decentralized automobile dependent metropolis
June 9, 2010, 5:57 pm
Filed under: density, Suburbs, Transit

Here is a quotation from a seminal article written by Robert Fishman on the state of American cities.  The Interstate Highway system was designed to help improve city life and, perhaps predictably, it has done the opposite.  It has increased the incidence and rate of sprawl, which has increased exponentially per capita energy and material consumption in America.  The Obama administration is proposing interstate high speed rail.  The obvious question becomes, will this new system have the same deleterious effect on America’s fragile, underdeveloped but ultimately sustainable city centers?

Wouldn’t it be more wise to use federal money to stabilize America’s top 50 urban centers with INNER city rail?  This would establish functioning, sustainable environments and reverse our 50 plus year tendency to pour all of our tax dollars into wasteful exurban development.

From Fishman’s article:

Proclaimed the “largest public works program since the Pyramids,” the 41,000-mile [actually 42,800 miles (68,878 kilometers)] interstate highway system transformed the American metropolis in ways its planners never anticipated. The system was supposed to save central cities by rescuing them from automobile congestion, and also to provide high-speed long-distance travel from city to city: “Coast-to-coast without a traffic light.” But the massive new urban highways, intended to move traffic rapidly in and out of downtown, quickly became snarled in ever-growing congestion, and their construction devastated many urban neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the new peripheral “beltways,” originally designed to enable long-distance travelers to bypass crowded central cities, turned into the “Main Streets” of postwar suburbia. Cheap rural land along the beltways became the favored sites for new suburban housing, shopping malls, industrial parks, and office parks that drew people and businesses out of the central cities. Finally, the interstate system was financed by a highway trust fund supported by the abundant revenue from federal gasoline taxes. Those funds were available only for highways and the federal government paid 90 percent of the cost of the new highways. By contrast, localities paid a much higher percentage for investment in mass transit. This was a powerful incentive to neglect mass transit and focus a region’s transportation investments only on roads. More than any other measure, the 1956 Interstate Highway Act created the decentralized, automobile-dependent metropolis we know today.

-Robert Fishman, The American Metropolis at Century’s End: Past and Future Influences


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