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Why America Isn’t The Best… In Transit and Other Stuff

Returning from Ireland after 10 days can be quite damaging in my profession. For example, I don’t have much of a clue regarding what’s been on the Yankee news. So instead I thought I would briefly reflect on my thoughts regarding our country’s incessant need to always proclaim “We’re the best at (insert thing)” and areas where that statement is oh-so-wrong.

Transit

There’s no hiding it. I’m a transit nerd. I love riding public transit, particularly city and intercity trains. I first got the sweet taste of transit during my two years in Chicago. While I wasn’t particularly a fan of living there, the “El” and METRA trains did things to me. By the time I moved to Cleveland, I simply couldn’t imagine going back to a vehicle-based existence and decided to live in a neighborhood where a transit-oriented-lifestyle is possible.

By the States’ standards, Cleveland does okay if you live in the right neighborhood (Downtown, Ohio City, University Circle, Little Italy). Ohio itself is rather sub-par. There’s no express train or bus connecting our urban centers and Greyhound can be a test in one’s patience. Seriously, Greyhound. Why do your buses run 20 minutes off schedule when passengers and the bus driver are all on board at the scheduled time of departure?

Now Ireland, which is roughly the same size as Ohio, simply puts our transit system to shame. Not only in Ohio, but across the United States. One can deduce this by simply exploring the transit options online. The trip overseas isn’t necessary, but only further proves the abysmally sad state of affairs of transit in the supposedly “always the best at everything, ever” mentality of the U.S.

Intercity trains run frequently all across the country. Sure, cities in the U.S, like NYC and Chicago are served decently by Amtrak. But Cleveland only gets one overpriced stop in the middle of the night and I suspect it’s the same for other mid-sized cities across the States. Ireland transit is affordable and services all of the island’s cities. After all, Dublin is the only major-metropolitan area across the country. Yet tiny Galway had bus and rail service that made me more envious than a D-IV basketball star who gets put in his place as soon as he steps into the city YMCA.

To put it immaturely. Dublin itself gives any transit enthusiast a hard on. They have a city tram, commuter rail, intercity rail and a bus system. And it seems this massive influx of transit options breaks up car traffic. I never got the sense that traffic was jammed during my time in Dublin and they don’t even have any noticeable highways that lead into the city center. One simply keeps driving away from the city and suddenly you’re at a roundabout connecting to a highway. Yet Cleveland and cities across the U.S. seem bent on shoving as many highways into city centers as humanly possible. I don’t know exactly why, but less roads and more transit seem to contribute to Dublin’s ability to stay fluid.

Watching and mocking politics for a living, it seems damning for anyone to ever so much as hint that the United States isn’t the best at something. But you’d have to be a damned American flag pin on Toby Keith’s chest to insist we beat Europe on transit. They clearly have better transit technology and better roads, which I’m guessing is a direct result of requiring less roads, thus they can focus on keeping the roads they do have looking sexy.

Cities

Again, we’re constantly taught that the United States has the best cities in the world. Hell, New York City loves to lambast Americans and travelers alike with their “Greatest City in the World!” mantra. But do we really have the best cities in the world? Nah.

Don’t get me wrong. I loves my Cleveland and there are aspects of my hometown and cities like Minneapolis I thought Ireland’s cities could benefit from. But there’s no hiding the fact that Europe is doing something right when Galway, a city of about 75,000, is packed like a weekend in Manhattan on an unremarkable Monday afternoon. Galway along with Dublin and Cork have less roads, more pedestrian streets and this seems to lead to thinner people. Sure, Europe smokes about seven packs a day. But I did not see a single obese person during my 10 days in Ireland, except for that Godforsaken night in Killarney, which my friends and I learned far too late is a tourist town built for Stay Puft Americans who want nothing more to accurately portray the loud, obnoxious American stereotype.

AMERICA!

There’s no doubt the United States and its citizens overwhelmingly have a mentality of superiority. And I don’t have a problem with that. I actually think it’s good to have the confidence many Americans have in our country’s ability to be the best. But Hell, we’ve got to back that shit up! Rather than alienating those who prefer a transit-oriented-lifestyle and more walkable cities by focusing construction on more roads and more attention to exurbs (non-existent communities in Ireland), we should be acknowledging that Europe is kicking our ass and striving to find ways to be the most transit friendly country in the world. Instead, it seems our politicians and leaders are basically saying, “Yeah, well… we didn’t want to be the best at that anyway!” It’s not entirely unlike a a crabby teenager who loses to a friend in any athletic pursuit and self-assuredly proclaims, “Yeah, well… I wasn’t really trying.”

Instead of using Europe as a political punching bag (I believe Mitt Romney has said on more than one occasion, “Europe isn’t working in Europe!”), we should be seeing what does work in Europe and find ways to make it work for the United States and be even better than Europe. Instead, we seem not only fine with conceding Europe’s superior connectivity, but laughably acting as if we either didn’t want to be as well connected as Europe or as if it’s a bad thing.

Anywho… Ponder on that.

And on that note. We’re back, yo.

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