Friday, September 29, 2006
Last week’s train crash in Germany highlights again the failed promise of high-tech rail lines to help our transportation needs. In the United States, there is an uncertain future for Seattle’s once-futuristic monorail, which was built to ferry passengers to and from the 1962 World’s Fair and, just as importantly, to be part of the fair itself.
Plagued by mechanical problems and a recent accident, the monorail is now halted and the city is debating whether to restart it. Seattle’s one-mile-long monorail was never much more than a tourist attraction; more serious efforts at urban monorail transportation, such as Detroit’s underutilized “people mover,” have not been much more successful.
Until the world changes radically, high-tech rail lines are simply too expensive and too limited in their ability to connect spread out suburbs to spread out jobs sites in today’s American metro areas. (They hold more promise for denser or more linear urban areas outside the United States.) For American metro areas, only dedicated bus routes, like those of Curitiba, Brazil (see picture)
hold any serious promise of encouraging much greater public transportation usage in the coming years.