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The Future Is Here (And It’s Called Transit)

12:45 PM EDT on August 31, 2012

Professional innovation guru Dominic Basalt wondered aloud in yesterday's Washington Post, "Has the new golden age of transportation arrived?"

Basalt, who heads a consulting firm called Bond Strategy and Influence (every word of which I find intimidating), is a little disappointed that we don't have flying cars and levitating trains yet. Isn't this the future? Science fiction totally promised us flying cars.

Basalt thinks hypersonic jets and "Star Wars-inspired hovercraft" and Google's driverless cars are pretty cool, and those are already here. He gives space-age public transportation concepts a mention too: Tesla cofounder Elon Musk has a dream of a "hyperloop" between San Francisco and LA that "can never crash, is immune to weather, it goes 3 or 4 times faster than the bullet train," and runs on solar. Sign me up -- once you actually invent it. For now, the hyperloop is nothing but a dream. Oh, and for the record, so is the "evacuated tube transport" that takes me from my home in Washington, DC to freaking Beijing in two hours.

But you know what does exist? A magical capsule that speeds along a subterranean route to effortlessly transplant me from my neighborhood to any of 80 locations in and around my city. I don't have to pay for gas, I don't have to park when I get there, and I can sleep or read the paper the whole time. It's called the metro, and it's dramatically under-resourced.

Forgive me. But the whole futurism fetish feels like an echo of how our more short-sighted transportation officials look at the world. We have these incredibly important assets but we don't even maintain them.

Think of it -- there are 21,000 miles of rail in the Amtrak system and the Republican leadership wants to stop funding it, and we haven't even figured out a way to free passenger rail from its subordination to freight schedules. Aging and outdated infrastructure keeps speeds down and people like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey get conservative street cred for refusing to invest in a rail tunnel so that one of the country's most important commuter routes can lose its bottleneck. I guess that's all too complicated. The simplest solution would just be evacuated tube transport.

Enjoy the Labor Day weekend everyone. Streetsblog will be back publishing on Tuesday.

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