Tuesday, January 03, 2006

BUY THIS BOOK! If You Are Sick of Traffic Jams, That Is


America is relying on a 1970s road system and a costly patchwork of 19th century mass transit systems to cope with the world's largest, most dynamic and fastest growing fleet of private passenger cars and trucks.

We depend primarily upon private vehicles to maintain the world's highest standard of living and individual mobility, and to keep the world's biggest economy running at full speed.

But things got seriously off track beginning several decades ago when the costs of building new roads started spiralling. Today it is virtually impossible to construct critically needed major arteries, thanks to political, environmental and economic obstacles that are prohibitively expensive to overcome.

Just reducing commuting times by 10 percent could save $980 million in Chicago and $240 million in Philadelphia, acccording to an economic model used by the Transportation Research Board to predict the impact of traffic relief or delays on economic activity.

"21st Century Highways: Innovative Solutions to America's Transportation Needs," edited by Wendell Cox, Alan Pisarski and Ronald Utt traces how the transportation system got off track and provides practical solutions to modernize our roads and transit systems and to restore much-needed balance between private cars and public subways, rail and bus.

The authors are recognized experts in the fields of transportation policy and urban planning. I relied on Cox and Pisarski for facts and figures, trenchant analyses and memorable quotes when I covered transportation issues as a journalist a decade ago. I've known and admired Utt since we served together in the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

Regular readers of Tapscott Behind the Wheel know I rarely recommend books. Be assured, too, that I don't stand to gain a penny as a result of "21st Century Highways" being only available via its publisher, The Heritage Foundation. I wish it was available through Amazon because then I might actually pick up a quarter or 50 cents if you bought the book via Tapscott Behind the Wheel!

Anyway, why am I now encouraging you to get this particular book? If you read my Sunday post on Jane Holtz Kay's "All paved over with no place to go" op-ed in The Washington Post, you know there are some serious divisions of opinion in America these days about how to fix our transportation system.

You also know that I love the individual freedom and mobility cars provide and promote, so I care very much about the public debate on these issues. "21st Century Highways" lays out what impresses me as an historically accurate, factually based history of the federal highway program, as well as a candid, no-holds-barred analysis of what must be done to protect our individual freedom and mobility in a responsible way.

No matter your reaction to it, please let me know what you think about this book after reading it, whether you love it or hate it. Does it make sense? Is it realistic? Will anybody in Washington, D.C. listen?

Let's talk about it, folks.