“In contemplating some common object of the modern street, such as the omnibus or the lamp-post, it is sometimes well worthwhile to stop a moment and contemplate why such common objects are considered commonplace. It is well worthwhile to try to grasp what is the significance of them–or rather, the quality in modernity that makes them so often seem not significant but insignificant. If you stop the omnibus while you stop to think about it, you will be unpopular. Even if you try to grasp the lamp-post while you try to grasp its significance, you will almost certainly be misunderstood. Nevertheless the problem is a real one, and not without bearing on the most poignant politics and ethics of today. It is certainly not the things themselves, the idea and upshot of them, that are remote from poetry and even mysticism. The idea of a crowd of human strangers turned into comrades for a journey is full of the oldest pathos and piety of human life.”
-G. K. Chesterton in The Uses of Diversity.
I recalled this passage upon hearing that funding for high speed rail has been cut in Florida and several other states. Apparently a rail project has been afoot in Florida for almost twenty years, but now it won’t be built. A similar project has been underway in California for an even longer time and has chewed up billions of dollars, but not a single mile of track has ever been laid down. It would seem that high speed rail in America is doomed. The problems are manifold, but the biggest one is just that it’s too expensive. Even under the best projections the projects only generate a fraction of the necessary money. The rest has to be supplied by the taxpayers, and they are understandably not too pleased by the prospect.
However, we need some mass transit. Anyone could reel off a long list of benefits: less pollution, less sprawl, less reliance on foreign oil. Those are the minor benefits. The major benefit is just this. Life in a car is unpleasant. You’re inside a metal box, trapped in the middle of a highway, horns honking at you outside, some idiot screaming at you on the radio inside, often stuck in one place for hours on end. It’s one of the least pleasant experiences imaginable. Obviously getting together with some strangers on a bus or train is better. It allows for interaction, relaxation, and possibly even a touch of meditation. If we don’t stick up for mass transportation, we will lose a part of our humanity.