The build-up of America’s interstate highway system began during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower in the mid-1950s. Heavy reliance on the automobile had begun much earlier, during the 1900s-1930s, when a mass reorganization of many cities’ mass transit systems had been spurred by major automobile manufacturing corporations such as General Motors, Firestone Tire, and Standard Oil, all seeking monopolization of the industry for maximum profitability. Urban theorists Joe Feagin and Robert Parker have written on the subject:
“Because of successful lobbying by executives from the auto-oil-rubber complex, and their own acceptance of a motorization perspective, most government officials increasingly backed street and highway construction. They cooperated with the auto industry in eliminating many mass transit systems. Increased governmental support for auto and truck transportation systems has meant systematic disinvestment in mass transit systems.”
Today, American highway infrastructure is crumbling, costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in repairs. The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2015 that vehicle transportation accounted for 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that there were a whopping 35,092 traffic-related fatalities in 2015, a 7.2% increase from auto deaths in 2014. The reliance on and preference for the vehicle by Americans is clearly an issue in several areas of urban health and safety. In their book, Building American Cities, Feagin and Parker discuss a study on American attitudes on the automobile. They write:
“One question asked in this survey was: ‘The auto pollutes air, creates traffic, demolishes property, and kills people. Is the contribution the auto makes to our way of life worth this?’ 15% said no, and 85% said yes. This seems to confirm the argument that consumers prefer the heavy reliance on auto transportation.”
It is clear that the United States’ inter-state and intra-city transportation modes are in need of reconfiguration. Heavy reliance on the automobile for traveling short and long distances is no longer adequate, and has dangerous and unhealthy consequences for the American public. I would suggest we look to Europe for the answer.
The Eurail system extends across 28 participating countries across the European continent. It’s electric rail allows for affordable, time-saving, energy-efficient, and safe travel for short distances and lengthy trips.
Implementing an efficient transit system such as the European Rail in the United States would improve energy-efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and cultivate public health and safety for our country.