Recently I was checking out a map of transit in Kraków, Poland. I traveled there a couple of years ago and took a number of pictures, traveled via transit a lot, and even got to bike around their fantastic bicycle infrastructure. Here’s links if you’d like to read about those adventures in The First Week, Observations of Kraków, The First Bike Rides in Kraków – Part I – Good Morning!, and The First Bike Rides in Kraków – Part II – Lunch Time Mission.
I may have mentioned it when I wrote about Krakow, but I’ll mention it again. Krakow makes US cities seem strangely outdated, draconian, and 3rd world like in so many ways. Kraków’s roads, transit, biking, and pedestrian facilities were dramatically better than anything in the US by a remarkable degree. The vehicles were more modern and capable, their buses smoother riding and cleaner, and the overall city was cleaner and more well put together. Even in the proverbial “slums” it seemed like the housing graded several levels above even what middle class neighborhoods or lifestyles would allow here in the United States. (If one can pretend there is even a middle class lifestyle these days, much of that is now gone) To note, what makes this even more impressive is that Kraków was under draconian Soviet authority for many decades. The US wasn’t, we’ve got no excuse to be so behind while Kraków has plenty of excuses and it isn’t behind!
I don’t write this to bash on US cities, we haven’t really taken care of them very well. But I do write this to make note that what we have here is something that needs dramatic work at massive levels. We’ve neglected cities for decades even though they’re the centers that bring in wealth and distribute it (via capitalism, socialism, or whatever method of economic distribution) more so than any other part of the nation. We should, and financially there’s no excuse, that our cities couldn’t be the most advanced, connected, enabling, empowering, quality, safe, and wealth generating cities on the entire planet. But instead we have barely sustained them by draining them of the wealth they generate. We’ve then – politically speaking both Democrats AND Republicans then went about distributing that wealth out in the most inefficient of ways for a whole slew of things; military waste, auto-dependency, subsidies to suburbs, and similar pet projects and other petty nonsense.
But that leaves us in a position with a lot of improvements to make. I’d argue the greatest improvement we could make today would be making the way we make improvements faster, more efficient, and more focused. We spend years, often decades, preparing for, fighting about, and eventually making improvements. Sometimes we spend and waste all that energy and then don’t actually make the improvements.
This belies one of the huge problems about deciding what improvements we should or should not be making. This battle is intense and one of the massive time destroying horrors of modern America. Take for instance the endless battle of the Portland metro area. It can easily be divided into “bridge and tunnel” crowd and the city crowd. Here I’ve drawn a map of the “We hate transit buses are for the poor and sickly evil people build more roads“, the “middle mixed area of maybes“, and the “please let’s build options to more efficiently travel about instead of relying on the evils of auto-dependency“. Note this is not a scientifically derived map, but one that’s based on the demographics data that is available. I create this to show a general outline of where and the conflict is, but also attempt use the stereotypes of either or group to add a bit of jest to the matter.
2000’s Era Split
The pink + area is the “please let’s build options to more efficiently travel about instead of relying on the evils of auto-dependency” crowd, while the section between the core and the black outlined area are the “middle mixed area of maybes”, then finally the massive area of few people in the “we hate transit buses are for the poor and sickly evil people build more roads” crowd. The overall split among the overall metropolitan population is about 60% of the population is in the pink core, 35% is in the area outlined in black, and about 5% is in the in between section of the map.
2017’s Era Split
This map, which I goofed getting Forrest Grove in there even though it ought to be included is basically that same percentage split of the population. Notice how with the increasing population though the area in which people definitely will support and want more options has increased. As the population has increased in those area it has also increased in the demand for improved transit, biking, and related options. Meanwhile, the outlying areas are still full of lots of naysayers and “we hate transit buses are for the poor and sickly evil people build more roads” crowd.
The demographic that wants options, higher quality, and improved transportation choices is growing in Portland, Seattle, and almost every city in the United States.
The real question however, as we’ve seen with poor support for transit in Washington as the Democrats go in to seriously gut funding for Sound Transit projects that the voters chose by a large margin, is will the politicians get their act together and get things built for their constituent populations that want improved situations?
The answer, for the most part right now seems to be, they’re trying but failing to truly deliver effectively what could be good solutions. We continue to get halfway done or meagerly built transit options at extremely high costs (Compare our costs vs. Europe’s). Part of it is our politicians, but lots of it has to do with our latent inability to work with our own system to get things done.
Maybe I’ll draw a map of Seattle later, but currently it’s basically the same mess. Now that I’ve written this I sadly admit, I’ve no solution to the problems of getting things done. Nor do I have any insight into ideas of my own at this point. This blog post is merely pointing out with some clarity the divide that causes our cities so much pain in moving forward. It’s the same split, almost the same, minor geographically different lines, that divides us on housing and housing solutions. It divides us on free parking versus paying one’s own way. In all of it, everyone is often confused or misinformed about who is or isn’t actually paying for who’s stuff. But rest assured, we’re all paying for each other’s stuff when we’re in a metropolitan area. As no matter what political alignment you are, cities are and forever will be some level of functional socialism.
Until those next thoughts, discoveries, and research, happy transiting.