superconductivity-maglev.jpg
Maglev Train . Krist Novoselic's column runs every Tuesday on The Daily Weekly.

It's hard to overstate the fact that 20th-century America was the age

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Mass Transit Doesn't Have to Kill Our Love Affair With Cars

superconductivity-maglev.jpg
Maglev Train. Krist Novoselic's column runs every Tuesday on The Daily Weekly.

It's hard to overstate the fact that 20th-century America was the age of the automobile. We had a romance with our cars, with a near-custom set of accessories to match every individual and lifestyle. But behind the lust there were huge expenses, both fiscally and culturally. The car as king in the United States led to the growth of the suburbs, strip malls, culs-de-sac, and miles of boulevards that define modern America--not to mention a growing dependence on oil from insecure regions around the world.

We sometimes forget that transportation is only a secondary task. How we get somewhere isn't nearly as important as what we do when we get there. Our primary goal is about what's happening at our destination: work, band practice, school, a dentist appointment. Fortunately, Americans are looking beyond their two-car garage to get around, and increasingly turning to mass transit. But that doesn't mean America's--and certainly not my own--love of the automobile has to disappear.

Before Nirvana became popular, my individual transportation was what you would expect of a nearly broke bass player: Volkswagens from the 1960s. These well-built cars get great gas mileage and are easy to fix. I once bought a 1965 VW bus that didn't run for $100. I put another cheap used engine in it and drove it all over! Eventually I drove it from Tacoma to Los Angeles for the session at which Nirvana recorded Nevermind. Instead of driving it back, I sold it for $400. (Check out the prices an old VW bus is getting today.) Back in those days, I didn't even have a credit card, the state didn't mandate car insurance, and gas was around a dollar a gallon. My personal transportation costs were very small.

In 1996, I came to terms with my rockstardom--sort of--and bought

a brand new Mercedes Benz. It was an E300 with a diesel that got 40

mpg. (I still tinker on old VW bugs, but only as a hobby--a way to

clear my mind.) When I lived in Seattle, I used to leave the Benz at

home to take public transportation. It took just as little time, or

even less, to ride the bus than to drive.


More

people, seemingly, are starting to recognize the benefits of public

transportation, leaving their beloved rides at home. In the past five

years, mass-transit ridership has been increasing across the country.

For instance, Amtrak ridership is at a record, and public buses are carrying more passengers.


And voters are approving public transportation projects. Puget Sound voters approved

an expansion of their mass transit with Prop 1 in November. And

California passed a $10 billion measure for high-speed trains to link

its major cities. The state's Web site includes an interactive map that shows trip visualizations.

It also computes how much CO2 can be saved on a trip! On a trip between

Fresno and Los Angeles, for example, the site claims an individual

would spare 191 pounds in carbon emissions.


The other Washington's not missing out, either. "Public infrastructure"

are buzzwords floating around the incoming Obama administration.

They're proposing a jobs program that could kick-start the economy by

modernizing bridges, roads, and trains. And Vice-President Elect Biden

has been promoting magnetic levitation ("maglev") trains.


If

the trend toward mass transportation keeps growing, it will have its

own effect on culture. We'll see more urban clusters and humans living

in vertical structures with work and services within walking distance.

The near future promises to bring Americans to work toward the

collective goal of improving infrastructure. Who knows: Perhaps someday

we'll be connected physically as inexpensively and conveniently as we

are virtually on the Internet?

 
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