Transit of Tomorrow

Sci-fi is my absolute go-to. Books. Movies. TV shows. You name it.

I love the vivid, imaginative visions of the future. And I’m particularly enthralled by the depiction of cities and transportation.

There’s always a scene where the protaganist zooms into this glittering jewel of city on a spaceship. As they approach their destination, the towering skyscrapers come into focus, as do a swarm of other airborne vehicles zipping around like bullets. Despite the crowded airways, there’s not a trace of smog or engine exhaust. When our heroes finally land, they arrive at a bustling transit station, seamlessly moving onto the last leg of the journey on public transit or a private vehicle.

Such a scene is a far cry from the reality of cities I’ve lived in. My hometown of Dallas TX is a quintessential car city. Sprawled out over far too much land for a reasonable above-ground system to cover, the only public transportation of note is the yellow light rail. And getting to the nearest station requires a car.

Los Angeles wasn’t just a car city — it was THE car city. The omni-present cloud of smog was as constant as the 70 degree weather. I’ll admit that I contributed to the haze during my four years in college, but I hated every minute of it. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Squeezing into tight parking. Planning my day around the sliver of times when traffic might be bearable.

Seattle was a significantly smaller city ruled by bus lines. While the light rail was clean, efficient, and went directly to the airport, it was drastically underdeveloped. It took a decade to open a new stop on the line, and I would expect more from a city that prides itself on its progressive and environmental leanings. On the other hand, Austin, a city of similar values and size, recently voted to embark on a comprehensive new transit project.

And finally, San Francisco. The transit options are certainly plentiful: buses, trolleys, subway (BART), trains, light rail (Muni), bike lanes, and even ferries. The problem, however, is that every method leaves something to be desired. BART is notoriously dirty. Muni is notoriously slow. Caltrain is poorly run and still doesn’t have wifi. Should one of those startups have solved these by now?



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