, while Atlanta is a city of cars, cars and cars.

And in the face of rising oil prices, which have left many Americans stranded in suburbia — utterly dependent on their cars, yet having a hard time affording gas — it's starting to look as if Berlin had the better idea.

He does admit that "changing the geography of American metropolitan areas will be hard." We like our houses, and we love our cars. I think "ompossible" might be a better word. Public transit has never really caught on here in a big way, and it likely never will.


Tue, 05/20/2008 - 11:55am

It will catch on when people figure out that the price of oil isn't ever going back down any appreciable amount, and then discover that they really *can't* afford to maintain a car-centric lifestyle anymore.

tim zank
Tue, 05/20/2008 - 1:06pm

Sorry, but mass transit will never "catch on" here. As gas prices have gone up, consumption has not flagged one little bit.

People have adapted obviously, and will continue to do so. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, the end of the world will not be this year.

Bob G.
Tue, 05/20/2008 - 1:43pm

When I moved here, I was amazed at the LACK of mass transit (compared to the East coast), and then I saw some old photos of the transit lines this city USED to have (trackless trolleys, inter-urban rail, etc), and I'm still wondering WTF???

This city just doesn't get it.
(in more ways than one)


Harl Delos
Tue, 05/20/2008 - 2:29pm

So tell me, Bob, how do you go to the supermarket and bring home a week's worth of food, including several gallons of milk for the kids, on a bus that stops 4 blocks from your house? Do you leave 16 bags on the sidewalk while you walk home with the 4 you can carry, and hope that there's 10 or 12 bags left by the time you return?

The reason Fort Wayne doesn't have much in the way of mass transit is that it doesn't make sense. A city bux needs 80 parking spaces for bus stops, but it carries an average of five passengers. Although a bus's 5 MPH looks efficient, it really isn't, because passengers end up riding 10 miles on the bus instead of the 2 miles it would take in a car. Pulling in and out of traffic, a city bus tends to cause traffic problems. That's good for body shop operators, bad for people who buy insurance.

There's a need for public transportation, so drunks can go home without driving, and so that epileptics can get around. Taxis work for that, though.

The reason east coast cities still have mass transit is because they are more corrupt, and the politicians need to pass out jobs and contracts to their buddies.

Tue, 05/20/2008 - 3:07pm

Look, folks, rightly or wrongly, the infrastructure of this country is built on the concept of cheap, readily available gasoline. Corrupt government or not, mass transit actually works with some degree of success in certain densely populated areas of the US like the East Coast and Chicago, but it is largely untenable in the short term in most areas of the country.

Millions and millions of Americans live in cities and towns much smaller than Fort Wayne. Are we going to interconnect them all with some sort of mass transit? Not in our lifetime, unless you know where to find a few extra trillion dollars lying around.

When the interurbans ,etc.,existed, the average working man could not generally afford to have his own automoblie or, in the case of rail, the system predated the widespread use of cars. That Fort Wayne let those systems die is hardly unique to this city.

As it is, your mass transit options are pretty limited in, say, Montana. At some point in the future, perhaps mass transit will be a more important factor than it is now. At that unknown time, we may also have more energy resources of many kinds, gasoline included, and we may have figured out how to sustain and grow the economy using less energy per capita than we do now, but none of that is going to happen soon.

In the meantime, plan on more pain at the pump.

tim zank
Tue, 05/20/2008 - 5:53pm

As with most of our dilemma's, any government quick fix will bring along with it scads of unintended consequences. Not only would mass transit be terribly impractical, expensive and inefficient geographically, it simply cannot replace the auto for a number of reasons, the biggest one being EMPLOYMENT. This country produces and sells and fuels between 16 and 17 million new vehicles a year not to mention fueling the multi-millions of existing cars, trucks, buses, etc and not surprisingly, MILLIONS of peoples jobs are indirectly tied to the maintenance, repair, fueling, manufacturing and sale and distribution of the automobile...Think about all the businesses that are related to the automobile industry, there are over 3,000 components in a new car and they all get made by somebody. And what happens to the real estate values, the employees, and the neighbors of over 200,000 gas stations throughout the country? Think about it for a minute, The ramifications of alternative energy away from gasoline are staggering from an employment standpoint.

This country ain't moving away from the internal combustion engine anytime soon. We'll see cleaner technology, but we won't see the demise of the automobile in the next couple of lifetimes.