Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Easing the Automotive Burden

Anna’s most recent post on gentrification in San Francisco made me think about access to public transit and the mobility disparity between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans.  As soon as the American dream was marketed to include a home in the suburbs and a car in the garage, public transit lost its appeal. For the last half of the twentieth century, buses, subways, and bicycles were associated with those who couldn’t afford their own car.  Local, state, and federal governments turned their attention away from public transit infrastructure and spent it on highways, arterials, and the ever-expanding housing market.  This shift in priorities also meant that a significant portion of federal attention was devoted to a hot topic in today’s papers: gas.

Gas is averaging $3.84 per gallon nationwide and is expected to peak at $3.96 at some point during the year. Yes, this will hurt wealthy multi-car households, but as Anna explained, it is mostly young, successful professionals who are reclaiming public transit and opting for gas-free methods of transportation. As center-city residents get priced out, they are also pushed out to the suburbs, and are forced to pay exorbitant gas prices to fill cars that they can’t afford in the first place. As with so many other national battles—healthcare, and education to name a few—this is going to be a battle fought for the middle and lower classes.  Wealthy Americans can afford to live and work close to public transportation. They can pay a little more in the short term to avoid crazy gas prices in the long term.


This proposal for San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal is the type of infrastructure that thinks about transportation at the regional level and could take the burden off residents curretly restricted to car commutes. 

And, yes, this is a long-term problem because, while gas prices will continue to fluctuate from year to year, oil is not going to become any more common. We have already consumed more than half of the world’s retrievable oil resources, and developing nations like China and India put more cars on the road everyday.  In short, mass transit and developments that support mass transit (Calthorpe Associates says you need 8-10 housing units per acre to support transit) need to become a focus of regional and national governments again.  



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