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A potent re-examination of America’s history of public disinvestment in mass transit.
Many a scholar and policy analyst has lamented American dependence on cars and the corresponding lack of federal investment in public transportation throughout the latter decades of the twentieth century. But as Nicholas Dagen Bloom shows in The Great American Transit Disaster, our transit networks are so bad for a very simple reason: we wanted it this way.
Focusing on Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and San Francisco, Bloom provides overwhelming evidence that transit disinvestment was a choice rather than destiny. He pinpoints three major factors that led to the decline of public transit in the United States: municipal austerity policies that denied most transit agencies the funding to sustain high-quality service; the encouragement of auto-centric planning; and white flight from dense city centers to far-flung suburbs. As Bloom makes clear, these local public policy decisions were not the product of a nefarious auto industry or any other grand conspiracy—all were widely supported by voters, who effectively shut out options for transit-friendly futures. With this book, Bloom seeks not only to dispel our accepted transit myths but hopefully to lay new tracks for today’s conversations about public transportation funding.
About the Author
Nicholas Dagen Bloom is professor of urban policy and planning, and director of the Master of Urban Planning Program, at Hunter College. He is the author of numerous books.
“American transit agencies are standing on the brink of a devastating fiscal cliff. . . . Dire though the present situation is, this is hardly the first time that transit officials have been locked in a Sisyphean struggle to maintain service levels with shrinking funding and ridership. As Bloom, a professor of urban policy and planning at Hunter College, describes in his new book, The Great American Transit Disaster, US public transportation has lurched from one crisis to the next throughout the past century.”
— Bloomberg CityLab
“In this excellent socioeconomic history, Bloom offers a comprehensive and thought-provoking account of the rise and fall of US mass transit, skillfully assessing successes and stumbles so that we may learn from them and correct course.”
“Serves as a powerful introduction for urban scholars, practitioners, and students interested in American public transit policy. Offering extensive historical hindsight, the book nicely prefaces any consideration of current trends related to public transit.”
— Journal of Urban Affairs
“A timely exploration of America’s experience with transit.”
— Journal of the American Planning Association
“Bloom begins The Great American Transit Disaster by debunking the popular historical conspiracy that big auto and tire manufacturers destroyed a robust urban streetcar system in the United States. But if it wasn’t an elaborate and nefarious plot on the part of the automobile industry to destroy a dense network of public urban transportation, what did? . . . This question sits at the center of Bloom’s extensively researched and expertly argued exploration of the demise of urban public transit in the United States. And, as in the best historical research and writing, his answer is layered and multifaceted.”
— Pacific Historical Review
“Bloom makes a compelling case that Americans did this to themselves by demanding better streets for cars at the expense of transit, and favoring low-density, suburban living that makes cars indispensable and transit hard to justify. . . . The book’s greatest strength is its hard look at how racism helped ruin US transit.”
“A worthy addition to Chicago’s Historical Studies of Urban America series.”
— Technology and Culture
“The Great American Transit Disaster presents a thoughtful and thorough history of public transit development in a number of major American cities. As in his previous books, Bloom makes a significant contribution to the history of twentieth-century urban America.”
— Jon C. Teaford, author of The American Suburb: The Basics
“Bloom is a distinguished and prolific scholar of American urban politics. In this cogent and deeply researched book, he seeks to explain why leaders in cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, and Chicago chose to invest in highways and airways rather than mass transit. Bloom, wisely and perceptively, avoids discredited anti-bus and anti-streetcar ideas, focusing instead on pay-as-you-go transit, auto-centric planning, and white flight. Nick Bloom, as always, is readable, assignable, and compelling.”
— Mark H. Rose, coauthor of A Good Place to Do Business: The Politics of Downtown Renewal since 1945