InTrans / May 24, 2013

What transportation culture do you live in?

Go! Magazine

People waiting for metro train.

Maybe you have seen some of those old movies where the characters board a train, smoke swirling around the platform, half-concealing the patrons. Those movies make trains look quaint, rather posh, and, frankly, outdated. The idea of trains as being the transportation of a past era is reflected by the shockingly low use of intercity rail transport, or trains that travel from one city to another, in the United States. Americans instead rely upon their trusty Jeeps or Fords to carry them to their daily activities, resulting in congested roads and polluted highways.

Unfortunately, if you live anywhere other than Chicago, New York, or Washington DC, you may think that your public transportation is not exactly “up to snuff,” or you just don’t know how to use it. You, my friend, have succumbed to the car-centered transportation culture endemic to most American towns.

Tomas Lindheimer, an international PhD student in transportation engineering at the University of Kansas, comments that he was most surprised by American’s need to own multiple cars. In his home country of Argentina, having one car was a luxury, and his family was able to get around just as well using public transportation. Rather than seeing the car as a symbol of freedom, it was a burden and dependency that didn’t compare to the ease of taking a trolley in Bulgaria or a train in Argentina.

Suyun Ma, a masters student at the University of Iowa, was also used to public transportation in her hometown of Hangzhou, China. In Hangzhou, the idea of a Maglev train might actually come to fruition, changing the future of rail transport forever. A maglev train is completely unique because it is propelled by magnetic repulsion, and it is suspended above the tracks by these magnetic forces. Because the train never has to touch the tracks, there is virtually no friction to slow it down, which means that this train can move very fast.  Maybe this is the secret behind the Hogwarts Express!

Adjust your cultural binoculars!

If you are wondering what this has to do with you, don’t worry, I’m getting there. Though public transportation may seem invisible to us car-loving Americans, it is all around us, we just need to adjust our cultural binoculars to see it. Lindheimer works for both the university and the Lawrence, Kansas transit systems, perfecting and fine-tuning them for the comfort and ease of riders. He suggests that Americans are simply not used to adjusting their lives to match bus schedules. Imagine not being able to press the snooze button just because you have to make it to the bus stop in time!

The rail system is also getting a tune-up, courtesy of transportation engineers like Matthew Arnold, a masters student at Kansas State University. He reveals that the Federal Railroad Administration is shelling out millions of dollars on railroad research in the hopes of building high speed railroads here in the United States that would rival those highly reputable trains in Europe.

As the next generation of transportation users—and some of you might become transportation professionals—we have the power to determine how we want to travel. We can make the choice whether to follow the carbon footsteps of our parents or forge a new path by using public transit.

Go! Magazine thanks the Mid-America Transportation Center (MATC) for supporting this article.

By Kelly Mantick, Go! Staff Writer

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