The continuation of nonsense zoning in the US has destroyed Americans’ ability to access local businesses and services without wasting ungodly amounts of time crawling through traffic while polluting the air in their own communities. The most important shift we need to make is encouraging mixed-use zoning so people can live close enough to where they work, socialize, and shop to walk, bike, skate, scooter, etc. to get there instead of driving. This will improve public health, both through increased physical activity and less isolation, and help people to feel more connected to the communities they live in.
However, there’s a limit to what can be changed in many areas, which is why public transit is so vital. Buses, with plentiful stops that are frequently visited, are often the best improvement that can be made in most urban areas, but there’s so much more that can be done. So long as it’s kept free or low-cost, underground light rail and subways are also useful for connecting points of interest within cities as well as allowing people in suburbs to make their way into cities without having to bring their personal vehicles. Reworking streets to widen sidewalks and open up more lanes for biking and buses further encourages the use of alternate transportation in urban areas. More specifically, demolishing city-dividing freeways and replacing them with pedestrian-friendly boulevards and increased public transportation has consistently led to happier and more connected city-dwellers throughout the US.
Right now, the federal government provides matching funds for freeways and public transit. However, while those matching ratios use to be the same, the funds for public transit have dropped. This has led to an increased reliance on expanding freeways, which almost always backfires. By flipping the amounts of those matching programs, we can restore the balance we once had. We could even create a separate Friendly Cities Fund if reducing federal funds for freeways is politically insurmountable.
Of course, public transit affects rural areas as well. I envision a Department of Transportation (DOT) program where counties can apply for federal funding to jumpstart a Call The Bus Program. Used short buses in fair or good condition are pretty easy to come by. Anywhere from one to three counties could team up and share a bus with a big phone number painted on the side of it. Community members could call this number and schedule a free bus pickup to help them get to the grocery store, post office, bank, health clinic, or other place of interest once or twice per week. We’ll ensure these buses are handicap accessible so people with disabilities who don’t have any family or close friends to help them get around will gain some independence and security. The DOT will provide resources and support for buying and outfitting buses, spreading the word to community members, and hiring and training drivers. Although the DOT will provide guidelines for starting up and running these programs, ultimately the counties will mostly have the power to decide what works best for their community members.
Public transit is an integral part of how we improve equitability throughout the country.