PBS Exposes the Joys of Transit

NOW host David Brancaccio does an interview on the LA Metro. Click through for the full video.

The latest episode of NOW is surely the most effective takedown of car-dependent planning ever broadcast in news magazine format. Adhering to the familiar contours of pocketbook journalism, "Driven to Despair" starts with a sympathetic portrayal of the Schleighs, a family who moved to a southern California exurb seven years ago. With their adjustable rate mortgage about to reset and gas prices already busting the family budget, they need a way out.

What follows can be fairly described as a 25-minute ode to the time- and money-saving benefits of transit, complete with a brief history of the Los Angeles streetcar system and a rueful suggestion that the Presidential candidates should address transportation more forcefully.

Watching the Schleighs and their neighbors react to the idea of riding a train to work — sneering, in one case — it’s all too apparent why someone running for national office would skirt the issue. But you also realize that if a national pol were to finally go out on that limb, he or she may find voters more receptive to the idea of better trains and buses than feared.

"Driven to Despair" will be broadcast on PBS affiliates tonight (check local listings). It’s the first part in a NOW series on infrastructure called "Blueprint America."

Enjoy the weekend, Streetsbloggers. We’ll be back on Tuesday.

  • That was a great episode of NOW. It really got to heart of the matter and how transportation, jobs, and housing are all part of the same triangle. It looks like we should be looking forward to more reporting with PBS new Blueprint America series.

  • neb

    Agreed. This was a really good story that aired. I especially like the way it looks positively on transit that already exists, basically saying its not that difficult to take advantage of transit in a place like LA even now.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Bankrupt in American is more like it. This country blew its chance. People seem to think all those trillions being borrowed won’t have to be paid back, like the mortgages and credit card loans they are retroactively funding. THAT, back door, and the needs of senior citizens who spent rather than saved, are the priorities of the United States for the next 50 years.

  • paulb

    Same old same old.

    As much as I want to believe in the spirit of American optimism, too many people don’t seem to grasp the simple fact that, over a lifetime, consistent affluence is difficult to attain. Unless you manage, via education, talent, connections, or luck, to get into that “class”–not the right word, I know–of people who can’t or are not likely to face unemployment or falling incomes. Civil service employees, professionals (some, anyway), people who’ve reached a certain level of success. And even then, illness or divorce can pull the rug out from even the most secure people.

    Those two families in Riverside County just let the dream carry them into LaLa Land. Four bedroom houses? Big backyards? For a wrench jockey? A telecom “wireman”? Rule of thumb: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Heartening and depressing at the same time, as all four of the previous commenters point out. One possible way out of this mess we’re in is to rethink the way so many Americans live, and to make massively retool for reality. If there’s anything left to invest.

  • “…If there’s anything left to invest.”

    Remember that we already massively overspend for both transportation (highways) and health care (private insurance companies). So it isn’t a matter of finding the money. It’s about redirecting money that’s already being spent, even if there’s less of it in the future.

    I am a natural pessimist, but at the same time, I think it’s preposterous to say we can’t do a lot better with transportation and health care, among other issues.

  • Charlie D.

    American have been sold a false dream. The idea of everyone owning their own house in a leafy suburb with a big yard and a big screen TV is a total falacy. The “new” American dream that many people are now starting to realize is one where we live in more modest homes but have access to stores and jobs, and have the opportunity to choose how we get places.

    Why the older generation thought rebuilding our nation solely around cars was a good idea is anyone’s guess. It just pisses me off that so much of our country has been built this way. It will surely take another generation to fix this mess.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Remember that we already massively overspend for both transportation (highways) and health care (private insurance companies). So it isn’t a matter of finding the money. It’s about redirecting money that’s already being spent, even if there’s less of it in the future.”

    Agreed in part — it isn’t excess spending on insurance companies it’s excess (subsidized) spending on those who have insurance and nothing on those without.

    The good news is that on the transportation front, those in organizations have come up with the low cost alternative — bicycles. Helps with health, too.

    Our problem is two fold. Imported goods we can’t afford, some of which we can live without (50 t-shirts per person per year) and some of which we can’t (oil). Bicycles help with the oil.

    And people expecting to be affluent without working for the last 25 to 30 years of their life, even as most younger Americans will face working until their health fails and then poverty.

    There are interest groups making out on this situation. But they can’t stop you from riding a bicycle. I don’t think.

  • paulb

    One thing I’d like to know that Brancaccio didn’t ask or didn’t include in the report. The two Riverside County families that are doing that 150 mile round trip commute: Why did they leave wherever they were? Were they priced out? (Ironic result if that’s the case.) Did their neighborhood change, ethnicity-wise? Did the public schools start to go downhill? Was crime becoming more of a problem?

    It’s so clear that those families got into something they couldn’t sustain, it would be interesting to delve into the reasons. Equating the fortunes and decisions made by a one-child family with graduate educations (urban planner) who decide to live near the light rail line and two blue collar families is like trying to compare two different species of animal. Perhaps there is more to this story than just transit options.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The two Riverside County families that are doing that 150 mile round trip commute: Why did they leave wherever they were? Were they priced out?”

    Knowing what I do about SoCal, yes they were priced out by the housing bubble. The median existing home price in California fell 41% over the past 12 months, and it’s still needs to fall to get back to normal.

    That’s what’s coming here.

    In the meantime, there is another option, as described by the Times here.


  • Wow – if the rest of the Blueprint America is this good, it promises to be an extremely impressive series.

    Watching the profiled family, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. It’s easy for us to knock others for buying SUVs and McMansions in the exurbs, but these people are now royally screwed.

    If you buy in the exurbs now, it is entirely your fault. But two years ago when gas was $2 a gallon, these issues weren’t in the public conversation. Now they are, and suddenly millions of people who live in these places are hearing “our” argument for the first time.

    They never even considered riding a bus before, but suddenly it makes sense.

    I hope we seize the opportunity to sell transit, human-scale, livable communities as a positive thing.

    It’s time to convert this crisis into the true opportunity that it is.

  • paulb

    I’ve just watched an earlier report, and there Brancaccio did answer my question about why families move so far away from their jobs. It is indeed that they have been priced out of the closer-in neighborhoods; it even has a name: “drive til you qualify,” meaning drive away from the city until you find something you can afford.


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