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Why Mass Transit will continue to struggle in the USA


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(as originally posted on the KunstlerCast Forum):

 

MASS TRANSIT - will it ever work?

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Have any of you heard of the MTR?

 

They run the most profitable mass transit system in the world. It is in Hong Kong, which where I live.

A friend of mine has been a long term consultant to them for many years. We went for a long walk

in the mountains of Lantau last weekend, and had a meal together.

 

I spent alot of energy trying to convince him that the MTR now had a great chance to do business

in the US, since the country was ready to get serious about building mass transit systems. He said

that he didnt think that the MTR was remotely interested in building mass transit in the US, but he

promised to do some checking.

 

We met again two days ago. He said, "I have the answer for you."

 

He says that the US remains an area of little interest. Why? "It is not dense enough." he said.

 

Apparently, the few cities that ARE DENSE enough- or nearly dense enough, already have systems.

Mostly, they are struggling.

 

In Hong Kong, over half the population lives with 100 meters of an MTR stop (have I recalled those

figures correctly? possibly not.) And the system is clean, efficient, and widely used. No wonder

it is profitable.

 

The US has a long way to go, it sorting out its excessive use of energy. And it has ONLY BEGUN

to tackle the challenge

 

 

website: http://www.mtr.com.hk/eng/homepage/cust_index.html

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REMAKING THE SUBURBS ...

 

Suburbia in light of its alternatives: I think that we can all agree that suburbia is imperfect, perhaps even fatally flawed. What I propose is that the task, going forward, is not to determine whether suburbia is “bad,” but rather to evaluate our options informed by a realistic appraisal of the alternatives to suburbia. It’s fine to say that suburbia is too dependent on long, oil-powered food supply lines. What is the alternative? Can it accommodate the massive population of suburbia, or is it just a partial or stop-gap solition? It’s fine to say that suburban residents will soon be unable to commute to work, and that will render suburban living untenable. What is the alternative? In the initial phases of a debate, it is valuable to refine criticism, to point out flaws. We must now move past that. Most of us understand the flaws of suburbia, but we are now at the point where it is only productive to point out a flaw if we do so to argue why a specific, realistic, and implementable solution is preferable.

 

What are the alternatives? For my own purposes, I’ve divided the spectrum of choices into re-urbanization, re-ruralization, and clustering...

. . .

SUNK COST

 

Sunk cost is the economic concept that some costs, if they cannot be recovered once they have been incurred, have significant effects on our decision making. What is the sunk cost of Suburbia? Individual homes, for individual buyers, may not entirely represent “sunk cost” if they sell immediately, though the decline in prices over the past months does represent sunk cost. If everyone in suburbia wanted to leave, however, then the entire suburban project--tens of trillions of dollars--would represent a sunk cost.

. . .

That’s exactly the catch: to the extent that we need to end the suburban experiment, we aren’t financially able to do so. To the extent that early adopters “get out” soon and buy in to more sustainable alternatives, the vast majority who are left behind are increasingly stuck. For this reason, suburbia isn’t going anywhere—at least not in my lifetime. This is not to say that suburbia won’t undergo dramatic change. It will, but we're largely stuck with its basic fabric.

 

/more: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4720

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FLEEING TO THE JOBS AND "THE DENSITY"... and the Old Street Grids

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" The ability to move elsewhere is compromised by the very non-viability of suburbia, so they're stuck. Just as the "early adopters" to new urbanism or sustainable communities can get out before they get stuck, I think we're seeing a simlar trend with those to "early adopt" foreclosure and abandonemnt--the banks are still interested in taking these properties, but at some point that may change (either through legislation or business reality)."

 

/more, post #jeffvail on November 4, 2008 - 10:15am:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4720

 

(2)

Round Tripper on November 4, 2008 - 10:50am

Look to the street pattern. Grids are older, denser, more walkable and bikable. Winding streets and cul-de-sacs are newer, and less friendly to bikes and feet. The old grid neighborhoods, even if they are not in the core city will do just fine.

 

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