We are at the end of an era – the end of cheap oil, the end of suburban sprawl, the collapse of the world’s “shadow banking system”, the end of Wall Street’s arrogation of our nation’s financial system, the end of treating our natural environment as a “free” externality that corporations and consumers can ravage at will. In this time, as we transition from one era to another, billions is the mark of a mere politician. A true statesman -- someone who understands what we need to bring our country into the new era dawning -- will be talking about how many trillions we need. That’s why I was not happy with the stimulus package proposed and won by President Obama. Fortunately, the President has noted that it was only the first stimulus, implying there may be more to come. What we need to do now is begin defining the terms of the debate as to what is needed, and how much it is going to cost.
Below I outline one -- just one -- such national program we need. To build adequate urban rail transit systems in the 39 largest U.S. cities, where nearly half of all Americans live, is going to require $3.195 trillion. That is just construction costs – it does not include the cost of new rolling stock and maintenance rail vehicles. It is a project that can create 7.5 million jobs a year, for ten years. And it is a project that we most assuredly will not even initiate so long as we are content with politics and business as usual. New York City Transit BMT Brighton Line, at West 8th Street, photo by David-Paul Gerber, 7/13/2008, www.nycsubway.org
Building 50,757 kilometers of new rail transit lines, at a cost of $3.195 trillion. is based on building urban rail mass transit systems to the same service density found in New York City, in the next 38 largest urban areas. I began by assuming a desideratum of having a rail transit line no more than 2.5 miles from any point in an urban area. That is, if you took a square of urban area five miles on each side, we want to have a rail transit line running directly across the middle of that square. Slice that 25 square mile area into one mile strips, and you get one mile of rail transit line for every five square miles of urban area, or a density of 0.2 mile of rail transit line for every square mile. Converting square miles to square kilometers, and miles to kilometers, what we are looking for is a density of 0.124 mi of rail transit line for every square kilometer of urban area.