Has the United States given up on building subway systems?

Everyone knows that America’s roadways and bridges are crumbling, but the United States has also seemingly given up on its subway systems. Atlanta’s subway system was the last subway system started in the U.S., and its construction commenced in 1979. Since that time no other American city has been able to figure out the financing of a subway system with the disappearance of federal funding support. More from Governing:

The rapid pace of subway construction, especially in developing countries, has driven the number of systems in the world to more than 190, according to the Economist. One reason for the boom has to do with government stimulus programs that followed the financial crisis, allowing investment in subway construction to soar. One country that’s noticeably absent from the project lists that appear in trade publications is the U.S.

With transit funding still uncertain, given the lack of a stable, dependable funding stream from Congress, all but a handful of cities have decided to stay clear of such money-draining projects…Some might argue that we don’t need such large-scale transit systems, which are not only expensive to build but expensive to run. Indeed, debates over the pros and cons of a subway system have killed many plans while delaying some construction projects for decades, not just in the U.S. but in other countries as well. Still, we can’t ignore the fact that the U.S. is becoming an increasingly urbanized country, with more people working and living in cities every year.

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  • So who needs them? By which I mean, the largest cities in regions beyond the U.S.–which the article uses as a reference point–are either expanding at the margins existing metro systems (sometimes with more heavy rail, sometimes with light rail or BRT), or building new systems based on population and density. All of our similarly large, dense cities in the U.S. both have some from of heavy rail already and are engaging in expansion plans–again, sometimes with additional heavy rail, sometimes with other modes.

    Many smaller cities beyond the U.S. have been developing light rail and BRT systems for decades. The same can be said for American cities, many of our “second-tier” cities have been developing non-subway, light rail systems for more than 20 years.

    So what’s the problem? There really isn’t one. It seems to me that all the article’s author is talking about are vanity projects that don’t have any relationship with a.) reality or b.) wise transit planning.

    • I would contend that there are many cities in the U.S. that aren’t served by heavy rail transit, but should be. Most notably I’m thinking of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Detroit. All three are large population centers, but lack heavy rail transit. Some of these cities have moved forward with light rail, but it’s not the same quality of system for moving large volumes of people at a fast pace.

      The large cities in the U.S. with heavy rail systems are also fairly under-served as compared to service levels in other cities around the world.

      Furthermore, the idea that only big, densely populated cities can support heavy rail systems is a uniquely American perspective. Mid-sized cities all over the world boast systems like this. The difference in America, it seems, it a lack of willingness to make public investments of virtually any kind.

    • alki44

      I am probably missing something but LA started its subway system in the 1990s.