Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night? – Jack Kerouac
Detroit is ironically the most and least likely place to discuss mass transit. Once the home of one of the nation’s most extensive streetcar systems, Detroit has become synonymous with decentralization, suburban expansion, and the dominance of the automobile. Where human mobility was once limited by the location of rail lines, canals, and the limited travel range of other non-motorized forms of transportation, the car provided a universal form of personal transportation which could be used at virtually any geographic scale. Unfortunately, the success of the car came at the expense of all other modes of transportation, eventually leading Detroit and other cities toward an inefficient and unsustainable transit monoculture.
Recently, infrastructural failures in this country have gained national and international attention. With increasing national imperative, as well as efforts at the regional and local level, it appears mass transit is finally becoming a reality. High-speed rail development in Florida between Tampa, Orlando and Miami, and in California linking Sacramento, San Francisco and L.A., has been covered extensively throughout the media. Portland Oregon’s streetcar system has become a benchmark for urban transit in this country. And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has allocated substantial funds to the development of public transit systems, indicating a shift in support and investment toward sustainable car alternatives. As this transition occurs, however, it is important to consider not only the new forms of transportation infrastructure and technology that will be necessary, but also the relationship between these and existing development patterns. Continue reading