It seems almost every day Matt Yglesias is writing about the advantages of Light Rail, High-Speed Rail, or other types of mass transit on his blog. Yglesias is especially attuned to the mass transit situation in DC. Fair enough, people on the East Coast simply by proximity should be especially attuned to the issues of the East Coast.
However, the entire country is not located on the East Coast, nor is it a collection of densely populated cities. I do not understand at all how bus and train routes work, because here in Kansas City, they are basically non-existent. The reason for this is that if you drove from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, the only place cities are organized well is in the first 45 minutes of your drive.
East Coasters like to extol the virtues of a well-developed mass transit system. Many of them talk in befuddled amusement about not having a working car for weeks. This is simply impossible west of the East Coast. Cars, highways, and four lane roads with strip malls are simply the way of life for a HUGE chunk of this country, and I think people that live packed in like rats don't understand the hugeness of America at all.
For example, I live in a very well developed area of Kansas City, however it is an 18 mile drive to downtown. It's a 35 minute drive to a baseball game, and that's if traffic is light. It's an hour to the airport by car, on a major highway. All three of these are at widely different locations throughout the city.
People on the East Coast have the same problem, but their solution, it would seem, is to add more railroads, because, you know, you can ride the train anywhere in Boston, DC, or New York.
Unfortunately, its just not that simple in the Midwest, Plains, Rockies, Southwest, Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, or most of California. In those places, the cities have been built as a focal point surrounded by large suburbs, and people continue to commute large distances by car in order to reach the city. People don't just do this to work, because if it was just a work-time commute then rail and bus might make sense. But in places like Kansas City, urban attractors, like Arrowhead Stadium, are not remotely close to other urban attractors, like the Power & Light District, and it would take a complete change of city planning and infrastructure to connect the whole of Kansas City's metropolitan areas with mass transit.
That is an achievable goal, however, if you threw enough money at it. What you can't change via money is the mental state of this country, and despite the longings of the East Coasters for more mass transit, the rest of the country doesn't agree.