Kyoto is far away.
Light rail in my city is favored based on a perception that it will improve property values. However, the people that support public transportation worry about costs so much that they are designing systems that only current bus riders will consider using. "We" will continue to drive on our grid-locked roads and the value of our houses will increase. "Those people" without cars (renters) will ride public transportation whether we make them wait outside in below zero weather, and whether public transit is twice as slow as the drive. "We" buy into our full color 17" x 24" report with the rhetoric of spurring development. "We" infer increasing property values, based on examples that are better designed, and then build the rail line.
It is a starvation of funds that leads us to create the rail projects for "those people", not the rest of us. The total FTA budget for public transportation is less than $10 billion per year. (Keep in mind that a status quo cheaply designed light rail line in a city costs at least $1 billion, and to network a city will cost at least $15 billion.) This is why American cities have not built subways in the past fifty years, except for BART in San Francisco, the Baltimore line and the Metro rail in D.C., each 25 years ago, if you want to count them-- much is above ground.
We need to increase the federal budget for public transit, perhaps to $100 billion. Both "we" and "those people" end up with fast, comfortable transit. America is on its way toward achieving Kyoto goals. And, maybe, there is less reason to start optional wars in the Middle East.
Is this a difficult idea to sell to ourselves?
I looked up causes of death in Wikipedia. Lung cancer: 938,000 deaths. Car accidents: 669,000 deaths. People quit smoking based on safety. Would we quit driving if we understood our lives depend on it?
Or, maybe, I want to compete with the rest of the world and be number one. If we recognize how far behind American transit is, my vanity will kick in, and Silicon Valley and Detroit will design something first class. The rail line from Hong Kong to the airport leaves every twelve minutes and offers flat screen displays and live video and internet for every seat. Kyoto, a city of 1.5 million, switched from streetcars to a subway system.
Transit in America is a long way from Kyoto.
Update, 10/24/07: I attend a public meeting at 1080 University, near Lexington. The purpose is to help design the light rail stations along University Avenue at Snelling and Lexington. The room is reasonably full. There might be fifty people there, representing their neighborhoods and businesses. After the meeting, I go across the street to the bus stop. How many people wait for the bus with me from a group dedicated to designing our future public transportation? None. How many wait across the street to go the opposite direction? None. The only people to get on the bus with me are two down-trodden individuals, poorly, but warmly dressed, representing two dominant minority groups of the area. They represent well the current ridership of the 16 bus at 9:15 p.m., and represent well "those people" for which we are designing the light rail system... poorly.