When the buses were desegregated in the 1940s, the automobile industry worked to make cars affordable so that everyone could afford to drive. This behavior encouraged the mindset that driving is a luxury, a symbol of personal autonomy. Years later, cities are struggling both with traffic that impedes community traversal and the environmental contaminants that aid in the degradation of marginalized communities. Transit-oriented development was reintroduced as mitigation to suburbs, but most of the properties were built as luxury accommodation, thereby excluding most of the ridership of public transit. Fortunately, most cities are beginning to plan with the end in mind now that inequities have been highlighted for review.
During the 1960s and 1970s, cars were both affordable and plentiful, largely because of the success of models made in the United States. Once companies in other countries developed more fuel-efficient models, said companies passed the import costs to customers, and the price of cars began to skyrocket. Consequently, people were socialized to consider car payments as standard to month bills until the cost of living also increased beyond most drivers’ ability to pay. By using public transit, many younger adults are able to defray the high cost of living in expensive cities, and are more vocal in advocating for transit expansion. Older adults are less isolated and can operate more independently regardless of whether they live in their own homes or in assisted living facilities.
Technology is an effective way to communicate with the world, but is also a safety hazard if most of the population is driving. Distraction has become such an issue of public safety that one can barely cross a street without being reminded to pay attention while driving. Car fatalities have increased, leading to more people advocating for attention to road infrastructure as a way to prevent car accidents, but unsafe driving practices persist. Thus, more younger adults are enjoying how transit allows them to accomplish work tasks, communicate with friends, or avoid the stress of engaging with the roads. Even park-and-rides are showing an increase in users despite congestion reports across the country.
In the United States, neighborhoods were built with cars in mind, and both excessively rich and exceedingly poor residents still lack basic transit access. Such planning will take decades to alleviate, and even then, there will still be many areas that require people to drive on a daily basis. The most important element of planning for transit is understanding that it is not just an option, but the only method of commuting for people in various regions. Only when transit authorities understand that truth will transit-oriented planning be normalized.
Featured Image: “At the bus station in Durham, North Carolina.” May 1940, Jack Delano.