18 August 2013

Re-Entry

After six weeks traveling through Germany, Switzerland and Italy by train, with the occasional bus or cab ride, I found myself in quick succession on several of the major highways in the Northeast Corridor.

People alone, or in pairs or tiny groups, in their individual metal boxes on wheels, hurtling in the same direction, other boxes inches away on either side and a few feet ahead and behind.

It suddenly struck me as completely insane.

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The conventional wisdom is that the US doesn't have the population density to support an efficient public transit system.  But between, say, Baltimore and Boston at the very least, that's just ridiculous, and the fact that it doesn't exist represents a failure of political and public will, not of logistics.

Shortly after I arrived home and after taking numerous efficient train trips, I took New Jersey transit to work.  My route is 55 miles long and typically takes an hour and 40 minutes -- averaging a little better than 30 miles per hour.  That day, heavy rain caused power problems, so the actual average speed was closer to 15 miles an hour.

That also struck me as completely insane.

If New Jersey, and the entire northeast, had an efficient high-speed rail system, paid by federal, state and local governments to the same extent as (or better yet, more than) the existing highway network, if trains were clean and comfortable, then people would actually want to take the train.

And if more people took the train, there would be less pollution, fewer car accidents, lower operating costs for roads and bridges (because less wear and tear).   People could be healthier if they walked or biked between train stations and home and/or work rather than driving door to door.

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Leaving your own culture for a while lets you see it more clearly when you return.  Our public transit funding is ridiculous.