The federal government in the US is spending $80bn on high speed inter city rail.  The benefits are enormous as rail’s long term costs and efficiencies are much better per capita than car based development.  This is work that is critical to the economic and social development of 13 of the most densely populated areas in the nation and will help to divert people away from car based commutes to rail.

However, we wonder if these projects are enough and if the focus of the government policy and expenditures is effective for the change we need:  social, environmental, economic.  Consider the development of the Interstate highway system in the 1950s, which shares some similarity in focus with the current HSR policy.  There is ample evidence to suggest that the Interstate system, while helping to connect metropolitan areas, also served to eviscerate inner cities and to make it easier for Americans to roam further and further outside of the nation’s economic centers in search of cheap homes and land.  It led to the 20th Century American reality:  long commutes, suburbs, sprawl, and as a very real consequence, deficit spending and debt.  Density is sustainable and sprawl is not.  This means that people who live densely consume far far less per capita than people who live in sparcely populated environments.

Much of America’s sprawling unsustainable development is funded by money from the federal, state and local governments.  The infrastructure that supports suburban life is costly and very inefficient and would not be affordable if the government stopped paying for it.  Although it will not be easy, a sustainable future necessitates defunding reckless and unsustainable lifestyles.

The question is an important one:  will the new federal HSP project cause even more exurban development?  In an age of soaring deficits, shouldn’t the government’s focus be on incentivizing development that costs less per capita and affects more people?

It is becoming clear that there is a direct connection between exurban government largesse and the federal deficit.  Money spent exurbanly costs more, goes nowhere and affects fewer people.  Lose, lose, lose.  And yet the car based development programs put in place in the post war period are entrenched, people like them, they expect them, hell, they even demand them.

betaTRANSIT proposes diverting these funds into intensifying inner city rail in America’s largest cities which will go much further toward insuring a sustainable future for Americans.

Car based development inevitably leads to sprawling, unsustainable environments and higher per capita consumption.  Public transit based development enables denser development which reduces per capita consumption.


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